A native of Iowa presents a unique instrument in Marshalltown | News, Sports, Jobs

TR PHOTO BY ROBERT MAHARRY Members of the Valencia Baritone Project — left to right, Matthew Baker, Estevan de Almeida Reis and Alex Friedhoff — perform a piece at the Marshalltown Performing Arts Center to an audience of students Thursday afternoon. Baker is a Sioux City native and the nephew of Lenihan’s senior middle partner Liz Jurgensen.

As a child growing up in Sioux City, Matthew Baker could not have dreamed that he would one day move around the world and end up playing professionally on one of the rarest musical instruments in existence. But that’s exactly what happened, and it gave him the opportunity to return to Iowa and expose audiences to the baritone, which is described as a cross between the viola da gamba and the lirone and which has 16 strings in all.

“I had no idea. I started on bass just because I was at a guitar lesson with my brother in Sioux City, and I was like, ‘What’s that big instrument over there?’ “Said Baker. “Of course I had to try. I tried it, I fell in love with it and I thought I was going to become a bass player.

Baker, violist Estevan de Almeida Reis and cellist Alex Friedhoff form the Valencia Baritone Project, and through a personal connection – Baker’s aunt Liz Jurgensen is the associate principal of Lenihan Middle School – they gave a special performance for middle and high school students with a question and answer session at the Marshalltown Performing Arts Center on Thursday afternoon. Plus, they performed at Tannin Wine Bar on Thursday night, and they’ll be back for another show Friday night from 6-8 p.m.

“It’s a thrill. I mean, it’s an absolute pleasure for us to do this. It’s something that (the audience) will never have heard before… Maybe one in 1,000 people has heard it, and it’s fun to bring the music in because the music is music. great music,” Baker said. “It is the music of one of the great masters of classical music that was written for this instrument that no one plays. So the smiles on the faces of the audience are just great to see.

The Master Baker referred to is the Austrian composer Franz Joseph Haydn, who is perhaps best known as a contemporary of Mozart and who wrote many pieces especially for the trio of a baritone, alto and of a cello. Although the baritone, which has six strings in the front and 10 in the back and can be strummed and plucked simultaneously, was popular among European royals and aristocrats in the 17th and 18th centuries, it became increasingly rare in the modern era. There are currently only about 20 known players in the world, including Baker.

The trio take their name from the Spanish city of Valencia where they met as members of the opera orchestra. who lived in Valencia in 2018.

“I couldn’t find it anywhere, so all of a sudden I found it and I had to. I had to play it. I was just like, ‘I have to,'” Baker said.

Friedhoff, who is the son of an American father and grew up mostly in Spain, said he and Baker bonded over their shared understanding of the two countries’ cultures and the stars aligned for them to branch out and grow. produce together separately from the orchestra. It started with food and drink after rehearsal, and they slowly began to realize the potential of their combined talents.

“I think I’d like to say we got it a bit wrong. We started (with) it was just a bit of fun. It was quite fun, etc. We had a great time,” Baker said. “We did a few shows at clubs that would have a classical night just to warm us up a bit, and I thought maybe that would be it. But all of a sudden, we had a very nice series of concerts.

Soon after, they were recording with one of the biggest classical music labels in the world, earning stellar reviews for their live performances in Spain and plotting where to take the show next. Ultimately, it took them back across the Atlantic Ocean to where it all started for a Sioux City North alum who just wanted to be a bassist.

The third member of the trio, Reis, who is French, is visiting the country for the first time and said he felt like he was in the cinema because around 80% of the films he has ever seen were made in America.

In addition to shows and demonstrations across the Midwest — on Wednesday, the trio held a masterclass at the University of Iowa’s Hancher Auditorium — Baker, Reis and Friedhoff plan to perform on the West Coast and return possibly in Montana and Florida next January before hitting Canada and the United States again in March 2023.

While they were already thrilled to be on the road sharing their unique brand of classical music with audiences at venues like Tannin, they were especially thrilled with the enthusiastic response they received in the auditorium on Thursday. The music students present sprinkled them with questions, and they didn’t even have time to answer all of them as there were so many of them.

“It’s nice when you feel like you’re giving something and they’re getting it. I have that feeling now,” Reis said. “Sometimes kids can be distracted, but in this case I was personally happy to feel like they were open to what we were showing them. It’s a good feeling.


Contact Robert Maharry at 641-753-6611 ext. 255 or

[email protected].

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