• A Conversation with Caterina Lichtenberg on the Release of "Solo"

    Caterina Lichtenberg - Solo

    Caterina Lichtenberg's newest project, aptly entitled Solo, comes at a time we can all use some joy and a breath of fresh air. This brilliant collection — some familiar, some new — is a pure delight. Her interpretations and approach to these wonderful compositions remind us how a true master can take music to a new level and beyond. It's with pleasure that we're able to help spread the word about this new recording. Get it. Listen. Then listen again and again. You won't be disappointed.

    Scott Tichenor
    Mandolin Cafe

    About the author: Brian Caples is a digital marketing specialist and lifelong music obsessive who has made it his goal to surround himself with as much music as possible. After graduating from the University of Tampa with a BA in Advertising and Public Relations, he has gone on to write for several music sites including ArtistWorks and the Women's International Music Network.

    How are you holding up during these rough times?

    I'm actually doing pretty well. I can deal with this right now because I never get bored. I'm of course, very sympathetic with all my friends and many people who don't feel so good but I'm entertaining myself and always find something to do, and I now have the time to finish so many things I couldn't in past years. Living with Mike Marshall there are so many things we share. We're homeschooling our kids, so, I feel not even a minute of boredom.

    I'm very occupied, but very aware that for many people it is not this way. In general I'm very optimistic thinking the good times will come back where we can perform and travel around the world. I think this is just a period. That's why I'm saying to myself. I'd best enjoy this time and do all the things I never had time for, because it will be over soon, and then we are back on our crazy schedule and running around.

    How much of this album was recorded before the pandemic?

    It was all recorded before but we didn't finish the mixing, editing and the cover and everything else that comes with it. Having two children, I found it difficult to find the time. I felt there's always something more important than my CD compared to the needs of my children: my teaching at the Conservatory, my students, and having to perform or needing to practice for some concert. The CD was in the waiting line.


    From Solo, Georg Phillip Telemann's "Fantasie Nr. 1, Allegro."

    This is the 13th CD you've released on your own, correct?

    Exactly, lucky 13 (laughs)! In the past I'd recorded many CDs in a chamber music setting. I love to play with other people because music is like communicating. All my CDs are with one or two more people. I recorded my first four with a guitarist and lute player Mirko Schrader, but I've recorded three projects with Mike and a CD of early music with a singer and a harpsichordist, and then one of contemporary music and one of music from South America playing with Diego Jascalevich on charango. Now, finally, was a time to come back to my very, very early roots, playing just by myself.

    Tell us about the different instrumentation used to record this album.

    I recorded a mix of Baroque, Romantic and Contemporary music and tried to include many different instruments. I recorded, for example, the Bach Cello Suite on a Gibson H-4 mandola. The tuning of the American mandola is the same as the cello, just an octave higher, but the same pitches. I found this very interesting and nice to play in the same key as the original composition. We tried to find the right pick for the mandola and experimented with many. At the end I settled on a feather, a quill from a bird, which I use usually for my Baroque mandolin. This is an interesting combination playing a Gibson with a quill, like it had been done in the baroque era. Maybe that is the first time it has been tried.

    There's a piece by Carl Friedrich Abel on soprano Baroque mandolin, which has six double gut strings. This particular instrument I always play with a bird feather. The tuning of this instrument is very similar to the Viola da Gamba, tuning with 4ths and 3rds. This piece was originally written for the instrument so that's why this seemed like a good choice.

    The Alto Baroque mandolin, which is the same tuning like the Baroque, but a fifth lower. was used on "Partita V" by Filippo Sauli from the 18th century.

    I also played a few pieces on my contemporary German mandolin made by Alfred Woll. I recorded the "1st Violin Fantasia" by Georg Philipp Telemann and "Prelude" by the great Italian composer from the time of Puccini, Raffaele Calace. The last piece on the CD is a contemporary piece by the Japanese composer Kuwahara, also on my Woll mandolin.

    Four different instruments were used. I could have used more, almost every piece on a different mandolin, but I recorded in America and on the airplane you can only bring so many instruments!

    You're known for pushing the boundaries. What kind of experimentation can we expect from this album?

    I experimented with different instruments and chose pieces of very different epochs — a kind of cross section of the classical mandolin world. But the main idea was I wanted to play the solo pieces which have had a very important meaning in my life. I explain this a bit in the liner notes. Telemann, for example, is a composer born in the town I grew up in, Magdeburg, Germany. Raffaele Calace, from the 19th century Romantic style is very Italian and represents my very emotional Italian part (I'm one quarter Italian).

    Kuwahara is a composer who is very important for the classical mandolin scene. He finished six solo pieces at the end of his life which are, technically very difficult, but very beautiful and interesting with a Japanese sensibility. I met Kuwahara in person a few times, first in Germany as a student and later he invited me several times to perform in Japan at his festival. Unfortunately, he died way too early. I'm thankful to have met him when he was still healthy and full of energy. It was such an amazing experience to meet him in person and talk about music. I tried to put this intensity into the recording by playing a piece which he wrote while fighting his illness.

    There is plenty of Baroque music on the project. I love Baroque music and had to include of course Johann Sebastian Bach, my favorite composer. I made a combination in between playing really early music and then playing it on a Gibson mandola from the early 20th century, in fact combining German music with an American instrument. I found this stretch very interesting, and I don't think it has been done by any of my classical colleagues in Germany. Those Gibson instruments are more popular in Europe for non-classical music, but my Gibson mandola sounds so beautiful and warm. I got it from our friend David Grisman and especially this piece, I think, sounds especially wonderful on this instrument. So I tried to combine many things, different periods, different instruments, technically challenging pieces, but also very soulful, warm and beautiful slow pieces.

    I hope people will like this combination. It's like a big pot of yummy soup with all the different ingredients I put into it.

    Caterina Lichtenberg - Solo

    With live performances on hold for the time being, how are you satisfying the performing itch?

    What I did in the past weeks was taking (and having) time to explore and play many pieces I always wanted to study. I went back to many historical mandolin methods and books and paged through them all and sat in the garden and played for the birds and the trees. I didn't feel I needed to play a live performance because I felt that now it's time to go into my soul and into studying. I had the feeling that I was still performing, not for a actual audience but for the whole universe. It might sound a little bit Bay Area style to say this, but really, I saw so many little critters, deer, birds, trees, etc. in nature while I was practicing outside and so I had the feeling that I was performing for them.

    Sometimes people passed down the hill going somewhere and they would wave to me with a smile or stand there for a while, so I had the feeling I was connecting with people, just not in a room in a performance situation. Times of not performing and not running around like crazy have been rare for me. It's important to get some quiet time for recharging. You need those times of going back to the basics and to your roots and time to reflect on life in general and music. And so I tried to see this time more as a gift. As I said at the beginning, I could see it this way because I'm very sure we will come back to those good old times of performing. These three months or six months, whatever it will take the Coronavirus to leave us alone, as a time for coming back to one's self and collecting all your energy for later when everything opens up again.

    Where can we hear the album?

    You can buy a physical CD in the US through my web site or in Europe through the New Acoustic Gallery (both linked below). Digital downloads will be available in the very near future through CDBaby.

    How are you celebrating the release of the album?

    Mike made a batch of his own wine 20 years ago. To celebrate we cracked open some of those bottles and had a little taste. Mike is not only an amazing mandolin player, he's a great cook. I feel I'm eating every day at the famed Chez Panisse in Berkeley.

    When I got the CD the first day, I was holding it and afraid to listen. It's always the same with me. When I make a CD, I'm so critical that I cannot listen to it for a few days. So it was just lying there and then later I put it on and listened secretly in my room... A week or 10 days later, I actually can listen to and enjoy it, but it took me awhile.

    We're happy to hear you're doing well. You're celebrating this so awesomely!

    That we are! Thank you.

    Additional Information

    Comments 14 Comments
    1. Mandophile's Avatar
      Mandophile -
      ...beautifully nuanced and so graciously delivered to an eager audience in the Telemann excerpt. Thank you for keeping hope alive and for encouraging us to listen with our hearts and our minds.
    1. LadysSolo's Avatar
      LadysSolo -
      Can't wait till I feel good enough on mandolin to switch from Mike Marshall to her on Artistworks tp study Classical mandolin with her! More inspired now, to work harder!
    1. Paul Statman's Avatar
      Paul Statman -
      Wicked awesome. Congratulations, Caterina!
      *..and H-4 with a quill, eh..?
    1. chuck3's Avatar
      chuck3 -
      Quote Originally Posted by Paul Statman View Post
      Wicked awesome. Congratulations, Caterina!
      *..and H-4 with a quill, eh..?
      Yeah - H-4 with a quill, that's the best gear note I've seen in a while!
    1. Mike Marshall's Avatar
      Mike Marshall -
      Quote Originally Posted by chuck3 View Post
      Yeah - H-4 with a quill, that's the best gear note I've seen in a while!
      Yeah buddy. I was in the control room. We tried all these different picks and that one sounded like clouds of sound. Zero pick click. Amazing!
    1. bbcee's Avatar
      bbcee -
      What an inspiring interview. It's true, this is a good moment for introspection. Looking forward to getting the CD!

      I can't imagine how one would use a quill as a pick. Does one modify it in order to use it?
    1. LadysSolo's Avatar
      LadysSolo -
      I vaguely recall using a goose quill as a pick many years ago. you need to make sure that the tip is smooth (IIRC,) I think I remember using fine sandpaper to smooth the quill. It was not easy if my memory serves me. I would not want to use it regularly, it was for a special effect in a choir performance (I was in high school, and it was on guitar, which was what I played back then.)
    1. Mike Marshall's Avatar
      Mike Marshall -
      You must split the quill lengthwise so that it opens like a book. Then you have two!
      Yes and then there's a special technique for rendering them ready for picking.
      Crazy stuff
    1. Tim Logan's Avatar
      Tim Logan -
      Just a wee bit of a topic stray - just wanted to say that Caterina is an incredibly wonderful, skillful teacher. She is a kind and generous person who very capably hones in on the student's individual needs. Her students are quite fortunate! The Artist Works program through which she teaches is an extremely fine platform. To have the opportunity to work with her through Artist Works is a brilliant, brilliant use of modern day technology. I am eagerly awaiting her new CD!!!!
    1. David Surette's Avatar
      David Surette -
      Just got my copy in the good ol' US mail; what a fabulous recording! Amazing to hear what a solo mandolin can do in the hands of an incredible musician. Totally transporting. Thanks, Caterina.
    1. Tim Logan's Avatar
      Tim Logan -
      To say this album is extraordinary is an understatement. Caterina's sensitivity and feeling for this music lifts this album way beyond a virtuoso performance. It is a most wonderful gift to the world. I humbly, with jaw dropped, heart warmed and contented, say: wow!
    1. Mandolin Cafe's Avatar
      Mandolin Cafe -
      Daniel Patrick from Mandolins and Beer did a great job with Caterina as host on Episode 49. Well worth the listen.
    1. Mandolin Cafe's Avatar
      Mandolin Cafe -
      Caterina's album is now available on Bandcamp in digital format.
    1. Mandolin Cafe's Avatar
      Mandolin Cafe -
      Noting the one-year anniversary of this interview.