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Boston Baroque Releases Heinrich Biber’s complete The Mystery Sonatas with Violinist Christina Day Martinson

April 29, 2018

Baroque composer Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber’s TheMystery Sonatasare among the most plush and enigmatic cornerstones of the violin repertoire from any era. Boston Baroque’s concertmaster Christina Day Martinson performs these profound works with Music Director Martin Pearlman on harpsichord and organ, cellist Michael Untermann on cello, and Michael Leopold on theorbo and guitar on a new album out April 27 on Linn, and in concert at Rice University on May 5, 2018. 

NEW YORK, NY – April 10, 2018The four-time GRAMMY-nominated Boston Baroque is the first permanent Baroque orchestra ever established in North America and is widely regarded as “one of the world’s premier period-instrument bands” (Fanfare).The ensemble – led by founding music director Martin Pearlman – performs works from the Baroque and Classical period using instruments and performance techniques that reflect the eras in which the music was composed. On theirApril 27 release of the complete cycle ofHeinrich Biber’s TheMystery Sonatas, Boston Baroque continues its commitment to producing readings of the repertoire on period instruments with the highest standards of performance practice.

Biber, himself a virtuoso violinist, wrote these sonatas in 1678—or at least that stands as the best guess of probing scholarship—each meant to depict the 15 Mysteries of the Rosary – which relate the life of Christ, from Annunciation to Ascension – accompanied by enigmatic religious engravings. The word “sonata” can, in our era, be misleading: they are more a cycle of notions, of dance suites and sensual musical reactions, each with its own integrity, cohering to form a single introspective, intriguing musical document that puzzles and dazzles to this day.

These sonatas go far beyond normal virtuosic writing. Biber instructs the violinist to tune the strings differently from their conventional tuning, so that no two sonatas have the strings tuned to the same set of notes. The effect of this ‘mistuning’ or scordatura is not only that the violinist can play chords that are normally impossible on the violin but that the instrument resonates differently for each sonata. Tuning strings higher creates greater tension on the instrument and more brilliance, while tuning them lower makes them sound darker. For the player, having a different tuning for each sonata can be disorienting, not only because the fingers need to press down in slightly different places on the strings, but also because many of the notes that he or she is reading and fingering are not the ones that are actually sounding. Notes that are written as large leaps may actually sound close together in some tunings; and some tunings result in bizarre key signatures which include both sharps and flats, as well as accidentals in one octave but not in another. As a result, the usual conventions for reading music shift for each sonata.

The most extreme altering of the strings occurs in Sonata XI ‘The Resurrection.’ In that one sonata, the middle two strings are crossed over each other both in the peg box and behind the bridge, so that one can literally see a cross on the violin. Violinists have to adjust their instincts to balance chords with the strings out of order. With all this retuning from one sonata to the next, the violin can become unstable and go quickly out of tune as strings are put under increased or reduced tension. For that reason, this performance makes use of multiple violins, one violin being reserved only for the ‘The Resurrection’ Sonata XI.

Of Christina Day Martinson’s performance with Boston Baroque in the legendary Jordan Hall, the Boston Globewrote, “She didn’t just survive, she triumphed.”Joined by Martin Pearlmanon harpsichordand organ, Michael Untermannon cello, and Michael Leopoldplaying theorbo and guitar, the mysteries will no doubt be revealed.


Born in Saskatchewan, Canada, Christina Day Martinson has been a featured soloist with Boston Baroque, Handel and Haydn Society, The Bach Ensemble, Tempesta di Mare, the UNICAMP Symphony Orchestra (Brazil) and the Symphony Orkest Mozart in Amsterdam. Ms. Martinson serves as concertmaster for Boston Baroque, and is associate concertmaster for the Handel and Haydn Society. She has served as concertmaster under conductors such as Roger Norrington, Richard Egarr, Bernard Labadie, Nicholas McGegan, Lawrence Cummings and Harry Christophers, among others. Ms. Martinson has been featured several times on WGBH radio’s “Classics in the Morning” with Cathy Fuller, performing Biber’s “Mystery Sonatas” with Martin Pearlman at the harpsichord.  Her performance of the work in 2012-2013 was chosen as a top 10 performance of the year in 2012 and as one the Boston Globe’stop concerts of 2013. “Her playing in each work combined a secure grasp of period style,” wrote the Globe’sJeremy Eichler, “with a fearless technique and, best of all, a delightful sense of spontaneity and imagination.” Ms. Martinson’s performance of Vivaldi’s Four Seasonswith Boston Baroque was released on Telarc in 2009 and was described by Gramophonemagazine as “storytelling par excellence.”


Founded in 1973 as “Banchetto Musicale” by Music Director Martin Pearlman, Boston Baroque’s orchestra is composed of some of the finest period-instrument players in the United States and are frequently joined by the ensemble’s professional chorus and by world-class, top instrumental and vocal soloists from around the globe. The ensemble presents an annual subscription series consisting of five programs performed at New England Conservatory’s Jordan Hall in Boston and at Harvard University’s Sanders Theatre in Cambridge for their annual New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day festivities.

Boston Baroque’s career milestones include the American premiere of Rameau’s Zoroastrein honor of the composer’s 300th birthday in 1983, a Mozart opera series including the American period-instrument premieres of Don Giovanniin 1986 and The Magic Flutein 1989 along with The Marriage of Figaroand Così fan tutte. The orchestra also presented a revelatory exploration of the complete Beethoven symphonies on period instruments. In 1998 – 1999, the ensemble gave the modern premiere of The Philosopher’s Stone, a singspiel newly discovered to include music by Mozart which shed fresh light on his canon.

In recent years, Boston Baroque presented Boston’s first complete cycle of the surviving operas of Monteverdi with new performing editions by Martin Pearlman of L’incoronazione di Poppea and Il ritorno d’Ulisse, the recording of which received a GRAMMY nomination for Best Opera Recording in 2015. A series of Handel operas including Agrippina, Alcina, Xerxes, Giulio Cesare, Semele, and Amadigi di Gaulabrought the Boston Baroque international recognition. In May 2012, their performances of Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice, which incorporated dancers and original choreography, met with outstanding critical acclaim.


Vibrant, richly detailed performances, sophisticated interpretative skills and an evocative command of various composers and styles are a few of the hallmarks of esteemed American conductor Martin Pearlman. An international conductor known for his crisp communicative skills, Pearlman is also a highly regarded scholar, composer and an acclaimed three-time Grammy nominated recording artist. Founder and music director of the Boston Baroque, Mr. Pearlman enjoys an active guest conducting career on both the opera and orchestral stages.

Among the orchestras and opera companies that Mr. Pearlman has appeared with are Minnesota Orchestra, Omaha Symphony, Alabama Symphony, San Antonio Symphony, Springfield Symphony (Massachusetts), New World Symphony, National Arts Center Orchestra of Ottawa, The Washington Opera, Utah Opera, Opera Columbus, and Boston Lyric Opera.

In addition to directing Boston Baroque in its annual subscription series, he has taken the ensemble on tour nationally and in Europe, and has made over 22 recordings for Telarc International, three of which have been Grammy nominated, cementing the organization’s reputation as America’s premiere period-instrument orchestra. Mr. Pearlman and the Boston Baroque were the first American orchestra to record with the UK label Linn Records.Pearlman is the only conductor from the period-instrument field to have performed live on the internationally televised Grammy Awards show.

In addition to prepared new performing versions of Monteverdi’s operas Il ritorno d’Ulisseand L’incoronazione di Poppea, Mr. Pearlman has also edited a new critical edition of Armand-Louis Couperin’s complete keyboard works, and created a new orchestration and edition of Cimarosa’s Il maestro di cappella.

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