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April 2023

Twelfth Night is an exciting ensemble with a bright future. GEMS sat down with co-directors David Belkovski and Rachell Ellen Wong to hear more about the group.

Twelfth NIght Duo Credit Mei StoneDavid and Rachell, you are both graduates of The Juilliard School’s Historical Performance program. Is that where you met?

Rachell: Yes! We met in 2018, I was starting my second year and David was starting his first. We had a lot of mutual friends who kept suggesting that we should play together and so we started reading together early in the semester. Our first collaboration was through Bach’s B minor obbligato sonata. We played it for a masterclass with Rachel Podger and she was complimentary of our playing and suggested we had a good team going. So we listened to her.

What inspired you to form an ensemble?

David: Our chemistry as a duo led to hours and hours of musing, musicking, and lofty idealizing. We wanted to try for bigger and more daring ventures, following in the footsteps of familiar North American and European early music giants.

Who are the other members of your ensemble and how do you choose your colleagues?

David: The ensemble varies according to the repertoire, on a project-to-project basis. There are so many wonderful and exciting players in this field and we intend to bring everyone into the fold. Rachell and I maintain a clear vision for each program and have strong feelings about period performance more generally. Much like the music-making in the past, the keyboardist and violinist must set the tone with conviction, and allow plenty of room for exploration in the rehearsal space.

Rachell: We highly value a rehearsal process that is both musically and personally fulfilling for everyone involved. We want individual personalities to flourish and coalesce. David and I have often found ourselves in situations where we feel used and unappreciated as musicians, so we work very hard to ensure our performers feel emboldened.

There is a high level of energy and excitement in your live performances. You both seem to approach music this way, but is the “Twelfth Night way” something you intend, or does it just simply happen?

Rachell: Thanks so much! It definitely just happens. Both David and I dislike putting on emotions just for performance’s sake — I believe you genuinely have to feel whatever it is that you're feeling for it to come across to the audience. We both love the music we play together and the people we play it with; that’s something we prioritize above all else.
Even when we first started to rehearse it was clear our style of rehearsal was extremely similar. I like my rehearsals to be high energy, and fast paced a lot of the time, which even from the beginning, David matched. In our rehearsals, if I have an idea, we don’t usually have to even use words to describe what we want but just use the music to guide the result we want. And it’s the same in performances. Often, we are doing things in concert we’ve never done in rehearsal, and because I trust David so much, I always feel this freedom of music making I have never had with anyone else.

Where has Twelfth Night performed this season and what’s coming up next?

Rachell: We have had a wonderful season so far, getting to perform in a lot of new and exciting venues! Our travels included Nashville, ChamberFest Brown County in Indiana, Reno’s Apex Concert Series, Chatham Baroque in Pittsburgh, Tucson’s Arizona Early Music, Music Before 1800 here in New York, and also, of course, for GEMS! Our last concert this season is for the Stissing Center in Pine Plains, New York.

Regarding what’s coming up next, we are so proud to be making our Carnegie Hall debut next season on May 23rd, 2024! Other performances are in the works, too; we are excited about going to Utah to play on the Logan Chamber Music series. We are currently planning a Haydn and Mozart orchestral program on period instruments to be held in New York.

Twelfth NIght Ensemble Credit Mei Stone

How do you schedule your concert and tour dates around your own busy solo schedules, and how do you decide where and when to rehearse?

Rachell: Fortunately, concerts are being scheduled far in advance so finding concert availability is pretty easy. But scheduling rehearsals is extremely tough. Trying to find times where we both are in New York and also available is hard, but for next season we have blocked out specific weeks to only focus on Twelfth Night. We always have rehearsals at David’s place in Washington Heights. Usually, if we know we will be on the west coast at the same time, we try to find concerts nearby. We expect Twelfth Night to be our primary focus in the near future!

You mentioned Twelfth Night’s Carnegie Hall debut next May. What repertoire will you perform and what will this performance mean for the ensemble?

David: For obvious reasons, we are holding nothing back for this concert. The program, titled Elemental, weaves a narrative of instrumental and vocal masterpieces to describe humanity’s troubled relationship to the natural world. We may be the first group to feature Vivaldi’s Seasons and Bach’s monumental "Erbarme Dich" from the St. Matthew Passion on one program! In the end, we are presenting Elemental as a sort of opera, incorporating the brilliant vocal talents of mezzo-soprano Xenia Puskarz Thomas and soprano Julie Roset, who have collaborated with Twelfth Night from the beginning. As for what this concert means to us, Carnegie endures as a fixture on all performing artists’ horizons — it is both humbling and thrilling to be invited.

If you were to look out five years, what are your hopes and dreams for Twelfth Night?

David: Oratorios, symphonies, concertos, chamber music — Baroque, Classical, Romantic… the list goes on! We have a Spotify playlist of desert island works that we are itching to program. It currently clocks in at about a hundred hours of music, so I don’t think we are in danger of exhausting that anytime soon.

Why did Twelfth Night choose to become a GEMS fiscal sponsored ensemble?

David: From our direct experience, GEMS has proven time and time again to understand the needs of early musicians and approaches each problem with unique sensitivity. GEMS continues to provide invaluable guidance and necessary assistance as we feel out our position as a new ensemble in the early music scene. It was a no-brainer to join!

David and Rachell, thank you so much for this. GEMS is thrilled to be part of Twelfth Night’s journey and we wish you and the ensemble continued success!


Visit the Twelfth Night website for more info




GEMS is a non-profit corporation that supports and promotes the artists and organizations in New York devoted to early music — playing repertoire from the Medieval, Renaissance, Baroque, and early Classical periods.