Cantamos Artist Interview: Dylan Sauerwald

Dylan Sauderwald. Photo credit: Lucas Godlewski

Dylan Sauderwald. Photo credit: Lucas Godlewski

We’ve got an amazing group of artists assembled for CANTAMOS, our first project of the 2018-2019 season! Meet our good friend Dylan Sauerwald, historical keyboardist and conductor who you might also recognize as our music director for ORLANDO and EURIDICE. Dylan is a foodie, a cook, and also the director of early music collective Polyphemus (who just recorded their first studio album!)

Get to know more about Dylan in the interview below.


November 5th @ 7:30pm

United Palace

4140 Broadway

New York, NY 10033

Part of the United Palace Lobby Series. Doors open at 7:00pm. Tickets available now.

Please introduce yourself: your name, your instrument(s), your favorite non-classical song, where you were born, and the best thing about living in New York City.

I'm Dylan Sauerwald, I'll be playing the harpsichord for Cantamos. My favorite non-classical song has got to be 'Move on Up' by Curtis Mayfield. This probably doesn't happen to people as much anymore, but before Shazam, sometimes you'd hear a song, and not know what it was. I kept hearing this song here and there, and I loved it, and was never able to find out what it was called or who it was by. This went on for years. Then, one fine day, I heard the title and artist, and listened to it like 5 times in a row.

I was born in San Diego, CA (then moved away a hot second later), and the best thing about living in NYC has got to be eating. There's a lot of noise, there are tons of places, but there are the most amazingly special spots just hiding everywhere in this town, and when you find one, away from the over-crowded 'it' spots, and it's quiet and the food is incredible... that's a pretty magical feeling.

Tell us a bit about your background as an artist.

I'm pretty hardcore about early music. Did my undergrad and grad degrees in it, and basically knew it was my life's passion from about age 16 onwards. People often seem to think of that as a narrow focus, but I've never thought so: devoting myself to that period lets me embrace it more holistically, getting deep into not just the music, but the art and literature, the social contexts, the architecture... really every aspect of historical aesthetics is relevant to interpreting classical music. It's just impossible to get that depth working with a 400-year span of music.

Photo credit: Lucas Godlewski

Photo credit: Lucas Godlewski

In addition to performing in this project, you were also our early music consultant in picking our Baroque selections. How did you get involved with this repertoire?

I've always been enchanted by the Spanish repertoire. I have very significant Spanish ancestry, and visited my family there often in my childhood. Besides that, though, Spanish baroque music is totally unique among other baroque styles: in poetry and drama, the 17th century is called the siglo de oro, or 'Golden Century,' which tells you everything you need to know about the quality of the lyrics and librettos we're working with. Besides that, Spain was, musically, quite separate from the rest of Europe, and at first brush the style seems very conservative and post-renaissance. But dig a little deeper, and you'll find it is the most rhythmically sophisticated style of the baroque period. Pair that unique sound with the words of Vega and Calderón, and I don't see how anyone could fail to be enchanted by this music.

Which part of Spain is your family from? And any insider tips for those who might be making a trip there?

My Spanish family is quite a story: they're originally from Castilla (central Spain), but moved to the Philippines in the 19th century. My grandmother was born in Manila, and the family fled when the Japanese invaded. She met my Swiss grandfather in Buenos Aires, and moved to Geneva with him. Most of the rest of the family is back near Madrid, but the parts of it closest to me are in Catalunya, around Barcelona.

Insider tip: Sitges. It's a town 20km south of Barcelona on the Mediterranean coast. It's a lot like Provincetown or Fire Island (lots of gay people and parties) except that it was built by the Romans so everything is 2,000 years old. And it's, as we said, on Spain's Mediterranean coast, so the seafood is just about the best in the world. Utterly incredible place, and just a quick train ride from Barcelona. 

What do you do when you're not studying and performing early music?

I do lots of cooking; I've always loved cooking and eating, and over the last couple years have been trying to run a mostly waste-free kitchen, which is obviously good for sustainability and affordability, but also an inspiring ongoing project that I feel connects me to my ancestors who didn't have packaged foods.

Left: Kulebyaka, which is a Russian salmon pie with rice and mushrooms. Right: a riff on a White Lady cocktail (lemon juice, gin, egg white) with rosemary and Peychaud's bitters.

Left: Kulebyaka, which is a Russian salmon pie with rice and mushrooms. Right: a riff on a White Lady cocktail (lemon juice, gin, egg white) with rosemary and Peychaud's bitters.

I also train in Aikido, which is a beautiful martial art and spiritual practice, which I've found to be both a tremendous way to stay fit both physically and mentally. Also, there's nothing to keep you humble like getting repeatedly thrown to the ground, and humility is, I think, pretty key to living happily in NYC.

What’s your number one takeaway from Aikido practice? 

Aikido keeps me grounded, and reminds me that anything that is truly good cannot be faked. It's nothing but substance: either you blend and absorb, or you get smashed in the face. There's no overthinking, no posturing, no marketing. All that matters is being present, and improving yourself so you have more to give to the people around you. Music is too often about those other things, and as a result the 'classical music scene' is often full of selfish energy. Aikido keeps me focused on how I can improve myself as a musician every day, and through that, help musicians around me improve themselves.

One of the goals of this project is to promote Spanish-language classical repertoire so more people know about it and more artists perform it. Do you have any favorite works, composers, or performers you'd recommend?

Oh my god, yes! I'll just speak about the Spanish baroque, but it's already an ocean of unbelievable music. Well, if you just have time for 1 song, listen to this aria by Antonio Rodríguez de Hita. A totally unknown composer, with very little surviving music. This is the kind of music that's just out there, waiting to be performed!

For those with more time on their hands, Jose de Nebra's opera Iphigenia en Tracia is an amazing work, and frankly Nebra's whole output is worth a listen: he's a tremendous composer with imagination and craft. Also the Catalan composer Antonio de Lliteres wrote a phenomenal conceptual opera called Los Elementos, which, due to several solo violas da gamba, has a uniquely rich, dark flavor. I'll stop here, but if anyone wants more, get in touch!


What’s the most interesting discovery you’ve made while preparing for this concert?

Interesting question! This time around I've been looking more closely at text underlay, and observing how nuanced it is. Classical singers get spoiled by the extremely sophisticated text-setting we usually enjoy, and have been trained to think that strong syllables on weak beats are bad, and vice versa. But this repertoire is so, so full of that that it can't be an accident. Those cross-accents give amazing push-and-pull to this music, and I've really been enjoying thinking about how much to lean into them or just let them go by.

And why should people come see CANTAMOS?

Incredible, rarely-heard Spanish music. Talented young performers. In Washington Heights.


Visit for more about Dylan and his work. 

Dylan’s favorite non-classical song: