Harpsichord and Continuo Teacher Smuggled into Ljubljana, Slovenia!

I know the title sounds promising: after all, desperate times call for desperate measures, even if it only concerns improvisation, continuo and harpsichord playing. I was invited by Prof. Miklavcic of the Academy of Music at the University of Ljubljana to teach improvisation, harpsichord and continuo. Right at the beginning, he said that the second wave of coronavirus would certainly make it difficult, so we might have to do the course in September – before the borders closed again. Unfortunately, the borders did close just a few days before my trip was scheduled. However, good musicians should be able to find ingenious solutions.

Just when I was in total despair about the trip, the Covid measures and quarantine, Prof. Miklavcic came up with the following idea: “If I pick you up in Villach early in the morning and take you over the border in my car with a Slovenian number plate, you certainly won’t be checked and you’ll be able to avoid the mandatory quarantine.” At least, we’d been told it was mandatory in the beginning. In fact, my other dear Slovenian colleague – Domen Marincic, a lecturer on the same course, checked the details and found out that in certain cases, no quarantine rules apply: luckily, I happened to be one such case! Now I know that you, dear reader, would much rather read about a thrilling crime committed in secrecy and smugglers outwitting border controls – but in the end, none of that happened. Still, I need to sell my story, and a catchy title and a promising start are always a good thing! 🙂

After arriving and before starting to teach, there was time to get some rest.

For those of you who don’t know or haven’t been to Ljubljana yet, Ljubljana is an absolute must-see. There’s an ice-cream stand every 50 metres – so after enjoying an amazing Gibanica cake, you only need to walk about 50 – 60 steps to reach the next pastry shop and ice-cream stand!

We had a really nice double-manual harpsichord for the lessons, a double-manual organ and a piano. The lessons took place at three different locations: in St. Florian’s Church up at the end of Gornji trg, at the Music Academy and in St. James’s Parish Church. The two churches were amazing for this course. Lovely acoustics – ideal for a harpsichord and baroque music.

The individual lessons were really interesting – with young, friendly, very talented students, all extremely interested in harpsichord and continuo playing. I found it quite amazing that even piano players came to individual lessons, which seems to suggest that there’s excellent cooperation between the departments in Ljubljana. In addition, each student had a particular strength that I found fascinating to work with.

For me, perhaps the highlight of the course (besides my daily Gibanica and ice cream, naturally) was the long lecture on the stylistics of continuo playing. Lots of students and several teachers gathered for the event. We were able to look at numerous pieces and put them under our musical magnifying glass. I truly enjoyed showing all the different ways in which we can actually shape the same progression and what it takes for the same harpsichord to sound more French in one piece and more German or Italian in another. Sharing views on music is a special experience too. The highlight of highlights was, of course, the round-table discussion after we’d heard all three lecturers speak on various subjects – the first on continuo, the second on Mozart’s own ornaments, and the third on being an early music soloist in a modern orchestra. It’s very inspiring to see young musicians thinking about music – to hear their ideas, their views and their experiences! I certainly learnt a great deal from them in a just a few days and I truly hope I can repeat the course again in the future in order to learn even more from the students.

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