Anna Steinhoff is a baroque cello and viola da gamba specialist living in Chicago. She performs with such groups as Wayward Sisters and Second City Musick, in addition to the Haymarket Opera Company. Anna has degrees from the Oberlin Conservatory and Northwestern University, where she studied with Peter Rejto and Hans Jensen.


How did you get started in music?

When I was 3 years old I saw my older sister playing violin, and I asked my parents if I could play the cello.

What's the biggest challenge you face as a musician?

Juggling the 4 instruments that I play is a challenge. In addition to baroque cello and viola da gamba, I still perform on the modern cello, and I recently started learning to play the cello banjo as well. It is hard to find the time to practice all of these instruments sufficiently, but I love them all and I wouldn't have it any other way.

Do you have a favorite performer?

I don't have one favorite performer, but I am inspired by anyone who is fearless on stage. I love watching people take risks and be willing to be vulnerable in their music making.

What else are you reading?

I just read a wonderful non-fiction book by a young woman struggling with cancer. She ultimately passed away, and reading about her courage leading up to her own untimely death is a good reminder for appreciating each and every day.

Who are your favorite 17th- and 18th-century composers?

It's hard to find anything more beautiful than the amazing viol music by Marin Marais. I could listen to it all day, every day. Bach and Handel are other favorites, as cliché as that may be.

If you were stranded on a desert island, is there one piece of music you would like to have with you?

The first piece that comes to mind is Les Barricades Mysterieuses by François Couperin. It is so beautiful, and it would calm me down in the face of almost certain starvation on the island. It is only 3 minutes long though, so to be more strategic, I would probably choose something longer, such as Bach’s Goldberg Variations or the 6th cello suite.

What drew you to early music and period instrument performance?

I was drawn to early music by a combination of curiosity about how to be a better musician and by the wonderfully weird and creative people who were involved in the early music movement. The tactile sensation of the gut strings and lower tension instrument also drew me to it, as it felt physically better to me than the power-house setup of a modern instrument.

How many instruments do you own?

I own 5 instruments:  a baroque cello, a modern cello, a viola da gamba, a cello banjo and a spare/travel cello.

Which one do you play the most?

I probably play the baroque cello the most, although my time is split fairly evenly between modern, baroque, and viola da gamba.

What are the main differences between your baroque instrument and its modern version?

Well, my baroque cello is from 1763, while my modern instrument was made in the 1990s. It has that dark, rich tone of an older instrument that you just can't recreate with a new one. It is also slightly smaller and much lighter, which makes it easier for me to hold without an endpin, especially as I am someone who is on the shorter side.

What do you love about HOC?

I love that this group was started out of the pure love for the early opera repertoire. No matter what challenges the group faces, it is always clear that love of the art form is what drives everyone involved.

Do you have a favorite rehearsal or concert memory from a past HOC event?

My favorite moment in HOC was getting to perform along side Craig Trompeter and Russell Wagner in La descente d'Orphée by Charpentier. The passages for 3 violas da gamba are some of the most spectacular moments in music that I have ever been a part of.

What is your favorite thing to do when you are not making music?

I love to just be at home with my puppy and my boyfriend, cooking dinner and listening to music.

How would you describe the relationship between you and your instrument?

I would say that we are the oldest of friends, and no one knows me better.

Who are your musical heroes?

Rostropovich, Bob Dylan, Jaap ter Linden, Tomeka Reid.

If you had to play only 1 composer for the rest of your life, whom would you choose?

It's a hard call between Bach and Beethoven. It's hard to imagine life without either!

What music do you listen to most often?

I enjoy listening to a variety of music by singer/songwriters. Dan Bern, Justin Roberts, Robbie Fulks are a few who come to mind. I also enjoy listening to free jazz and African Mbira music.

If you had not been a musician what do you think you would have done instead?

I often wonder this. I think I may have become a psychologist of some kind, or perhaps a nutritionist. I find human psychology fascinating, and I think that the mind and body are very connected and affected by what we eat.