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Great Musicians Series: Michael McCraw

This week we welcome Michael McCraw, highly influential performer and teacher of historical bassoons. Plus, a new release from The Hilliard Ensemble.

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Michael McCraw is recognized today as one of the great proponents of period instrument performance.  Having spent the better part of three decades as a historical bassoonist, Michael has nurtured succeeding generations of musicians as a performer and teacher; most recently, in his capacity as director of the Early Music Institute of the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music.  Yet, his early career, which began in New York during the early 70s, was devoted primarily to the modern bassoon.  Michael was in our studios recently to chat about his early career:

“After my undergraduate studies at North Carolina School of the Arts I had applied to several graduate schools, but my teacher in North Carolina insisted that I go to New York City and study with his favorite colleague and bassoonist, Loren Glickman.  Mr. Glickman did not teach in any music school at that point, so I studied privately with him.  At the same time I received a wonderful graduate assistantship at City College of New York, so I enrolled in graduate school there.  My teacher was a contractor for several orchestras, [and] he was nice enough to introduce me to lots of people.  I learned lots of Stravinsky subbing in the different dance companies.  I played six seasons for Martha Graham, and that was a fantastic experience.  I met several people that I was interested in doing chamber music with, and two of the groups, got good managers and did a lot of work.”

Mr. McCraw has been involved in many early music ensembles, including the New American Trio, who released a recording of music by Michael Glinka in 1973, and more recently, Musica Alta Ripa, who released an album featuring the music of G. P. Telemann in 2004.

Michael’s early career was as modern bassoonist, yet the recorder also played a part in his early professional experiences, some more memorable than others.  Two ensembles for which Michael played the recorder were Trio Primavera and Capella Clemetina.  Michael remembered one recording session when he was brought in as a substitute recorder soloist at the last minute:

“My phone rang at six o’clock in the morning, and it was the conductor Helmut [Müller-Brühl] and he said, “Do you have a recorder with you?  I need you this morning at ten o’clock; it’s a very easy piece.  It’s in C major, don’t worry about it.  Of course, there were no rehearsals and [the recording] had to take place that day.  There was no recorder part. I played from a [full] score and had a page turner.  But, my goodness it was fun and it went well, and I have to say I’m so pleased when somebody who is primarily a recorder player [gives] me a compliment on this recording.”

After New York City, Michael moved to Cologne, Germany where he quickly became the baroque bassoonist of choice, playing with many of Europe’s top ensembles, including Musica Antiqua Cologne, among others.  Michael spoke about his experiences in Germany:

“I showed up at just the right time, in the right place, with the right instrument in my hands, because there was lots of baroque music with period instruments going on and there was literally no one in Germany who seriously played the baroque bassoon, so things were wide open for me.”

Michael also performed with the ensemble Musica Fiata, playing the dulican, an early bassoon.

One of Michael’s most prominent positions was as principal bassoonist of the Canadian baroque orchestra Tafelmusik.  He spent many years there following his time in Germany.  Michael came back to the United States with his appointment at Indiana University as director of the Early Music Institute and professor of historical bassoons.  Apart from his duties at I.U., Michael continues to perform in North America and Europe.

When asked about his perspective on the American early music scene, he was both positive and optimistic:

“Not only do we have better education, we have more and more early music groups.  It’s not only the large cities; it seems that there is real interest.”

Our new release of the week features the English vocal group The Hilliard Ensemble.  Their latest ECM label offering focuses on the sacred music of 16th Century England.

Bernard Gordillo

Bernard Gordillo was born in Managua, Nicaragua, and raised in New Orleans. He holds degrees from Centenary College of Louisiana, the Early Music Institute at Indiana University, and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama (London). Bernard also writes and hosts the Harmonia Early Music Podcast.

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