Sono Luminus Releases Fermi’s Paradox - Carolyn Surrick & Ronn McFarlane
“The recording exists because of this moment in time. The locked down, minimalist, intense, and miraculous spring of 2020, which took so much from so many, allowed for this project to come to life with its unexpected creativity, enduring faith, and deep, deep, gratitude.” – Carolyn Surrick
Sono Luminus announces Fermi’s Paradox, a new album from viola da gambist Carolyn Surrick and lutenist Ronn McFarlane, with guest percussionist Jackie Moran, to be released worldwide on November 20, 2020. Fermi’s Paradox is Surrick and McFarlane’s first album together and was created and recorded during the Covid-19 pandemic, when both performers’ usually busy concert schedules were cancelled. Surrick is well-known for her fifteen recordings with the group she founded in 1998, Ensemble Galilei. McFarlane, nominated for a Grammy in 2009, is the founder of Ayreheart and a founding member of the Baltimore Consort.
Carolyn Surrick and Ronn McFarlane were getting ready for an April concert together when the pandemic hit. Neighbors separated by only about 20 miles, their weekend rehearsals continued even after it was clear that the concert would not be happening. Late in March, Surrick proposed the idea of making a recording. She writes in the liner notes for this album, “We didn’t have much shared repertoire, at least that hadn’t already been recorded by the Baltimore Consort, Ensemble Galilei, Ayreheart, or Trio Galilei. That meant a huge investment of time and energy . . . But days passed and the reality of the pandemic settled in. Nothing else was going to be happening this spring. No concerts. No tours. Cancellation after cancellation, with no end in sight . . . We added rehearsals. Wrote harmony parts. Wrote new music. Arranged our favorite tunes for lute and viola da gamba. Set to work every day, practicing, dreaming, thinking, and planning.”
The album includes recordings of new music for lute and viola da gamba by Surrick (The Last Day, 2020) and McFarlane (Fermi’s Paradox, 2018; Daniel’s Chaconne, 2013; and Trinity Grove, 2019), as well as McFarlane’s arrangement of Blackwater Side and John Dowland’s only piece for two instruments, Adew for Master Oliver Cromwell. Little Martha, originally recorded by the Allman Brothers, made its way onto the album, as did The Rose of Raby by Dave Shepherd.
The program grew organically, with one tune leading to the next. A thoughtful, wide-ranging, and deeply felt album took shape. Surrick writes, “John Barleycorn fit perfectly with She Moved Through the Fair, an Irish tune I had never heard. It was a new song to be sung by my instrument. We both love Turlough O’Carolan and neither of us had ever recorded Planxty O’Rourke, Second Air with its mysterious blend of Irish and Italian sensibilities (tunefulness and raw emotion) so that made the short list . . . If there’s Dowland, then there must be Marin Marais, one of the greatest composers for the viol who ever lived. If the gamba is going to sing a traditional Irish tune, why not a recitative and aria by Telemann? If she’s going to sing something by Telemann, why not an Ave Maria, written by Gounod and based on thematic material belonging to Bach?”
McFarlane’s Daniel’s Chaconne and Trinity Grove are both tributes to friends. Surrick’s The Last Day reflects the weight of deep loss. Fermi’s Paradox is named after Italian-American physicist Enrico Fermi, who pointed out that the probability of alien life is high, yet we have no proof of their existence.
Surrick draws a comparison between Fermi’s Paradox and this time of isolation, writing, “As concert after concert is cancelled, as rehearsals become unnecessary, as the future of live music performance remains uncertain, we have to wonder, ‘Is there anyone out there?’ Without a reason to play, without audiences, without other musicians, why should we practice? The answer has to be: we play because we can. We make music because the world needs music, our hearts need music. This is what we do in the face of isolation and despair. We are not alone.”
About the Artists:
Since taking up the lute in 1978, Ronn McFarlane has made his mark as a soloist, the founder of Ayreheart, and a founding member of the Baltimore Consort, touring 49 of the 50 United States, Canada, England, Scotland, Netherlands, Germany, and Austria. He has also performed as a guest artist with Apollo’s Fire, The Bach Sinfonia, The Catacoustic Consort, The Folger Consort, Houston Grand Opera, The Oregon Symphony, The Portland Baroque Orchestra, and The Indianapolis Baroque Orchestra.
McFarlane was on the faculty at the Peabody Conservatory from 1984 to 1995, teaching lute and lute-related subjects. In 1996, he was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Music from Shenandoah Conservatory for his achievements in bringing the lute and its music to the world. He has over 40 recordings on the Dorian/Sono Luminus label, including solo albums, lute duets, flute & lute duets, lute songs, the complete lute music of Vivaldi, a collection of Elizabethan lute music and poetry, and recordings with the Baltimore Consort.
McFarlane has composed new music for the lute, building on the tradition of the lutenists/composers of past centuries. His original compositions are the focus of his solo CD, Indigo Road, which received a GRAMMY Award Nomination for Best Classical Crossover Album of 2009.
On this recording, McFarlane is playing a 10-course lute by Travis Carey, Vancouver, BC, Canada (2016) and an 11-course lute by Andrew Rutherford, New York (1991), converted to a 13-course lute by David Brown, Baltimore, MD in 2012.
Carolyn Surrick has a B.A. in music from the University of California Santa Cruz and an M.A. in musicology from George Washington University. She founded Ensemble Galilei in 1990 and the group started touring the U.S. in 1995. With Ensemble Galilei, she recorded fifteen CDs and produced four special projects including a partnership with The National Geographic Society for the creation of First Person: Stories from the Edge of the World as well as a collaboration with The Metropolitan Museum of Art to produce First Person: Seeing America.
With Celtic harper, Sue Richards, and multi-instrumentalist, Ginger Hildebrand, Surrick spent eight years of Fridays working with wounded warriors at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. She also worked with wounded warriors at Fort Belvoir in Virginia, as well as with Project Odyssey for the Wounded Warrior Project. The trio recorded two CDs and gave away over six thousand copies to wounded warriors and their families. Surrick also penned Between War and Here, a book of poetry about her time at Walter Reed, and has given away over a thousand copies of the book to veterans. Her latest book, The Last Day, was published in December of 2019. She is a collaborator at heart and was thrilled when the opportunity arose to create this project with Ronn. She lives outside of Annapolis, Maryland with her extended family, in a house built from a hand-hewn barn, made of American Chestnut.
Surrick’s viola da gamba was built by Marc Soubeyran in 1995, her strings were made by Damian Dlugolecki in 2020, and her bow is by Harry Grabenstein. She credits the instrument, strings, and bow with the extraordinary resonance heard on this recording.
A founding and driving force of such influential bands as The Drovers, Comas, Bua, and The Otters, Jackie Moran is a fixture in studio and concert settings, sympathetically accompanying such great artists as Alphonso Ponticelli, Kevin Burke, Dennis Cahill, Liz Carroll, John Doyle, Alain Genty, Martin Hayes, Paddy Keenan, Michael Londra, Philip Masure, David Munnelly, Aidan Burke, Howard Levy, and Jimmy Keane. Jackie’s talents have also led him to appear on stage with Riverdance and to help form and perform with the Trinity Irish Dance Company. When Hollywood needs a musician to play the part, and look it as well, you’ll see Jackie. Backdraft (1991), Blink (1993), Traveler (1997) and The Road to Perdition (2002) all had the wisdom to feature Jackie and his bodhrán.