Aaron Grad is the world’s greatest electric theorbo player.
“Sadly, I’m also the worst,” he says.
A theorbo is a type of lute invented in 16th-century Italy; Grad built his electric version in 2012, in about nine months. He’ll debut his double-necked, 14-stringed, Kickstarter-funded creation Thursday at Strathmore Mansion.
He’s just about got the hang of it, he says.
“It’s a lot to juggle,” says the guitarist and composer, whose background spans rock, jazz and classical music. “It requires a very wide stretch in the right hand. I’m mostly grabbing the bass notes with my thumb and then plucking the remaining strings with my fingers.”
Building the instrument gave Grad time to ponder what he wanted to say with “Old-Fashioned Love Songs,” the concert he’s performing at Strathmore.
“I believe that love has always been the same, and love songs have always been the same. I don’t see divisions between baroque love songs and jazz love songs,” he says.
With that in mind, he selected 10 love songs from the past
400 years and rewrote them for electric theorbo and countertenor. (Augustine Mercante will accompany Grad on vocals Thursday). Grad rounded out the song cycle with
10 original compositions.
The songs move in order, through history and through the course of a romantic relationship, starting with “Come again! sweet love doth now invite” from 1597. Grad first heard it in a music history class at New York University, sitting next to the woman who would become his wife.
From the first song to the last — Nora Jones’ “Come Away With Me” — the performance is dedicated to Grad’s wife, Jen.
The most personal song, Grad says, is “Battle Cry.” The lyrics, about idealized love’s constant clashes with humdrum reality, capture an experience Grad had back when he was beginning to build his theorbo.
“There I am, doing my woodworking in the garage, and I realize I’m aggravating my wife’s asthma tracking sawdust into the house while building an instrument so I can express my love for her.”
Mansion at Strathmore, 10701 Rockville Pike, North Bethesda; Thu., 7:30 p.m., $28, 301-581-5100. (Grosvenor-Strathmore)