Allison Nyquist is Artistic Director of Nashville's Music City Baroque orchestra and the baroque violin professor at Vanderbilt University's Blair School of Music. She also serves as concertmaster of the Indianapolis Baroque Orchestra and is a member of Ensemble Voltaire, The Vivaldi Project (with whom she recently recorded "Discovering the Classical String Trio" for MSR Classics), the Haymarket Opera Company and Third Coast Baroque. A former student of Stanley Ritchie at Indiana University, she will be one of several substitute professors there this spring while he is on leave.
How did you get started in music?
My big brother took piano, and I wanted to do everything he did. My mother taught piano and sang in the choir, and my father is an amazing clarinetist (as well as a thermonuclear physicist). There was lots of music in the house.
How did you come to play your instrument?
My dad was deemed “the relative least likely to pawn off violins,” so he had a collection. They were kept on a high shelf, out of my reach. Enough said.
What is the biggest challenge you face as a musician?
Bills and burnout. These days I’m on the road about 3 weeks out of each month, and I’m having trouble with the pace.
Do you have a favorite performer?
It changes with the weather. I couldn’t name a favorite.
What are a few of your favorite books about music?
Quantz, Leopold Mozart.
What else are you reading?
Breakfast of Champions and Chickens Magazine.
Who are your favorite 17th- and 18th-century composers?
Biber, Schmelzer, Bach, Buxtehude.
If you were stranded on a desert island, is there one piece of music you would like to have with you?
Something big to keep me busy….Bach Sonatas and Partitas for violin. Or if it had to be one piece, the St. Matthew Passion.
What drew you to early music and period instrument performance?
Ann Marie Morgan, my dearest friend from college days, became a baroque cellist and gambist and handed me a baroque violin and said, “Play this so we can have a group,” and we did! Olde Friends had a happy run for some years before life got in the way.
How many instruments do you own?
I have three that I play regularly and several more that I have been given by friends and former students. I have lots of little violins in a closet waiting for a time when I can teach kids again!
Which one do you play the most?
I definitely play my baroque violin the most. It is actually a French violin from around 1820 that was “baroqued” in 1997 or so by William Monical. It was one of the fiddles given to my father, and it was the one I used for most of my college years. Our ancestor named it Peter Pan, as he thought that even though he himself would grow old and die, the violin would always stay young.
What are the main differences between your period instrument and its modern version?
The main difference is the fittings. The baroque violin has a different tailpiece and bridge, and the soundpost is shorter. Everything about it is lighter and less tense.
What do you love about HOC?
The people with whom I get to work, their commitment to the best quality of everything they can produce, our passionate supporters, and the repertoire.
Do you have a favorite rehearsal or concert memory from a past HOC event?
Every time a new singer opens their mouth and sings in the first rehearsals, I am blown away by how Craig has found another brilliant singer out there! That is a treat!
What is your favorite thing to do when you’re not making music?
I love my new place in rural Indiana. There are trails all around my house where I walk and a creek where we kayak, and there are my dreams of having a massive flock of chickens someday. And maybe milk goats.
What is the first thing you think about in the morning?
How would you describe the relationship between you and your instrument?
Basically loving, but sometimes troubled. The violin has taken me away from my kids and away from my home, and it is making it hard to get those chickens!! But it has also taken me to the most exciting places to make music with inspiring people and to have that deep communication that comes when you understand what someone is doing musically and you respond and they understand and you don’t have to talk about anything. That does happen.
Who are your musical heroes?
I’m fickle. Whoever I’m playing with at the time. Also my teachers.
If you had to play only one composer for the rest of your career, whom would you choose?
What music do you listen to most often?
Folk music, actually. Many of my friends out here in rural Indiana are folk singers, and I grew up on Joan Baez and James Taylor. Folk is a nice change from classical music.
If you had not been a musician what do you think you would have done instead?
I have often wanted to be one of those ladies who welcomes you into a diner and makes sure your coffee cup stays full. I might still become one of those someday.