It’s hardly surprising that accomplished musician Carolina Eyck plays violin, viola or piano. Instead, it is her primary instrument that makes her unusual.
The 31-year-old native of suburban Berlin, Germany, has made her musical mark with an electronic instrument called the theremin. It is named for Russian physicist Léon Theremin, who invented it in 1919 as a result of Soviet-sponsored research into proximity sensors (which detect the presence of nearby objects without physical contact); he patented it eight years later.
“You don’t touch it when you play it,” said Eyck. “With the right hand, you can change the pitch and with the left hand, the volume — depending on how close you are to the antennas of the instrument. You can produce delicate melodies, but you can also create a great pallet of effects.”
Due to the development of easier-to-play electronic instruments – like the more well-known Moog synthesizer– the theremin has ebbed and flowed in terms of attention from serious musicians. Its eerie sound gave it a place in science fiction movie soundtracks like Miklós Rózsa’s “Spellbound” and “The Lost Weekend,” and Bernard Herrmann’s “The Day the Earth Stood Still.” The instrument’s own 1993 film, “Theremin: An Electronic Odyssey,” led to a resurgence in interest by contemporary musicians, who proceeded to use the theremin in avant-garde and 20th- and 21st-century new music and created works specifically designed for it.
Photo Credit: Christian Hüller
“More and more people have become interested in the theremin,” Eyck said, “so I would say the number of players is rising.”
Eyck will perform at Strathmore in North Bethesda on Thursday, April 11 and Friday, April 12. The first concert, at the Mansion, will consist of “classical works by Ravel, Fauré and others, arranged for theremin and piano, with pianist Sun-A Park,” she said. For the second performance, at AMP by Strathmore, Eyck will play her solo program for Theremin & Voice. “These are mostly my own compositions where I use my loop station to layer sounds and create choirs.”
Despite the relative obscurity of the theremin, Eyck “has heard the sounds of synthesizers played by my parents” (from birth),” she said. “They thought the theremin was a cool instrument.”
“From the first day I saw the theremin in our living room, I practiced it,” she recalled. “It was always clear to me that the theremin had picked me and would stay with me.” Her lessons with Lydia Kavina – a granddaughter of Léon Theremin’s first cousin who studied with Theremin at age 9 — started when Eyck was 7 years old.
Eyck has been steadfast and productive with her instrument. Since her 2002 debut with the Berlin Philharmonie, she has performed in concerts and festivals around the globe and has collaborated with musicians, conductors, ensembles and symphony orchestras.
“In 2006, I developed my own playing technique and wrote a book (‘The Art of Playing the Theremin’) about my eight-finger-position method,” Eyck said. Her innovative approach enables players to tune the instrument to their hands and rely on finger position instead of correcting the notes after they can be heard.
Also in 2006, Eyck’s composing talents earned her a win in Radio/TV Berlin-Brandenberg’s International Competition for Composers. Four years later, she was awarded a bachelor’s degree in music in viola from the Royal College of Music in Stockholm, Sweden, and became artistic director of the Theremin Summer Academy in Colmar, France.
In addition to performing, composing, giving workshops, lectures and master classes around the world, Eyck offers theremin lessons both online via video chat or in person. Her playing has been featured on some nine albums, both her own and as guest artist. Now, she is working on “a few new albums for Theremin & Voice, which are coming out this year, and writing a second theremin method book.” With all her projects in so many locales, it’s no wonder that asked where she is based, she responded, “At the moment, I live in space.”
Eyck’s proudest moments to date, she said, have been those “when I accomplished something I didn’t think I would before I started it. For example, studying a really challenging new composition like the ‘Theremin Concerto’ by Finnish composer Kalevi Aho, which I thought in the beginning was impossible to play, but turned out beautifully with the orchestra.” In fact, it won the ECHO-classic prize for Concert Recording of the Year.
Her two concerts at Strathmore, no doubt, will turn out beautifully as well.
Carolina Eyck will perform at the Mansion at Strathmore, 10701 Rockville Pike, North Bethesda, at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, April 11, and at AMP by Strathmore, 11810 Grand Park Ave., North Bethesda, at 8 p.m. Friday, April 12. While the Mansion concert is sold out, tickets ranging from $20 to $35 for the AMP show are available by calling 301-581-5100 or visiting www.ampbystrathmore.com/live-shows