What piece of art changed your life? How did it affect you?
A beautiful 18th century italian viola d'amore. I remember being on a musical tour in Italy and having a week to spend in Padua. A italian friend who lives there asked me if I wanted to try out his viola d'amore for a few days. I'd never seen one before, but when I saw it, I immediately fell in love with it and did nothing else for those days!
Viola d'amores are a cross between violins and viola da gambas. They have the shape of the viola da gamba, but the size of a viola, and are played under the chin like a violin. They are usually beautifully carved with a blindfolded Cupid's head instead of the normal scroll. They have seven playing strings, which is already a lot, but as well as these, they have seven "resonance" strings hidden inside the neck. These ring on in an angelic way after you have finished playing and give a magical aura to the sound.
Those happy days in Italy playing viola d'amore stayed with me for a long time, and now I have my own instrument, which has become a constant travelling companion and an important way for me to express myself.
Garth Knox plays a vast repertoire spanning centuries not decades. He's as adept playing Bach and Vivaldi as he is Cage or Stockhausen, and his excellent new ECM disc, Saltarello, ranges from Hildegard von Bingen to traditional Irish music. Knox brings his beloved viola d'amore and encyclopedic knowledge of music to An die Musik on May 21st for an 8 pm show.