The first-ever Madison Early Music Festival will get under way at the UW School of Music July 16-29. The events include workshop sessions for everyone from novices to experts, lectures, lessons, coaching sessions, rehearsals and concerts.
Co-sponsored by the School of Music and the UW Extension, the festival offers a unique gathering of musicians, scholars, teachers and enthusiasts of music written prior to 1750. Participant fees and monies from the Brittingham Fund and other sources will support the annual festival for up to three years.
Two internationally known early-music ensembles, the Newberry Consort and Cecilia's Circle, will serve as artists-in-residence and participate in major concerts each week. Historical lectures and discussions will be hosted by the renowned expert on Renaissance Florence, Dr. Blake Wilson.
"We did not expect a huge enrollment in this first year," says festival artistic director Paul Rowe, a member of the UW voice faculty. "It takes a while for word to get around, but we have about 20 UW students presently enrolled, and with exposure the festival should grow. After the third year we'll evaluate where we are with it." Madison seems a good place for such a thing, given our relatively mild summer weather, pleasant geography and strong support for the arts.
Similar festivals around the world -- I've performed in two of them myself -- have proved immensely popular with musicians and audiences. Both the instruments and the manner of playing them have changed radically since 1750. Over the course of the past 30-40 years instrument makers, scholars and performers have developed a deeper understanding of earlier instruments and performance practices. One result has been an outpouring of recorded performances of medieval and baroque music taking advantage of this knowledge, and this in turn as created a growing demand for live concerts of early music realized on period instruments.
Rowe is enthusiastic about future prospects. "The Viola da Gamba Society, which has hundreds of members, has expressed interest in future particpation, and we can envision a rotating focus for the festival as one or another group takes part."
All pre-concert lectures (6:30 p.m.) and festival concerts (7:30 p.m.) are open to the public, and there will be a lot of them: Tuesday (guest artists), Thursday (festival faculty), Friday (student ensembles) and Saturday evenings (all-festival concert and reception) each of the two weeks.
Isthmus, July, 2000
Copyright 2000 Jess Anderson