This Theremin Concert Should Sound Out-of-This-World

After all, the Apollo Chamber Players sought out the best player. Literally.

By Holly Beretto February 13, 2019

Carolina Eyck doing her there-thing.

Image: Ananda Costa

When Apollo Chamber Players artistic director Matthew Detrick decided to add a theremin performance to the group’s season, he actually Googled “best theremin player in the world.”

“Carolina came up,” he says, referring to Carolina Eyck, who makes her Bayou City debut with the company this week. “What is so special and unique about her is that she is also a composer and a vocalist. She’s evolved this instrument into something greater and has really broken new boundaries with the theremin.”

The theremin is an instrument that most people know without knowing they know it. It’s the thing that provides the eerie sounds in horror movies, and it gave the Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations” its signature psychedelic sound (although, to be clear, that instrument was an electrotheremin, which uses mechanical controls). Invented in 1928, it’s basically a box with two antennas. Unlike traditional instruments, where a musician has physical contact with the instrument—think touching the keys on a piano or sliding the bow of violin across the strings—the theremin is played with the musician waving her hands in the air between the two antennas and their invisible electromagnetic field. 

“It’s like conducting in the air,” Detrick says. “A thereminist manipulates those electromagnetic fields to create volume and pitch. It’s like magic, I think.”

The German-born Eyck, who is now based in Leipzig, started playing theremin at the age of 7. By 8, she’d developed her own eight-finger positioning technique. At 19, she published a book called The Art of Playing the Theremin. That same year, she won the International Competition for Composers arranged by Radio/TV Berlin-Brandenburg for her orchestral composition “Sciciani.” In 2015, at 29, she received the German Echo Klassik in the category "Concert Recording of the Year (20th/21st century music).” She’s played in solo concerts and with orchestras around the world, including the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra, Dresden Philharmonic, San Francisco Ballet Orchestra, Argentine National Symphony Orchestra, and the Brussels Philharmonic.

The concert with Apollo features a series an all-Texas premieres program, including Eyck’s compositions and a rarely-performed work for theremin, piano, oboe, and string quartet by Czech composer Bohuslav Martinů. Houston Grand Opera principal oboist Elizabeth Priestly Siffert and University of Zacatecas (Mexico) professor of piano Dr. Alejandro Barrañón also join as guest artists. (Dr. Barrañón is a UH Moores School alum.)

“Most people don’t know the theremin can be a partner to create chamber and orchestral pieces,” Detrick says. “I really think the audience will have fun and be able to see the theremin as a virtuosity instrument.”

Feb. 16. Tickets $35. MATCH, 3400 Main St. 713-521-4533. More info and tickets at matchouston.org.

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