Fighting For The Environment With Music and Kinship

by | Feb 24, 2020 | QUEER RVA

Viola da gamba player Niccolo Seligmann is using music that mixes classical styles and harsh noise to express “multi-species kinship” and opposition to climate change. He’s bringing his unique sound to Blue Bee Cider Friday.

Classical musician Niccolo Seligmann is resisting climate change in a new way. Partnering with Classical Revolution RVA and the James River Parks System, Seligmann will play his instrument — the viola da gamba — using a crossbreed of musical styles in a concert at Blue Bee Cider on February 28th. 

The opening act for the concert will be a classical performance from Classical Revolution RVA, followed by a speech given by a member of the James River Park System (JRPS). During the speech, Seligmann will improvise a piece to accompany the speaker’s message. After the speech, Seligmann will close the concert with songs from his upcoming album. Proceeds for the concert and album both go towards the JRPS.

“[Classical Revolution] is doing music that reflects ‘other-than-human’ ideas and elements,” said Seligmann. “We’re gonna have a staff member from JRPS give a little talk about the ways that ordinary Richmonders can interact with the multi-species community in the James River Park System in ways that are mutually uplifting.”

The performance is part of the tour for Seligmann’s upcoming album, Kinship, which will be released on Februrary 26, two days before the performance. The album uses a unique blend of musical styles to resist climate change. Its sound and messaging borrow heavily from a variety of cultures, including classical music, Central Asian music, and the atonal, experimental genre of harsh noise. The bulk of this sound is created using Seligmann’s instrument of choice, the viola da gamba, which he describes as “a cello mixed with a guitar.” 

“[The album also pulls] in influences from Central Asian overtone fiddle traditions,” said Seligmann. “Part of the technique basically makes it sound like throat singing. So I’ve adapted these techniques from this Kazakh traditional instrument, [the qyl-qobyz], and I’m applying them to the viola da gamba.” 

In addition to the mix of musical influences, Kinship’s messages, which espouse a philosophy of “multi-species kinship,” are informed by the ideas of Southeastern Indigenous Americans. Seligmann encountered these ideas through his husband’s connections with an Indigenous community in Florida, the name of which he chooses not to publish for political reasons.

“I know the Maker of Medicine of that community very well,” said Seligmann. “[He] was really crucial in developing this album. He edited my liner notes. This album was made in conversation with this community.” This Indigenous community will also receive a portion of the proceeds earned by Seligmann’s album.

Seligmann, a queer Richmond native, is currently an artist in residence at The Music Center at Strathmore in Maryland. He first expressed an interest in the viola da gamba when he saw  someone perform with the instrument at five years old. 

“I pointed to it and said ‘Mommy I wanna play that,’ and she looked at my five year-old self and said ‘yeah sure you do,’” Seligmann said. “So she started me on cello.”

Niccolo Seligmann’s unusual instrument. Photo by Margot Schulman.

Luckily for Seligmann, he had the chance to encounter the viola da gamba again when he was 13. His original cello teacher had attended the prestigious Peabody conservatory at Johns Hopkins University, and returned to Richmond as a viola da gamba player. This allowed Seligmann to switch his focus to a new instrument under the same teacher, with the help of Richmond’s active early-music scene.

“It’s so many coincidences lining up in the most wonderful way,” said Seligmann.

Seligmann’s performance at Blue Bee Cider, which is located at 1320 Summit Ave in Scott’s Addition, will take place on Friday, February 28 beginning at 5:30 PM. There’s a suggested donation of $5, and food and beverages will be available. More info is available on Facebook.

In addition to his performance at Blue Bee Cider, Seligmann will be giving concerts for the Kinship tour throughout Marc in multiple locations across the East Coast. More information can be found on Seligmann’s Facebook page.

Top Photo by Margot Schulman

Jonah Schuhart

Jonah Schuhart

Jonah Schuhart is a Senior Broadcast Journalism Student at Virginia Commonwealth University. Jonah hopes to use his work to spread goodwill and a positive message. Despite this healthy outlook, he survives solely on a destructive diet of Japanese action games and Cheetos.

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