They’re not only two brilliant Northwest violinists. They’re two women who share a love of dogs, reading, the outdoors — and the concertmaster position in the Northwest Sinfonietta. As co-concertmasters, however, Brittany Boulding and Denise Dillenbeck don’t often get to actually play in the same concert. But next weekend they’ll be headlining the chamber orchestra’s shows in Seattle, Tacoma and Puyallup, playing as a team in duo violin concertos by Bach and Ysaÿe.
And they’re really looking forward to it.
“Denise and I have been really excited to play pieces together,” said Boulding. “We’ve been trying to find time to play some fun things together in a concert.”
Separately, the two violinists have established impressive solo and orchestral careers. Boulding, 34, grew up playing in her multitalented family’s Celtic ensemble Magical Strings, and now plays in the Seattle Symphony and Pacific Northwest Ballet orchestra, as well as leading the Sinfonietta. Dillenbeck, 45, has played in the Philadelphia Orchestra and Oregon Symphony, is concertmaster of the Yakima Symphony and Lake Chelan Bach Festival, and is artist in residence at Central Washington University. And, despite Boulding living in Seattle and Dillenbeck living in Ellensburg, they’ve made it work for three years now as Sinfonietta co-concertmasters.
Now that the orchestra has adopted a new model of rotating conductors rather than a resident one, the two violinists are also in the limelight as the faces of the Sinfonietta.
This is a great opportunity to be out front and show the audience how the musicians in the Northwest Sinfonietta work together.
Brittany Boulding, co-concertmaster of Northwest Sinfonietta
“Denise and I are prepared to be in that role,” Boulding said. “Not just us, of course — it’s all of the musicians. But this is a great opportunity to be out front and show the audience how the musicians in the Northwest Sinfonietta work together.”
Boulding and Dillenbeck spoke separately on the phone to The News Tribune about sharing a stand, hiking with dogs and how to prepare a double violin concerto while living 100 miles apart.
Q: Tell us about the pieces. What’s it like to play something as well-known as the Bach “Concerto for Two Violins” — is it hard to keep it fresh?
Boulding: The Bach Double is one of those icons in the violin repertoire.
Dillenbeck: It’s such a standard for violin. Every violinist in this country grows up playing it in the Suzuki books, pretty much — it’s such a rite of passage.
Boulding: It’s a beautiful piece, and very fun to play. And depending on who you’re playing it with, it’s a different journey. It’s always fresh when I come back to it. I have wonderful memories of previous times playing it, but also new ideas.
Dillenbeck: For me, the first time to go back to it as an adult was a refreshed perspective, reimagining the sounds with what we now know about Baroque performance practice and the magic of just hearing it. I’ve learned a lot by playing it with early music groups in the last few years. And I study other musicians. I love Rachel Podgers’ playing. Bach is closer to jazz than most classical music in the sense that there’s a lot of improvisation built in. Being able to play in that way and knowing the sound made by period instruments is fun and as a level of lightness that makes the music take flight.
Q: Ysaÿe’s “Amitié,” what’s the story behind that? It’s not played nearly as often.
Boulding: It’s a wonderful violin showcase but also has a warm, tender, beautiful side, with the most soulful melody. The first time I heard it was a performance by David Oistrakh and his son — I fell instantly in love with it. I don’t think it’s played that often, it’s a hidden gem. I love to pull something out that people might not know but that they’ll just love because it’s so beautiful.
Dillenbeck: I’ve never heard it live, never even learned it before this. But it’s so cool to do something that’s so polar-opposite to the Bach. It’s gorgeous music, very colorful, intimate, emotional. There’s so much richness that Ysaÿe knew how to employ on a violin. Everything is complex and challenging, but it all works well in your hands. I’m in love with it!
1720 (c.) Year Bach wrote “Concerto for Two Violins”
1927 Year Ysaÿe wrote Amitié for two violins
Q: How do you prepare for a duo performance like this, especially when you live 100 miles apart?
Dillenbeck: We started out agreeing on what editions we were using, and sharing YouTube links to get in the same headspace.
Boulding: We talk on the phone, email.
Dillenbeck: And we’ll rehearse the piece in person a week or so before we rehearse with the orchestra. Fortunately, Brittany and I are simpatico in that way anyway — I know we’re going to be coming from a similar perspective whatever we do.
Q: How does the co-concertmaster thing work exactly? Is is just about who is leading what concert, or do you also talk about the big picture of the orchestra’s playing?
Dillenbeck: We look at our schedules ahead of time and plan out who will lead each concert. The system is designed to allow both of us to sustain the other work we do and still contribute.
Boulding: This year I’m leading the first concerts, the November and the March ones, and Denise leads the other three. It’s been really easy to coordinate. But I’m always happy when we get to sit together for a concert.
Dillenbeck: A couple of times a year we talk about how things are working on a larger scale — the sound, the bowing, how to interact.
Boulding: Thankfully we have a lot of respect for one another and really like playing together.
I’ve always loved and respected Brittany’s playing, and felt we were in the same ball park. I feel really fortunate to have that.
Denise Dillenbeck, co-concertmaster of Northwest Sinfonietta
Dillenbeck: Yes, we’ve played together in other settings. I’ve always loved and respected Brittany’s playing, and felt we were in the same ballpark. I feel really fortunate to have that.
Q: What do you do, each of you, when you’re not playing the violin?
Dillenbeck: I hang out a lot with my husband, and our dogs — two pitbull mixes. We love to walk a lot. We just went to Budapest and were logging 30,000-step days every day on his Fitbit. I do yoga for health and sanity, I love food. And I’m a big reader.
Boulding: One of my new favorite things is paddleboarding and (paddleboarding) yoga. I love reading, and running. And just hanging out with my dog (he’s a Leonberger, a giant breed) and my husband.
Bach Double Concerto
Who: Northwest Sinfonietta directed by David Lockington, with Brittany Boulding and Denise Dillenbeck, violins
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday (Sept. 23) in Seattle, 7:30 p.m. Saturday in Tacoma, 2 p.m. Sunday in Puyallup.
Where: Benaroya Hall, 200 University St., Seattle; Rialto Theater, 310 S. Ninth St., Tacoma; Pioneer Park Pavilion, 333 S. Meridian Ave., Puyallup.