Wednesday, July 20, 2011

An Interview with the Staff of Early Music America

by Amanda Vail

I have been working with the EMA staff for a year now, and in that time I have learned a lot about what an amazing network of early music fans, musicians, and organizations there are across the country. Even more, I have come to respect the team of three individuals who work diligently from their Eastlake Seattle office to keep that network not only running, but thriving.

Although there is a nice staff section on their website to tell you a bit about them, anyone who has met them will tell you that the descriptions pale in comparison. The EMA staff are a lively, quirky, fun, dynamic, and passionate group of individuals. I sat down with them recently for a discussion so that I could share some of their interest and individuality with the EMA readership.

First, the setting: the EMA office, which is on Eastlake Avenue in Seattle. For those unfamiliar with Seattle, Eastlake runs along the east side of Lake Union on a narrow strip between the lake and the interstate. All of the architecture in the area is vertical, and the reason for that is apparent when you step into the small set of rooms the EMA staff share: it’s the view, beautiful and barely interrupted, of Lake Union. Maria Coldwell, Executive Director, laughingly told me that their comment is always, “Yes, we have a good view—of the rain!”

Once we had all settled down to talk, I really only had a few questions, but the rambling discussion lasted for quite some time. What follows are a few highlights.

When I asked the first question, “How did each of you become involved in early music?” they exchanged some glances, and then Patrick Nugent, Advertising and Publicity Manager, shrugged and volunteered to go first.

“When I started here, honestly,” he replied. His background is in publishing. Since then, however, he’s become quite fond of lute music. When I inquired more recently if his newborn son Colin was crooning Bach yet, he replied that no, “he sounds more like Sammy Hagar or the guy from the Scorpions when he screeches.”

Maria is a self-professed lifer, and has been ever since her undergraduate years at Yale when she went to a concert of Guillaume Dufay’s work. “It was a whole new sound world,” she said. At that point, she went from playing the standard flute to focusing on the recorder and the baroque flute.

Sally Mitchell, Membership Director, is another flautist, but it was only after she’d returned to music after college that she stumbled into a music shop in Claremont, California, where she decided to purchase a recorder. When she began studying it, she said, “I’d found my world.”

When asked what their favorite events or memories were, there was a general consensus that the Boston Early Music Festival and the Young Performers Festival were definite highlights. Maria loves the Medieval and Renaissance performance competitions—she remembers the year when Asteria won, and “the audience burst out with lots of whooping and hollering and cheers from friends.”

As for what they are looking forward to in EMA’s future, they were able to rattle off a lot of exciting prospects: a dream of an endowment campaign to further support the field in general and early music education in particular; the Baroque Performance Competition in 2012; a recording competition with NAXOS. And those are just a few of the things in the works.

Throughout our discussion, it readily became apparent that the EMA staff’s greatest asset is their willingness to work together. They’re a great team. As Sally said, “It’s a small office, so we’re going to run into each other. We might as well bounce ideas off of each other too!” From the way everyone chips in on the inevitably laborious small tasks that accompany any working office, Maria, Patrick, and Sally support and connect with each other in their efforts to bring together the diverse practitioners of early music.

And it’s obvious to me that their success at that leads directly to the success of Early Music America. So when you’re attending an EMA member event, or reading Early Music America magazine, be sure to think of them all, working away in their small offices with a great view of the Seattle rain.


Thursday, April 21, 2011

EMA Artist Interview with Annalisa Pappano of the Catacoustic Consort

by Amanda Vail

This month, I was fortunate enough to speak with The Catacoustic Consort's Director, Annalisa Pappano. Catacoustic is a chamber group based out of Cincinnati, and presents a range of vocal and instrumental music from the Renaissance to the Baroque period.


EMA: The 2010-2011 season is your 10th anniversary season--congratulations! Do you have any advice to share with other groups regarding achieving such longevity?

AP: Don't take things personally. There will be ups and downs. As long as they balance each other out, you are doing pretty well. I had to learn to not take things personally, too. Being told "no" happens much more than "yes." Hang on to the successes (audience testimonials, magical concerts, etc), and learn to let go of the negatives (grant rejections, poor attendances, etc).

EMA: What do you look forward to in the years ahead?

AP: It has been a dream to develop an early music community here in Cincinnati. It is finally happening. Michael Maniaci, Baroque opera singer, moved to Cincinnati from NYC last December. In addition to Larry Brown (lute maker) and James Campbell (harpsichord maker), there is a community of enthusiastic players here. We now have a triple harp player (soon to be performing in a Baroque opera near you!), and some of my viol students are really taking off--giving recitals and going to Conclave. I am looking forward to a new electric energy in the community about playing and hearing more early music.

EMA: Tell us a little bit about how you personally discovered the Viola da Gamba. What makes it special to you?

AP: I discovered the viol when I was a teenager at Interlochen Arts Camp with Mark Cudek and Ann Marie Morgan. It was so much fun, and I felt like I found my voice in this instrument and its music. Unfortunately, the IAC doesn't have a youth early music program anymore, but it generated a lot of today's professional early music performers.

EMA: Your Consort seems highly devoted to building your community, from musical education to involving businesses. Can you comment on your involvement in Cincinnati? And how do you bring what you do to a larger audience?

AP: Community involvement is so important; it was stressed from day one, when I began Catacoustic, mentored by the Fine Arts Fund (now ArtsWave). It is central to Catacoustic's mission as a nonprofit, and I feel that it has contributed to a sense of family, community, and ownership in our audience. I don't think in terms of bringing a product to a larger audience. I think of making what we do relevant to the people we serve. If this is successful, a natural consequence will be to reach a larger audience.


For more information on The Catacoustic Consort, visit their website at For a full listing of EMA Member Concerts in honor of our 25th Anniversary, click here.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

EMA Artist Interview with Shulamit Kleinerman of Plaine & Easie

by Amanda Vail

For the fourth installment of Early Music America's series of interviews with EMA Member Artists, we spoke with Plaine & Easie's Shulamit Kleinerman.

Plaine & Easie consists of Shulamit Kleinerman (renaissance violin, medieval vielle), John Lenti (lute, theorbo), Linda Tsatsanis (soprano), and Nathan Whittaker (historical cello). They specialize in the music of the late Tudor age.


EMA: Can you describe for us exactly how Plaine & Easie came together? What drew the four of you into a group, and how did you gravitate toward your repertoire of late Tudor/Elizabethan era music?

SK: We had all worked together in various combinations—the other three members were at the Early Music Institute at Bloomington together—but we came together as a foursome for the first time in order to do the 2009 EMA Medieval/Renaissance competition. The impetus came from Linda, and she’s married to Nathan, so he was an easy recruit. John and I both have a particular love for Elizabethan stuff, and Linda and John had a significant lute-song rep built up over their years as a duo. Best of all, there are the three Dowland lute songs with instrumental cantus and bassus, so we were eager to dig in on those with the instrumentation we have. There’s great music all over Europe around the turn of the seventeenth century, but the English geeked out on it in a wonderfully fruitful way, in that there is more play--more experimentation with instrumentation and texture, a lot of riffing off of other composers’ ideas, a great musical cornucopia. Perfect for an ensemble that doesn’t have a standard consort instrumentation.

EMA: How have things been going for you since winning the 2009 EMA Medieval/Renaissance Competition? Has anything changed?

SK: We’ve had the opportunity to do some touring this year to the three cities that presented us as part of the award, along with a couple of additional cities that asked us after the competition. These performances have required us to delve deeper with the music, developing three full concert programs in a relatively short time, and learning a lot as we went. It’s been really wonderful to meet new audiences in these places and enjoy their generous hospitality, and to realize how many of our teachers, mentors, colleagues, and friends played on the same concert series and sat at the same hosts’ dinner tables before us.

We’ve gained wonderful exposure as an ensemble and as individuals. It makes me think a lot about Malcolm Gladwell’s point that any success is always largely to do with luck and opportunity, and also about the hard economic realities that affect what happens in our field. Pre-Baroque ensemble work where you have to develop your own arrangements with divisions, counter-melodies, et cetera, as we do, is pretty labor-intensive. It’s hard to carve out the unpaid rehearsal time to get off the ground with a project like this if you’re busy paying the rent in an expensive city as a musician. We’ve worked hard, but we wouldn’t have been able to do it without the competition coming at the right time with the prospect of some tangible benefit. It’s so great that EMA created this opportunity as a motivation for ensembles to make the investment in the earlier repertoire. It’s wonderfully rewarding music, and audiences seem to love it.

EMA: The press seems to often reference the youth of your group--does this perception prove to be a challenge at all?

SK: I think just like the rest of the classical music field, early music audiences are torn between their love of their favorite ensembles of many years and the very conscious need to keep bringing in new performers and new audiences. The test for younger performers is always going to be how they develop over time—and it should be said that the increasing cost of living and the cramped state of arts funding these days makes it harder in many ways for today’s younger musicians to sustain their efforts than the generation or two before—but in the meantime, I think it’s wonderful that audiences are eager to give new groups a chance to show what they can do.

So far we’ve only experienced the references to Plaine & Easie’s youth as a positive thing, because it has always come in the same breath with praise for our music-making. Each of us is at a wonderful moment in our careers where we still have some of the benefits of being seen as young and new, but at the same time, we’ve already been hard at work for ten years building up a track record individually. We’re not fresh out of college; as of this coming summer, all four members will be in our thirties. We all have busy lives performing, and some of us teaching, at home and on the road. We’ve all had a chance to show what we can do in a range of contexts and are looking forward to more. So right now we have the best of both worlds.


To learn more about Plaine & Easie, and to see a list of their upcoming performances, visit their website:

To find out more about Early Music America's Awards & Competitions, check out this portion of our website.

Monday, February 14, 2011

EMA Artist Interview with Gwendolyn Toth of ARTEK

by Amanda Vail

Welcome to the third installment of Early Music America's series of interviews with EMA Member Artists. This time, we caught up with Gwendolyn Toth of New York City's ARTEK.


EMA: How did your January 1st concert, "Sing Along with Claudio," go?

GT: We had a fantastic concert! I had some worries that New Year's Day football would make a dent, but the church was full, and many of the audience participated in the singing.

EMA: Can you share what was, for you, the most memorable moment from the concert?

GT: I think it was the very first tutti chord of the Domine ad adiuvandum, with everyone singing. The entire room was ringing. It was indeed a glorious moment.

EMA: You chose to perform "Sing Along with Claudio" in honor of EMA's 25th Anniversary (and we're honored!)--what prompted you to choose this concert?

GT: There've been so many performances of the Vespers throughout the past year; ARTEK had several of them, including memorable concerts in New York City and at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. At both of these concerts, we had what was probably the most complete Renaissance orchestra assembled by any of the groups performing the Vespers. Still, by and large, most all-professional undertakings of the piece used a small number of singers, one-to-a-part on the large psalms--all according to our most recent scholarship.

But, any great masterpiece is often best understood and loved by actually performing it. I wanted to bring that experience to all of our fans - I think everyone should sing the Vespers at some point in their lives, and if ARTEK can put together a giant Renaissance orchestra and a crew of professional singers to lead the way (thanks to my colleagues and friends from Piffaro, Parthenia, and Gallery Voices), why not open it up to the audience to join in?

In particular, I think EMA has been a guiding light for amateur fans of early music, as well as an important resource for professional early music groups. Bringing together these two EMA constituencies (oh, please pardon the grantwriter jargon here!) seemed like the perfect way to celebrate its 25th Anniversary--especially since ARTEK celebrated its own 25th Anniversary last season with its NYC performance of the Vespers.

EMA: Is this concert (or will it become) a yearly tradition?
GT: It is a hard piece to sing. It's not the Messiah, with four-part choruses and melodies that are not too hard to remember for amateur singers. The Monteverdi Vespers requires really high level music reading, the ability to count rhythm accurately, and that highly underestimated ability to both sing and listen at the same time in order to keep the ensemble together. Moreover, early music fans tend to be more adept at counting in half notes--if one counts Nisi Dominus in quarter notes, one will be left behind at the starting gate! I admit my arms were tired at the end of the performance, because I was leading several hundred more people than the 30 or so I normally conduct. (And my feet! Standing two hours in heels...)

At the party afterward, I began to realize the impact the concert had on so many people in the audience. One after another, they all came up to me and begged me to do the same concert every year. "Make it a tradition!" they said. Well, it's a possibility, though I think the audience underestimates the funding needed for the giant Renaissance orchestra, which was a big part of the enormous success of the occasion. This year it was a gift from ARTEK to our audience. For the future... we'll see.

I do think we'll be doing other audience participation concerts for sure. We've had a number of benefit concerts for the Midtown Concerts series that involve 15 to 20 different ensembles, all of which come together to sing and play at the beginning and the end of the concert. We could open that up to the audience as well. I'm always thinking, always plotting for new ways to engage with our fans, who give us so much support, both financially and musically.

EMA: The Midtown Concerts are an amazing undertaking. What was their initial inspiration? What keeps them going?

GT: I was the music director at a large midtown church in NYC for many years. One year we had one of those "weddings of the century" events, which were fairly rare for us. (You know, 50 valets parking cars, a flower budget at least double my yearly salary...) The parents of the bride, knowing that a lot of work had gone into preparing the music for the wedding, asked me to suggest some place to which they could donate a nice chunk of funding. I remembered how, when I had arrived in New York in the late 1970s, it seemed like there were all kinds of small series with opportunities for young ensembles. Also, ARTEK had begun touring regularly with Mark Morris, and I wanted to find a vehicle for us to perform our new repertoire on a more frequent basis in between those tours. And that... was the beginning of the Midtown Concerts.

We have since moved twice, and changed the day of the week from Thursday to Wednesday, but during that time the Midtown Concerts have become an institution, I think. Though government and foundation funders have been slow to really give the series the support it deserves, we have been able to support ourselves with funding from many, many small donations by those who attend and in-kind support from Gotham Early Music Scene. A wonderful trust fund grant (which is running out soon) and the government money only pays for our part-time, woefully underpaid intern, who is the administrator, and the nice brochures we send out twice yearly.

But we have large audiences, and we are now receiving far more applications each year than we can give concerts--some from as far aways as Europe or the West Coast--despite the extremely modest honorarium. We haven't been able to raise that honorarium in many years, and I feel bad about that. Nevertheless, at least we're still a forum for ensembles to try out music and for audiences to hear things they might never have heard before.

Just last month, we had the Dodd String Quartet perform; they played a simply fabulous concert of quartet music on period instruments. They're ready to start major touring and playing around the country, and I hope our series played some part in that. And what a gift for the audience--to hear such intense, brilliant music-making, totally free! I sometimes get these notes on our little donation envelopes that make me feel sad: "I am enclosing one dollar because I have not worked in six months, and this is all I can afford to give." How incredibly generous, to be in that position, but love the music so much as to give even one dollar of his or her precious financial resources. Music is amazing, but people are even more amazing.


Learn more about ARTEK, and view a list of upcoming concerts, at their website: If you're interested in the Midtown Concerts, you can find a list of upcoming events here.

For more information on Early Music America member ensemble concerts presented in honor of EMA's 25th Anniversary Season, please click here.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

EMA Artist Interview with Mary Anne Ballard of The Baltimore Consort

By Amanda Vail

Welcome to the second installment in our series of interviews with Early Music America member artists. For this session, we spoke with Mary Anne Ballard of The Baltimore Consort.


EMA: The Baltimore Consort has a pretty extensive discography. What kind of process is it to choose which of your varied pieces or concerts are included in the recordings?

MAB: If it's good enough for a live audience, it's good enough to be recorded, so the process of choosing is no different from that for assembling a concert program. The only limiting factor is the need to achieve variety on the CD, in case we are drawing from a list of pieces that spans several concerts.

EMA: How do you attempt to convey the unique sound of Renaissance instruments into an electronic medium?

MAB: The variety of instruments played by the Baltimore Consort makes it tricky to get a good recorded sound. Having a good sound engineer who is tuned to the different acoustic properties of each instrument is an important place to start. The Dorian engineers once sent the gemshorn player into a nearby stairwell in order to get proper balance with the rest of the group on the stage.

EMA: What drew your consort together?

MAB: In our case, it was the desire to play the Morley Consort Lessons, which are arranged for Elizabethan "mixed consort" or "broken consort," an ensemble consisting of violin (or treble viol), flute (or recorder), lute, cittern, bandora, and bass viol.

EMA: And what keeps you going?

MAB: We are all friends after 30 years, and we realized early on that we worked well together.

EMA: What are the most challenging, or rewarding, aspects of touring?

MAB: The actual tour is the tip of the iceberg, and usually completely enjoyable. What is difficult is the preparation--finding sponsors, and making elaborate fool-proof travel arrangements that work. In 30 years, we have never been late to a concert or canceled, although we have had a couple of sponsors cancel due to snow (after we put chains on the van and managed to get there).


The Baltimore Consort's December 20th concert, Wassail! Wassail!, was presented in honor of Early Music America's 25th Anniversary. Learn more about The Baltimore Consort, and view a list of this season's concerts, at their website: You can also get to know them via YouTube here.

For more information on Early Music America member ensemble concerts presented in honor of EMA's 25th Anniversary during Winter 2010 and Spring 2011, please click here.

Monday, December 13, 2010

EMA Artist Interview with Anne Azéma

By Amanda Vail

Welcome to the first installment of our series of interviews with member artists of Early Music America. Recently, we spoke with Anne Azéma, Artistic Director of the Boston Camerata.


EMA: Your December 5 concert, "The Sacred Bridge," focused on music from religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) that are too often depicted as opposites. What led you to choose these pieces and showcase them in close proximity to one another?

AA: In this concert we concentrate on the links among people of three faiths, rather than on the things that separate them. We present, for instance, as a medley two songs, Allahoo (in Arabic) and Yona toma (in Hebrew); these two texts from the Arabo-Andalusian repertoire of Morocco share a common melody. There are many other examples in music history, and in this program, of such commonalities and shared roots.

My earliest association with The Sacred Bridge was as a young solo singer. The moment in Paris was somber, because of a recent terrorist attack in that city. But both I and the audience were moved by the message of hope inherent in the material and by the collaborative efforts of the cast including Jewish, Christian, and Muslim musicians. Since that time, via many tours and a commercial recording, this program has evolved. In its current incarnation, in a collaboration with Sharq Arabic Musical Ensemble, it continues, in my opinion, to be one of The Boston Camerata’s important achievements.

EMA: December is a busy touring month for you, with seven concerts whose locations range from Boston, Massachusetts, to Schnectady, New York, to Strasbourg, France. Simply put: how do you do it? Especially during the generally hectic holiday season?

AA: The month of December is experienced by many as hectic and overcharged. The music we perform helps me to stay centered and focused on important and beautiful things. I am actually grateful to be touring with my colleagues during that season.

EMA: In May, 2011, the Boston Camerata will be performing in four European countries. What is the momentum behind this tour?

AA: Camerata will in fact be touring abroad five times in 2011. Years and years of work have helped bring these tours to fruition. Camerata's long standing commitment to early American repertoires (started by Joel Cohen in the 70s!) will bring us for the fourth time to the Cité de la Musique in Paris in February and to the Festival de Verdure – also in Paris - in August, 2011. The May tour in Finland, Holland, Germany, and France is a very happy return of our Borrowed Light production, a collaboration with the Tero Saarinen Finnish Dance company, built around Shaker songs. This production has been to three continents and continues to be very much in demand.

Another important chapter of our musical life revolves around music of the Middle Ages, an area that is a particular passion of mine. We have been invited for a residency in Reims, France, to help them celebrate the 800th Anniversary of their magnificent cathedral. They have commissioned us to create five new programs.

It is exhilarating to be able to continue to draw on Camerata's extensive 'book,' but also to create new projects and works that reflect who we are now. Sharing all this with the outside world is a great thrill.


Boston Camerata's December 5 concert The Sacred Bridge was presented in honor of EMA's 25th Anniversary. Learn more about the Boston Camerata at their website,

For more information on Early Music America member ensemble concerts presented in honor of EMA's 25th Anniversary during the Winter 2010 and Spring 2011, please click here.