Jan Spencer

Violone/Bass Violin

jan_spencer_0What & where was your debut gig with The Sixteen?
October 2001 Handel programme in St George’s Hanover Square

What’s been a memorable Sixteen gig & why?
The Fairy Queen and The Indian Queen in Edinburgh. It’s always a treat to come back to English music and to have an opportunity to play bass violin for a change. I’m also a bit of a Scottofile and playing in Edinburgh usually heralds a hike or two somewhere in the Highlands and hopefully some Scottish country dancing afterwards!

What’s your favourite Sixteen recording?
Probably the Handel arias disc with Sarah Connolly -another inspired performance from Sarah, great directing as ever from Harry and the band full of energy.

Where did you train/study?
Dartington and The Guildhall, early eighties.

Hobbies/ interests:
I’m always happier outside than in and enjoy longboard surfing, hiking, camping, veg growing and fishing for the pot! I usually try to get into the sea if we have a day off on tour, but managed to get quite sunburnt surfing (only for an hour or two) near Sydney in February!

What else do you do (professionally) when not playing with The Sixteen?
Since the mid-eighties I have played for many of the London based and more regional baroque orchestras, playing violone, viola da gamba and bass violin. More recently I have enjoyed more chamber-group playing, especially as violonist for Rachel Podger’s  chamber group, Brecon Baroque, recording Bach violin concertos and touring in Europe and Japan. A recording of double and triple concertos is in the pipeline. In addition to musical work I jointly organise and lead eco-activity holidays for families who stay in an 18ft yurt pitched on a hill at our smallholding near Lyme Regis –harvesting, fishing, foraging, camp-cooking, bushcraft, pottery etc. www.homemadeholidays.co.uk

What football team do you support?
Er… Colyford Albion!

Please tell us a little about your instrument:
The violone is the largest –and therefore the deepest sounding of the viol family, which are closely related to the guitars (having frets and a similar six-string tuning). Like the baroque bass, larger violones double the cello continuo line an octave below (at 16ft pitch). The violone sometimes drops out during more soloistic sections of a piece. Visually and structurally, violones vary quite significantly from one instrument to another. Many resemble an oversized bass viol with a short end pin to form an anchor to the floor. The bass violin was Purcell’s preferred bowed continuo instrument for his orchestral writing. It resembles a very large cello and is tuned a tone below it i.e. G C F Bb. Therefore as a cellist one is permanently transposing up a tone. So, for example, the key of A major becomes a somewhat challenging B major on the bass violin.