MORE THAN three decades ago, violinist Elizabeth Gaver (right) and harpsichordist Katie Clare Mazzeo began playing Baroque chamber music together in Carmel. Over time their on-again, off-again collaboration evolved into a trio, with Penny Hanna joining them on viola da gamba. Now calling themselves the Cherry Trio, this Friday afternoon they will reprise a ritual New Year’s Day tradition that began six years ago in the intimate Cherry Center performance venue in Carmel. (See our CALENDAR.) The event will sell out. “It always does,” Mazzeo told me.
Their performance will survey rare 17th and 18th century music by several English and French composers, including songs that Gaver and Hanna will give voice to. The band’s driving force began with Mazzeo, a pianist by training who is better known on the Monterey Peninsula as a specialist in “historically informed performances” on the harpsichord. She took up that instrument in the late ‘60s and finished her formal studies with Laurette Goldberg, founder of San Francisco’s Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra.
During Mazzeo’s 40-year career as a music and humanities teacher at Monterey’s Santa Catalina School, Gaver became one of her standout music students. In 1980, before she dedicated herself to early music, Gaver played viola with the San Jose Symphony when the section leader was Lorraine Hunt, who went on to become world famous as a concert and opera mezzo-soprano. Gaver’s career attained a new high when, in 1992, she joined the early music group Sequentia as its instrumental director, and went on to make waves worldwide with music by Hildegard of Bingen and other obscure 12th century composers. “We performed concerts throughout the US, Europe, Israel, Japan and Morocco.” She participated in over a dozen recordings with the ensemble, along with several theater productions.
Mazzeo and Hanna (left) began collaborating 15 years ago and during the last ten years formed what they now call the Cherry Trio to make good their New Year’s Day appointment. (Collaborations by twos and threes have also taken place at several other Monterey area venues, including the historic Colton Hall and the Museum of Monterey.) But Hanna comes with a very different background, well-known in the SF Bay Area, the Monterey Bay Area and other parts of California as a jazz and folk musician singing and playing reeds and double bass with numerous groups and bands, choirs and classical performers. She began her career as a student of viola da gamba at the University of Michigan and as a member of its Consort of Viols and is now a resident of Aptos with her guitarist-husband “Slide Man” Slim Heilpern. Hanna’s most recent recordings include “Topsy Turvey” with her husband and the West Coast Jazz Harmonic Summit 2009 DVD, plus various Jazz Society of Santa Cruz County CDs. Her arranging credits include works for Jazz Birds, California Gamba Consort, and Sex Chordae Consort of Viols. She is currently the Cabrillo College Stroke and Disability Center’s choir director.
Gaver, who attended high school at Santa Caralina, is married to a German-born musicologist and, since 1997, has made her home in Oslo. “He runs the Folk Music Archive of the National Library of Norway,” she told me. After high school, Gaver took degrees at Stanford and Juilliard, studied Baroque and Medieval performance practice at Indiana University, and added another degree at the University of Oslo. She has played and recorded with several groups on tour to Scandinavian and other European countries. Her current projects include the Swedish trio, Ulv, playing traditional ballads and songs with a medieval perspective, and Laude Illustre, performing 14th century Italian songs with instrumental accompaniments and video projections. She plays hardingfele and ﬁddle with the family band Feleboga, performing old-time music and Norwegian traditional music and teaching dance workshops in Germany, Iceland, Poland, Thailand and the US.
Mazzeo met her late husband Rosario when she went to work for the Boston Symphony and he was its bass clarinetist. She was 22 and assistant to the orchestra’s advertising manager and program note editor, all the while studying music herself at the New England Conservatory. She was accepted as a piano pupil of the famous Beethoven-interpreter Artur Schnabel, but “he was not remotely interested in historically informed Baroque music.” She left Boston to study with the legendary Nadia Boulanger in Paris. On returning, she taught at the NEC and subsequently has had several university teaching positions in California as well as performing and lecturing at University of Alaska Fairbanks, Eastman School of Music, San Francisco State University and UC Santa Cruz.
In 1966, after Rosario Mazzeo retired from the BSO, “we moved to Monterey and I started teaching at Santa Catalina in 1968.” Rosario was a key figure in the Crown Chamber Players series at UCSC in the ‘70s, and Katie Clare often participated with them. As part of the Zietgeist 1800 trio, she played fortepiano and harpsichord all around the SF Bay Area. “I had the fortepiano to my specifications by Paul Poletti but found that it was difficult to maintain, so I sold it to the San Francisco Opera.”
If you can get a seat for Friday’s concert at the Cherry, you might be forgiven if the intimate charm of the music doesn’t quite measure up to the wealth and depth of background and experience of these women. In that case, blame this dazzled writer.