by Alex Hancock, UW-Madison
"Mention early music and most people think first of Johann Sebastian Bach," says Professor Paul Rowe, who co-directs the Madison Early Music Festival with his wife Cheryl Bensman Rowe. "This is the fourth year of the Festival and we decided it was time to focus on the biggest name of all."
The Festival, held July 12-19 on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, is called "Musical Connections: Bach and His World." J.S. Bach and his musical contemporaries, predecessors and successorsincluding some of the master's sonswill be featured.
"I think it's very important (and a lot of fun!) to study the atmosphere of Bach's timethe social and religious background, the people who influenced him musically and the people he influenced," says Rowe.
The Madison Early Music Festival provides an opportunity for musicians, scholars, teachers, dancers and early music enthusiasts from throughout the U.S. to perform, learn and exchange ideas about medieval, Renaissance and baroque vocal and instrumental music. In addition to seven concerts and six pre-concert lecturesall open to the publicthe Festival offers a week of hands-on classes, performing opportunities, and lectures.
Participants in the classes work directly with the guest artists in classes and coached ensembles. "The thing that is both unique and exciting about the Festival," says program director Chelcy Bowles, "is that people get to work with the artists they hear in the concertssome of the world's finest performers of early music."
The Festival Concert Series includes concerts by guest artists Musica Pacifica, The Newberry Consort, and Piffaro; a faculty concert featuring School of Music faculty and guest artists performing in ensembles and as soloists; and a free concert that showcases participant-consorts who have been coached throughout the week by the faculty. On the closing night an all-festival concert features Kuhnau's Magnificat, Telemann's Trauer-Actus, J.S. Bach's Cantata 106 and several instrumental works, performed together by participants, faculty and guest artists.
Last year over 100 people attended workshop classes and performed in the all-festival concert. "Our students represent many levels of expertise and have a range of particular interests," Rowe stresses. "Some want to learn how to play early music on a modern instrument at which they have some proficiency. Others want to try moving from a modern instrument to an earlier onefrom the modern cello to the baroque cello, for example."
Classes are taught by artists-in-residence and School of Music faculty. "We engage artists-in-residence based on the festival topic, the music we'll be performing and also on what our students are here to learn."
The Madison Festival is one of several annual summer gatherings in the Midwest that focus on early musicwhich Rowe says can be "roughly defined as classical music up to including J.S. Bach's era, though the range of years that some people include in the category seems to be expanding. Really, early music is an almost infinitely fertile field for investigation. We'll never run out of ideas or materialor, we hope, enthusiastic musicians and listeners."
To learn more about the Madison Early Music Festival Workshops or Concert Series, contact Chelcy Bowles at 608-265-5629 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit the Web site at http://www.dcs.wisc.edu/lsa/memf.