John Dornenburg has performed as viola da gamba soloist in the British Isles, Turkey, Australia, New Zealand, Poland, Holland, and across the U.S.A. His solo appearances include the Istanbul Festival, Krakow Festival (Poland), York Early Music Festival (U.K.), Kilkenny Festival (Ireland), Warwick Festival (U.K.), Melbourne International Festival (Australia), and Monadnock Festival (New Hampshire). He has often played the viola da gamba arias in the St. Matthew and St. John Passions of J.S. Bach for groups such as the Oregon Bach Festival, Carmel Bach Festival, Honolulu Symphony, and the San Francisco Symphony.
He has made solo recordings of viola da gamba music by J.S. Bach, C.P.E. Bach, Marais, Telemann, Abel, Hume, Simpson, Sainte-Colombe, Kühnel, and Handel, and can be heard on the Centaur, Meridian, Koch, Dorian, Musica Omnia, Music and Arts, Musical Heritage Society, and other record labels. He has also made many concert recordings for radio and television in both Europe and the U.S.A., including the BBC, NPR's Performance Today, and CBS television's Sunday Morning program.
He has been Music Director for performances of Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610 and Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas (both for the Renaissance and Baroque Society of Pittsburgh), and in 2005 he conducted a fully staged production of Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea at California State University in Sacramento.
In the San Francisco Bay Area he can be heard with his chamber groups Music’s Re-creation and the Sex Chordæ Consort of Viols, where he also performs with groups including Magnificat, Jubilate Orchestra, American Bach Soloists, and Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra. Over the years he has worked with a long list of distinguished artists including Andrew Parrott, Jaap Schroeder, Stanley Ritchie, Marion Verbruggen, Julianne Baird, Judith Nelson, Paul Hillier, Andrew Lawrence King, Helmuth Rilling, Bruno Weil, Kent Nagano, Jeffrey Thomas, Nicholas McGegan, Warren Stewart, Malcolm Proud, Ensemble Rebel, and Chatham Baroque. As a chamber musician he performs on all sizes of the viola da gamba family, including the G and D violones.
He is the first American to be awarded the Soloist's Diploma for viola da gamba from the Royal Conservatory in The Hague, Holland, where his teacher was Wieland Kuijken. Before that, he studied baroque performance practice with Nikolaus Harnoncourt at the Mozarteum in Salzburg, Austria. He earned his Bachelor’s degree in music at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, where he first became interested in the performance of early music while collaborating with fellow students Robert Eisenstein and Scot Reiss. He has been the recipient of a Fulbright Fellowship, and has been selected for the Touring Artist Roster of the California Arts Council. Publications include three collections of 17th-century viol consort music by John Hingeston for PRB Productions, as well as reviews and articles in the Journal of Seventeenth Century Music and Early Music America.
While primarily concerned with performing early music, he has commissioned a new quartet for baroque instruments from Alan Lighty (Birds of Prey), and a piece for gamba solo with electronic tape from Ted Allen (Starfield II). He has also commissioned new arrangements of jazz standards for viol consort from Penny Hanna, and he directed a viol consort in the U.S. premier of British composer George Benjamin's work Upon Silence.
John Dornenburg has taught music history at Carnegie-Mellon University, and has served as Affiliate Assistant Professor and Artist-in-Residence at the University of Washington. He is a frequent faculty member at workshops such as the National Conclave of the Viola da Gamba Society of America, Viols West, Amherst Early Music, Aston Magna, and the San Francisco Early Music Society summer workshops at Dominican University.
He is currently Lecturer in Viola da gamba at Stanford University, and Lecturer in music history and literature at California State University, Sacramento.