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La Voce di Gabriele

La Voce di Gabriele

: Photo by Marco Borggreve.

So what is La Voce di Gabriele? It’s Italian for “red-hot trumpeter and mind-blowing harpsichordist.” More literally, it’s Italian for “the voice of Gabriel.”

By Melinda Bargreen

So what is La Voce di Gabriele? It’s Italian for “red-hot trumpeter and mind-blowing harpsichordist.” More literally, of course, it’s really Italian for “the voice of Gabriel,” or “Gabriel’s trumpet,” and it is the title of the duo that will play a March 3 recital of virtuoso 17th-century music at Cornish College of the Arts.

Kris Kwapis (pronounced “Kwoppis”) is a jolly, down-to-earth specialist on early trumpets who has made a career of doing exactly what no one expected her to do. As a successful and sought-after woman trumpeter, she is a relative rarity: Kwapis, who holds a doctorate in early music performance and is in demand all over the country as a soloist, notes that only one female trumpeter has been principal in a major symphony orchestra.

“I got a lot of kidding along the way,” she says of her choice of instruments. “If you’re going to play the trumpet, you need confidence and conviction.

“It takes a heart of steel.”

A determined perfectionist, Kwapis has actually made her own baroque trumpet—starting out with a flat sheet of metal and shaping it step by step in a process that took a week of long days. The results, she says, are “really nice.” She also owns several cornetti (period instruments that are blown like a trumpet, but fingered like a woodwind), but she hasn’t built any of those.

Kwapis takes her teaching very seriously at Cornish College of the Arts; she also teaches at the Early Music Institute of Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music. Because every tiny slip and imperfection is glaringly obvious when you’re playing the trumpet, she teaches students to get over their nerves by shifting their mindset.

“It’s not ‘Oh gee, everyone is watching me.’ It’s ‘What can I give to the listeners?’ I want to take risks, to make the music exciting, and I definitely tell my students to go for it, too!”

Kwapis has only been performing with harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani as La Voce di Gabriele for the past year and a half, but they clicked musically right away.

“We were rehearsing for a concert at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York,” she explains, “and I came into the room when he was playing a Bach chorale on the harpsichord. I thought he had four singers with him! His playing is just amazing. He absolutely blows my mind.”
Kwapis has a lot of company among worldwide admirers of the young London-based harpsichordist (born in 1984).

“It would be hard not to be impressed by Iranian harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani,” reported The Guardian last July. “Young, suave, eloquent… a phenomenally accomplished performance.”

For their Seattle Voce di Gabriele program, Mahan and Kwapis will come as close as possible to recreating a landmark concert (c. 1638) featuring two 17th-century virtuosi and composers, trumpeter Girolamo Fantini (1600-c.1675) and organist/harpsichordist Girolamo Frescobaldi (1583-1643). Fantini was among the first composers to publish pieces for solo and accompanied trumpet; because of the trumpet’s military role in sounding secret signals to the troops (to advance, retreat, and reconnoiter), publishing trumpet music was “considered to be like giving away military secrets,” Kwapis explains.

“It’s kind of cool to guess exactly which Fantini pieces they might have performed in that concert,” she notes. “It really was the first trumpet recital that we know of. The pieces are definitely virtuosic—Fantini was the best-known trumpet player of his time. The music also is very expressive. It goes from one mood to a completely different one. The pieces sound a little like early 17th-century opera: pretty florid and rhetorical. My job is to make them sound like speech—really, like singing – as much as possible.”

The short Fantini pieces will be interspersed with Frescobaldi harpsichord interludes, as they might have been when the two Girolamos performed together.

If you imagine that a trumpet in the intimate space of the PONCHO Concert Hall at Cornish will blast you right out of your seats, think again.

“It’s more like a voice than a brass instrument,” Kwapis says. “If I played a duet with a singer, my trumpet would match the voice in volume… and probably in sound quality. I love the fact that we can bring this stuff to life! This music opens our eyes, and our ears, to history.”


Melinda Bargreen, a Washington State writer, critic, composer and teacher, was previously classical music critic for The Seattle Times for 31 years.

La Voce di Gabriele performs at PONCHO Concert Hall on the Cornish College of the Arts campus on Sunday, March 3rd at 7:00 pm. Tickets: $20 general; $15 seniors; $10 students and Cornish alumni.

PICTURE: harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani; photo by Marco Borggreve (detail)


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