Bach Collegium San Diego Presents One Night Only with Sylvia Berry

| February 5, 2023 | 0 Comments

Join Bach Collegium San Diego (BCSD) for a return performance with renowned fortepianist Sylvia Berry. She is joined by members of BCSD, including Stefanie Moore, Soprano; Andrew McIntosh, violin; Andrew Waid, viola; and Heather Vorwerck, cello. The concert takes place at 7 p.m., Friday, February 10 at All Souls Episcopal Church, located at 1475 Catalina Boulevard, San Diego, CA 92107.

During an interview with Sylvia Berry, she shared what makes her techniques different from a concert pianist.

“My role is mostly the same. I play solo repertoire, chamber music, and concertos. I probably play with more singers than the average concert pianist because I love Art Song. The main difference in roles is that I sometimes play continuo, which basically means you’re a member of the orchestra who provides chordal and rhythmic accompaniment, as well as accompaniment for solo singers in recitatives. When you go to a BCSD concert you’ll often see Ruben Valenzuela and Michael Sponseller playing continuo on the organ and harpsichord with the orchestra; in music from the classical era by composers such as Haydn and Mozart, the fortepiano is used instead.

“What is most different is the instrument itself. For this concert I’ll be playing a replica of the type of fortepiano (that’s mostly a term to designate the instrument as an early piano) that Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven played. Unlike a modern piano that has 88 keys (a span of a little over seven octaves), the Viennese pianos of the 1760’s-early 1800’s had around 61 keys and five octaves. These instruments are not as loud as modern pianos, but they have more dynamic range. I can play much softer on an early piano, and the loud passages are much more explosive. The contrast between the two dynamic ranges is stark! There’s also a gizmo on older Viennese pianos called a ‘moderator’ which slips a piece of cloth in between the hammers and strings – this creates an ethereal sound that is unavailable on pianos of our time. We also need to remember that music was performed in much smaller venues in the 18th and early 19th century, and the intimacy – and even mystery! – of quiet sounds was greatly appreciated. These instruments also have a lot more clarity in the bass, a quality that’s really illuminating for the works of Beethoven.

“The most striking difference between playing early keyboard instruments (harpsichord, fortepiano, etc.) and the modern piano is that we have to bring our instruments to the concert. My husband Dale Munschy and I usually drive mine around in a minivan, and luckily, he often tunes for me. This time I’m borrowing an instrument from a colleague in Palm Springs. We’ll fly to his house, get his fortepiano and his van, then drive to San Diego with it. There’s never a dull moment.

When asked about the music she selected for this concert, Berry offered some important insights.

“After my concert with BCSD in May 2022, I dreamt of playing with some of the players in a chamber music setting, especially cellist Heather Vorwerck who is a school mate of mine from our Oberlin days. We haven’t played together since the ‘90s.

“I started thinking of some of my dream pieces, and violist and Bach at Noon coordinator Andrew Waid suggested I pick two and anchor the program around them. So, the ‘big works’ on the concert are Beethoven’s ebullie Cello Sonata in F major (Op. 5, No. 1), and Mozart’s dramatic Piano Quartet in G minor, K. 478. I also wanted to do a set of Mozart songs because they are gems that most Mozart-lovers don’t know. The set I crafted revolves around different kinds of love. It almost tells a story, one that includes an angry woman burning the letters of her unfaithful lover. It’s a dramatic miniature masterpiece. Just as Schubert would do later, Mozart places the action in the piano part while the singer tells the story, so you can hear the roaring flames in the piano.

“Additionally, I created a ‘pastiche sonata’ of three short works by predecessors of Beethoven and Mozart whose chamber music was meant to highlight the pianist (who at the time would have been an accomplished woman who had learned the piano as part of her feminine upbringing) who would be accompanied by string players who were usually much less accomplished violinists and cellists. These types of work are called ‘accompanied keyboard sonatas,’ based on title pages that always said something like, ‘Sonatas for the harpsichord or fortepiano with the accompaniment of a violin.’ Playing thee together was an early dating activity! I chose works by Johann Schobert, Luigi Boccherini, and Johann Christian Bach, the youngest son of Johann Sebastian. Fun fact: Boccherini wrote his Op. 5 violin sonatas for Anne Louise Brillon de Jouy, a famous French musician and composer who was close friends with Benjamin Franklin.

“I’ll also play a couple oddball solo pieces, again with the aim of exposing listeners to music they probably don’t know by Mozart and Beethoven. There’s a wonderfully avant-garde “Unmeasured Prelude” by Mozart that I love to play because it reveals a facet of Mozart’s improvisational skills that we’re not too familiar with. It’s a piece he wrote for his sister, who was also a great keyboardist. In short, there will be a little bit of everything.”

When asked about the musicians joining her in this concert, their roles, she offered, “They are all wonderful musicians who have committed years of their lives to mastering instruments from a different era and studying how they were played. It’s not an easy thing, but those of us who do it are usually speaking a similar language when we come together. Soprano Stefanie Moore has the perfect voice for this repertoire, has also studied performance practices of the period, and really loves Art Song. We’ve never met but we’ve talked about the songs over the phone and have already had a lot of fun. I feel very lucky to get the chance to work with them all.”

Don’t miss this rare, one-night-only event in an intimate, salon-style concert featuring chamber music by Mozart, Beethoven, and their contemporaries.

Bach Collegium San Diego engages audiences with accessible, historically informed performances and educational programs featuring repertoire from the Renaissance, Baroque, and early Classical eras. The ensemble was founded in 2003 by Music Director Ruben Valenzuela to diversify the musical offerings of the San Diego community. 

For more information, visit, or contact via email at  To order tickets, call 619-341-1726.

Sylvia Berry will be performing with members of Bach Collegium San Diego.

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