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Newberry Consort runs gamut in Madison Early Music Festival

By Jessica Courtier | Special to the Capital Times
Originally published in 77 Square, July 14, 2012

Over the past two years the Madison Early Music Festival’s focus focus on North and South America has been a refreshing stretching of the boundaries of what is traditionally thought of as defining the category of "early music," and perhaps no concert in this year's festival stretches that boundary more than the one given by the Newberry Consort.

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Classical music Q&A: The 13th annual Madison Early Music Festival starts this Saturday and will focus on Canadian and early American music from the Colonial period and Revolutionary War to the Civil War. Part 1 of 2

By Jacob Stockinger
Originally published in Well-Tempered Ear, July 5, 2012

Co-director and soprano Cheryl Bensman Rowe recently gave The Ear an extended interview about the festival, its events and its participants, which includes the acclaimed singing group Anonymous 4...

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Medieval group Anonymous 4 goes gospel at Early Music Fest

By Lindsay Christians
Originally published in 77Square, June 26, 2012

The women of Anonymous 4 built their careers on medieval vocal music, from ethereal chants and polyphonic pieces to carols and motets. But their upcoming a cappella program, set to open the 12th annual Madison Early Music Festival on Saturday, July 7, is all-American. It includes traditional songs, like “Poor Wayfaring Stranger” and “Shall We Gather at the River,” that are closer in character to high-energy gospel than the serene music of monks. This year, the Madison Early Music Festival has the theme “Welcome Home Again! An American Celebration,” and will feature return performances by the Rose Ensemble and the Newberry Consort. Daily workshops and near-nightly performances are scheduled through Saturday, July 14, in Mills Hall on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus.

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History resounds at festival

By Gayle Worland
Originally published in Wisconsin State Journal, July 1, 2012

The summer after Paul Rowe joined the faculty at UW-Madison’s School of Music, something felt amiss.

“In July, the building was totally lit, the air conditioning was on, and nothing was going on,” he said.

For a building meant for music-making, the whole place was eerily silent. Why not fill it, he thought, with musicians who shared his passion for early music?

Rowe’s wife, singer Cheryl Bensman-Rowe, and music professor Chelcy Bowles, UW-Madison’s director of continuing education in music, agreed. By 2000, the three had founded the Madison Early Music Festival, filling early July with sound.

MEMF, as it’s known, has now grown into a weeklong event attracting some 400 amateur, student and professional musicians from around the country. Even beginners can get in on the act.

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Classical music review: Madison Early Music Festival 2011 revealed and explored a new world of music in the New World

By Jacob Stockinger
Originally published in Well-Tempered Clavier, July 22, 2011

How did the Madison Early Music Festival go this year? I asked a veteran early music fan. His response? “I would say it was, to used a much overused journalist’s word, revelatory.”

Well, The Ear would completely agree, even just on the basis of the concluding All-Festival concert last Saturday night.
For various reasons, I couldn’t make it to other events during the 12th annual week-long festival that explored early music in the New World. (Next year, MEMF will offer the same theme, but go north of the Mexican border into the US and French Canada.) But I heard high praise for the faculty concert and for the imported group Chatham Baroque, among other events. Was such praise exaggerated?

Not at all, judging from what I heard during the All-Festival concert. The evening got off on the right foot with a fascinating and engaging slide-lecture by guest scholar Drew Edward Davies (below) of Northwestern University. He pulled together many strands of scholarship about music in the new world in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. He synthesized musicology, ethnology, anthropology, linguistics, art history, religion and other disciplines to build a great and accessible sense of context to the music that the audience was about to hear.

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Madison Early Music Festival: Rose Ensemble sings lively songs of early Mexico

By Lindsay Christians
Originally published in 77Square, July 11, 2011

It would be easy to underestimate the skill of The Rose Ensemble, a group of stellar St. Paul singers accompanied by three strings (and, on Sunday evening, a guest percussionist). Their program, “Celebremos el Niño: Delights of the Mexican Baroque,” was so approachable and fun, details like articulation, tone and balance — all of which were excellent — blended into simple pleasure.

The 12th annual Madison Early Music Festival runs at the University of Wisconsin-Madison through Sunday, July 16. This year, the theme is “El Nuevo Mundo: The Age of Exploration in the New World,” and upcoming performers include Ensemble Viscera, a group of guitars and voices, and the quartet Chatham Baroque.

The Rose Ensemble performed the second show of the week, a delightful variety of Mexican dances and holiday music from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century. The ensemble, led by Jordan Sramek, consists of 10 singers, viola da gamba (like a cello), vihuela de mano (like a softer version of the guitar) and violin.

I attended the Rose Ensemble concert looking for entertainment above education. The early music festival offers free lectures beginning an hour before each performance; this time, I did not attend. Still, there was plenty to learn just by listening. We heard lively, dancing ballads (“jácaras”) and villancicos, Spanish musical poems akin to madrigals.

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Arts 2011: Isthmus critics rate the year in Madison culture

By John W. Barker
Originally published in Isthmus, December 29, 2011

Summer, busier than ever, saw the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society celebrating its 20th season with flair. The Madison Early Music Festival made a revelatory exploration of colonial Latin American music. The Madison Savoyards took on the expansive Utopia, Ltd. of Gilbert and Sullivan. The Token Creek Chamber Music Festival juggled Mozart, jazz and Bach with its customary aplomb.

The Ancora Quartet; the Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble; Trevor Stevenson's Madison Bach Musicians; Jerry Hui's vocal ensemble Eliza's Toyes; Codrut Birsan's Candid Concert Opera — so much more deserving mention!

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Sounds of the summer

Warm-weather concerts keep classical lovers happy till fall
By John W. Barker
Originally published in Isthmus, June 9, 2011

The idea of a festival devoted to early music — music composed starting in medieval times and up to 1750 — was hatched in 1999 by Chelcy Bowles of the UW's Continuing Education in Music and the UW music school's baritone Paul Rowe. Helped by a small grant, they planned the first Madison Early Music Festival, a two-week program for July 2000, and invited outside performers and experts.

While the workshops did well, the public concerts drew unexpectedly large audiences. Those two dimensions quickly gave the festival a unique spirit.

Each year the festival has focused on a different area of musical literature and culture (Medieval, Renaissance, Baroque), and appropriate various performing groups are invited. The theme of this year's festival is music of colonial Latin America, and guests include Pittsburgh's Chatham Baroque and the Philadelphia-based ensemble Piffaro: The Renaissance Band.
With wife Cheryl Bensman Rowe, Paul Rowe now is co-artistic director of the festival, which currently runs for one week and features five concerts. The number of participants and attendees has grown, apparently unaffected by the economy.
After 11 years, the Madison Early Music Festival's reputation is enviable nationally and internationally in the early-music world. Visiting performers, usually attending several festivals around the country each summer, say they enjoy this festival the most. Meanwhile, it has powerfully stimulated early-music interest and activity in Madison itself.

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Classical music preview: The Madison Early Music Festival concludes Saturday night with the All-Festival concert of early English choral music

By Jacob Stockinger
Originally published in Well-Tempered Clavier, July 16, 2010

To offer a preview of the concert, the festival co-artistic directors baritone Paul Rowe (below top) and soprano Cheryl Bensman Rowe (below bottom) recently answered an e-mail Q&A for The Ear:

What is the purpose of the all-festival concert in terms of participants/performers and the public? In order to include as many different performers as possible in the All Festival concert, we have chosen several large, primarily choral works that would have been performed with voices and instruments. The Tudor era is known for smaller works but these pieces display some of the large works including Thomas Tallis’ motet for 40 voices and the “Western Wind Mass” of Taverner.

What variety of styles will be represented this year? This year’s festival has a wider than normal historical focus. We will have concerts containing music from Medieval to Elizabethan times. We have added new wrinkle by combining “original” instruments with film in the Robin Hood concert on Monday night.

What are the total forces you expect to be performing? The total number of participants is not set yet, but we expect to have approximately 120 musicians on stage for the final concert.

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Madison's early music scene is remarkably vibrant

By John W. Barker
Originally published in Isthmus, March 12, 2010

Trevor Stephenson was already a local performer on harpsichord, fortepiano and early pianos when, in 2004, he organized the Madison Bach Musicians as a period-performance group. It was "a pickup thing," he admits, that drew upon fortuitous pools of players both local and transient. The group has staged a series of landmark successes, including pioneer period performances of Bach's "Mass in B Minor" (2008) and "St. Matthew Passion" (2009). On March 12, Stephenson will sit at a harpsichord in Good Shepherd Lutheran Church to perform, under the Madison Bach Musicians banner, music by Bach, Handel and Scarlatti.

Stephenson isn't alone in his efforts. Early music — generally, music composed starting in medieval times and up to 1750 — has become a familiar commodity hereabouts, thanks in part to the Madison Early Music Festival. Inevitably linked to the music is the concept of "period performance" style: the attempted recovery of earlier sonorities and playing techniques.
While many larger cities have nurtured groups devoted to period-performance practice, Madison is unusual in having grown in this area on a scale quite beyond what might be expected in a city its size, and over little more than two decades.

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Madison Early Music Festival strikes a chord

By Alex Hancock, UW-Madison
Originally published in, 2000

"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 successors—including some of the master's sons—will be featured.

"I think it's very important (and a lot of fun!) to study the atmosphere of Bach's time—the social and religious background, the people who influenced him musically and the people he influenced," says Rowe.

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