Romina Lischka is undoubtedly one of the most beloved viola da gamba players of the moment. Thanks to her intelligent and delicate playing, this Viennese musician had the opportunity to share the stage with the Collegium Vocale Gent and the Ricercar Consort at an early age. Meanwhile, she has also made a name for herself as a soloist, Dhrupad interpreter and artistic director of her Hathor Consort. In 2019-2020, BOZAR devotes a portrait to this passionate musical jack of all trades. BOZAR talked to her about Dhrupad Fantasia.
The viola da gamba is perhaps not the most obvious instrument. Do you remember what made you decide to learn to play this instrument?
The first instrument I learnt to play was not the viola da gamba, but the guitar. I grew up with this instrument because my father played the guitar while he was singing Viennese songs. My first guitar teacher also played another instrument: the viola da gamba. When I was thirteen, I was allowed to accompany her to Spain, where she did an internship with Jordi Savall. Actually, I was there to babysit her children, but it was rather the viola da gamba that caught my attention (laughs). I fell in love with the beautiful, rich sound and absolutely wanted to learn to play this instrument! The penetrating sonority stayed with me ever since.
After secondary school, I decided to study guitar at the Vienna Conservatory, but I soon realised I wasn't in the right place. Before long, I made the switch to the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis in Basel, one of the most important study centres for early music. There I immersed myself in the viola da gamba. Later I got to know Philippe Pierlot and went to study with him.
Besides your passion for the viola da gamba, you are also very interested in Dhrupad (the oldest form of North Indian classical vocal music). When did this fascination start?
As a young girl, I was already singing Indian music. When I was in the Netherlands, I heard that I could study Dhrupad in Rotterdam with Marianne Svašek. I contacted her and started singing lessons before long. Thanks to my knowledge of Dhrupad, I also understand other oriental music cultures better because the basic principles are the same.
Do you see a connection between early Western music and Eastern traditions?
Western music history started with Gregorian chant (single-voice medieval chants) and polyphony. These styles are very horizontal, based on the melody, the individual voice. The melody prevails in Eastern tradition too. So there's a clear overlap between these two traditions, and I find it fascinating to bring them together.
As in Dhrupad Fantasia.
Indeed, this project came about two years ago and I'm happy to be able to share it with the Brussels audience. During my studies in Rotterdam, I wanted to study Dhrupad in even more detail, so I went on a 3-week intensive course with Uday Bhawalkar. After that, I got the idea to connect Dhrupad with renaissance consort music. In the melodies of English gamba fantasias, I saw a clear link with the Indian ragas (a raga is a melodic framework for improvisation and composition), sometimes with very similar melodic material.
You perform Dhrupad Fantasia with the Hathor Consort. Why did you set up this ensemble?
I liked to play consort music [a consort is a group of instruments from the same family], but had little opportunity to do so. That's why I founded a gamba consort myself (laughs). It's a repertoire that I love to play, but from the moment I founded my consort, I wanted to link the music for this ensemble to other musical cultures, as I do in Dhrupad fantasia, for example. When an Indian told me that he had never heard Indian music so beautifully, I felt very honoured. With my music, I create a meeting place for cultures that otherwise might not cross each other's paths.
Your concerts are very diverse, is there a specific project you still dream of?
Yes, too many to mention! I want to do many more intercultural projects anyway. That's also why I do early music: I want to explore the history and learn something from it. At the same time, I ask myself the question: What is current? What appeals to people? I want to tell a story, and present concerts that really make sense, that say something and touch people. This should not only be done through music, but can also be done in the form of musical theatre. Why not, for example, multicultural world theatre? I know that there are four major festivals in the Celtic culture, which exist in a partly similar way in India. That gives me something to go on!
Interview conducted by Maarten Sterckx