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This article by Elaine Strauss was prepared for the May 8, 2002
U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Rebel: Music That Can Heal
Violinists Karen Marmer and Jorg-Michael Schwarz are
co-founders of the baroque chamber group Rebel, it’s true. However,
the staid "co-founders" fails to convey the bold playfulness
of their inventing the ensemble.
In 1991 Marmer and Schwarz, husband and wife, were living in
She was studying at the Royal conservatory in the Hague; he was
in various orchestras. In whatever time they could spare, they got
together with a harpsichordist and a gambist to explore the baroque
At the conservatory, Marmer heard of a competition for early music
ensembles. The prize was 10,000 guilders, more than $1,000. "We
needed the money," Marmer says in a telephone interview from her
home in Westchester. "We figured we had nothing to lose. We
playing together, in any case. Much to our surprise, we won. Nobody
knew that we were not a group." Required to list the name of their
ensemble in order to enter the competition, the four plucky
decided to call themselves "Ensemble Rebel," after the French
baroque composer Jean-Fery Rebel (1666-1747), whose musical homage
to Jean-Baptiste Lully, in particular, drew them to his work.
The name is pronounced "re-BEL." The group has now dropped
the word "Ensemble" from its title, and consists of five core
members. It’s base is New York.
The ensemble performs in the Raritan River Music Festival on Saturday,
May 11, at 7:30 p.m., with a program of Italian and German music from
the 17th and 18th centuries called "Vivaldi, Venice and
The performance takes place in scenic western New Jersey at the Old
Greenwich Presbyterian Church, Bloomsbury. Playing in the Bloomsbury
concert are four of the five permanent members of Rebel: Schwarz and
Marmer, violins and co-directors of the ensemble; John Moran, cello;
and Dongsok Shin, harpsichord. Joining them are Peter Bucknell, viola;
Anne Trout, double bass; and Daniel Swenberg, who plays lute, theorbo
(an oversized baroque lute), and baroque guitar.
The concert is the second of a series that runs until May 25. The
organizers of the Saturday-night festival, now in its 13th year, are
duo-guitarists Michael Newman and Laura Oltman. On May 18 Newman gives
a solo performance celebrating the 30th anniversary of his first
performance. On May 25 Newman and Oltman appear with the Meridian
String Quartet in a program of American music, including Dvorak.
Marmer and Schwarz, co-founders, and co-directors of Rebel, returned
to New York in 1992 when Marmer’s parents became ill. Their musical
and personal lives are inseparable. As Marmer talks on the telephone,
she turns often to Schwarz for information she does not have at hand.
Marmer was born in Queens more than 30 years ago, to natives of the
borough, and grew up there. Her father, a dentist, played piano. Her
mother, a school teacher sang. She studied at Queens College, Yale
School of Music, and the Baroque Performance Institute at Oberlin,
in addition to the Conservatory in the Hague. Her husband was born
in Weinsberg, Germany, not far from Stuttgart.
When they returned to the United States in 1992, Marmer and Schwarz
continued in their positions at the Stuttgart Baroque Orchestra.
was concertmaster; Marmer, assistant concertmaster. "They paid
our plane fare to Europe four times a year," Marmer says. The
Stuttgart subsidy helped keep their sideline Ensemble Rebel fiscally
In 1996 Marmer and Schwarz separated amicably from the Stuttgart
The conductor of the orchestra agreed with Marmer and Schwarz that
it was time for them to move on.
However, the future of their baroque ensemble was not
at all clear in 1996. "We realized that Ensemble Rebel wouldn’t
work out financially," Marmer says. "We [she means Schwarz
and herself] decided to add a cellist. The lack of a cello prevented
us from playing about 60 percent of the baroque repertoire. But the
and the harpsichordist didn’t want to change the continuo structure
of the ensemble." Perhaps they did not wish to attenuate their
control of bass-line management in the group. "We formed a new
ensemble with a new continuo group from the northeast corridor,"
Marmer says. Cello and harpsichord replaced gamba and harpsichord.
Along with the instrumental makeover, the performers simplified their
name, reducing it to the single word "Rebel."
Marmer relishes the name "Rebel, with its unexpected pronunciation
and misleading connotation. "When we played at the University
of Chicago," she says, "students phoned the box office to find
out what kind of a rock group we were." She unfurls three pluses
for calling the ensemble Rebel (re-Bel). "It’s an unlikely name
for a baroque ensemble, people remember it, and we don’t mind its
Marmer and Schwarz are truly co-directors of the group. "We take
equal responsibility in managing all aspects of the ensemble from
programming to booking concerts, Marmer says. There is no outside
Musically, Marmer and Schwarz have settled into non-conflicting roles.
"Jorg is the first violin, but I put in more than my share when
it comes to interpretation," Marmer says. Rarely, they switch
first and second violin parts. "I like playing second violin.
A group is only as good as its second violin," says Marmer, who
also plays viola when needed. "The inner parts account for a lot
of the musical direction and force of a musical interpretation. I
feel very empowered playing second violin. Jorg is very comfortable
playing first violin. He’s a brilliant soloist. We’ve both found our
Marmer and Schwarz do not necessarily agree on musical interpretation.
How do they handle disagreements? "I just say I won’t cook dinner
for him if he doesn’t come round," Marmer jokingly replies.
take our disagreements to the dinner table. That’s the downside of
being married to your co-director. We also have a lot of musical
at rehearsals before the other members of the ensemble. That way
who have no position about an interpretation can listen, and tell
how the music sounds. We all engage in spirited discussions about
interpretation. Every one feels they have a lot to say and are
for their opinions. It’s very stimulating."
Yet Marmer stops short of advocating equality within the ensemble.
"Even though democracy is an idealistic way for an ensemble to
be run," she says, "it doesn’t work that way in reality. When
people are at a loss about interpretation, we defer to Jorg for final
Rebel uses period instruments. The violins and cello were built
before and shortly after 1700. The harpsichord is a reproduction.
"Jorg and I play on old instruments," Marmer says. Jorg’s
is a Jacobus Stainer from 1668, a German instrument. I play an Antonio
Maria Lavazza built in Milan in 1720. The cello is a Barak-Norman
instrument made in England about 1700. There are very few old
Dongsok built his himself. It’s a copy of an Italian instrument by
an unknown late 17th-century harpsichord maker.
Marmer’s and Schwarz’s instruments have been modified and then brought
back to their original state, Marmer says. She explains. "In the
early 1800s, string instruments were being modernized. They were given
new necks at a steeper angle in order to increase the tension on the
instrument, and their pitch went up. Our instruments were modernized.
We `re-baroqued’ them. They’ve had their necks chopped off twice.
My Lavazza was originally Jorg’s modern instrument. At first we
sure how it would work out to re-baroque it, but the violin has never
sounded better. It was not difficult to find a restorer." The
work was done by William Monical of Staten Island.
Except for the lowest string, the ensemble uses gut strings, which
are generally believed to produce a more mellow sound than metal
The lowest string is wound with aluminum "In baroque times,"
says Marmer "they used any metal they could get their hands on,
for the lowest string, mostly copper. Aluminum is soft, lasts long,
like copper, and feels good to the touch. Copper oxidizes. It gives
you green fingers."
Rebel is in residence at New York’s Trinity Church, where it performs
several times year "at Christmas, Easter and in between,"
Marmer says. For the Trinity Church concerts Rebel finds enough
instrumentalist to expand into a small orchestra. At Trinity it has
played the Bach B-minor mass, the Mozart Requiem, and performed for
church services. The Handel "Messiah," in which it appeared
in December, was of international interest.
Trinity Church, located a short distance from the World
Trade Center, originally decided that because of the terrorist attack,
it would cancel its annual presentation of "Messiah." Because
of smoke damage, its organ was unplayable and its choir vestments
were unusable. The New York Times and its radio station WQXR offered
financial support and persuaded Trinity to carry on with the concert.
Radio stations in the United States and abroad carried the compelling
performance of a lean and intense "Messiah."
Pleased with the reception of the "Messiah" broadcast, WQXR
aired Rebel’s Lenten performance of music by Henry Purcell and Thomas
Morley. National Public Radio’s "Performance Today" has played
music by the group at least 25 times, in addition to presenting it
live. St. Paul Sunday has featured Rebel twice.
Rebel leaves a permanent record, also, through its CDs. In a recording
project expected to last until 2009, the ensemble records all of
sacred works for Haenssler Verlag of Stuttgart. Recordings are being
made in chronological order with the Trinity Church choir.
Music by Giovanni Battista Sammartini appears on the ensemble’s newest
CD, released on the ATMA label last month. A CD "Telemann alla
Polacca" is due from Dorian momentarily. An all Vivaldi recording
is planned for release in early 2003. Rebel’s website,
offers a discography and an opportunity to buy recordings.
Marmer’s reach extends, not only to music itself, but also to healing.
As a 2001 graduate of "A Society of Souls," in Princeton,
she is a practitioner of Integrated Kabbalistic healing. She describes
the work as "a system of hands on and hands off healing based
on ancient wisdom of healing." Marmer concludes that her training
as a healer is closely related to her musical activities. "After
having gone through this program," she says, "I realize more
than before that all musicians are healers. What we offer society
has a healing effect. It’s not to be taken lightly. It’s something
to be cherished."
— Elaine Strauss
Presbyterian Church, Bloomsbury, 908-213-1100. "Vivaldi, Venice,
and Vienna." $17; $10 students & seniors. Saturday, May 11,
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