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Sonatas in the kitchen with Tekla

Submitted by Joanne De Pue on February 10, 2023 - 3:06pm
Tekla Cunningham
Tekla Cunningham (Photo: Teresa Tam Studio)
heart cookies
heart-shaped springerle
Bird springerle
Bird springerle
Nativity scene springerle
A 1654 replica Nativity scene springerle baked by Tekla Cunningham.
“Marmorcuchen,” or marble cake
“Marmorcuchen,” or marble cake, baked by Tekla Cunningham.
chestnut and vanilla cake
Chestnut and vanilla cake.

When she’s not performing, teaching, programming festivals, or taking care of the myriad tasks and responsibilities of a working mom and professional musician, Baroque violinist and School of Music faculty member Tekla Cunningham loves to bake. And not just run-of-the-mill, everyday baking. Her creations are  exquisite, artful, and inspired: chestnut and vanilla cakes, pecan roulade filled with chocolate cream, marble cake, plum dumplings, mozzarella-stuffed dinner rolls sprinkled with herbs, and especially, around the holidays, the pressed, anise-scented German shortbread cookies known as springerle.

Pressing the dough into wooden molds carved with flowers, birds, and other ornate designs, the artist has time to ponder while creating something both intricate and delectable.

It was perhaps inevitable that Cunningham’s passions for baking and music would intertwine. During the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, she used her social media channels to perform and connect with audiences, but also to teach online baking classes, some of which were fundraisers for Seattle’s Pacific MusicWorks (she is co-artistic director) or the Whidbey Island Music Festival (she is the artistic director). But her interests intersected in a most wondrous way in the lead-up to her recent Meany Hall and Whidbey Island performances of “The Joyful Mysteries,” Part 1 of Baroque violinist and composer Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber’s Mystery Sonatas, his meditations on the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

“A fascinating and unique feature of these sonatas are the copper-plate engravings printed at the beginning of each sonata depicting its story,” Cunningham wrote in her program notes for the concerts. “Humans have printed art, maps, words, and music on various materials for millennia.” They also have long printed art on cookies. “A few years ago, while I was pressing molds into dough,” she says, “I realized that there were springerle molds that depicted the same stories as the copper plate prints in the Biber Mystery Sonatas.” For the first set of Joyful Mysteries, she located a replica Nativity mold from 1654. “Enjoying a springerle cookie pressed with the Nativity scene is the ultimate in embodiment!”

Indeed, attendees of her January performances were invited to view or taste the Nativity scene springerle prepared by the evening’s star performer—a sweet surprise from an artist whose rich talents lie in disparate and sometimes unexpectedly overlapping areas. 

Save the Dates

Cunningham’s performances of the Mystery Sonatas of H.I.F. von Biber continues in March and May with performances in Seattle and on Whidbey and Bainbridge Islands. She is joined by Henry Lebedinsky, harpsichord and organ; and David Morris, viola de gamba.

At St. Mark’s Cathedral

The Sorrowful Mysteries: Biber’s Rosary Sonatas, Part 2
SATURDAY, MARCH 18, 2023, 7:30 P.M.
& SUNDAY, MARCH 19, 2023, 2:30 P.M.
Saint Mark’s Thomsen Chapel, 1245 10th Ave. E. Seattle
Tickets and details here:

At St. James Cathedral

The Glorious Mysteries: Biber’s Rosary Sonatas, Part 3
SATURDAY, MAY 6, 2023, 8 P.M.
Saint Jame's Cathedral, 804 Ninth Avenue Seattle, WA 98104
and details here:

On Whidbey Island

The Sorrowful Mysteries: Biber’s Rosary Sonatas, Part 2
FRIDAY, MARCH 17, 2023, 7 P.M.

The Glorious Mysteries: Biber’s Rosary Sonatas, Part 3
FRIDAY, MAY 5, 2023, 7 p.m.

Both performances are at St. Augustine's in-the-woods, 5217 South Honeymoon Bay Road, Freeland, WA, 98249.
Tickets and details:

On Bainbridge Island

The Glorious Mysteries: Biber’s Rosary Sonatas, Part 3
SUNDAY, MAY 7 2023, 4 PM.
Presented by the Bainbridge Community Piano Association, Waterfront Park Community Center, 370 Brien Drive Southeast, Bainbridge Island, WA, 98110 
Tickets and details:

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