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Questions for Garry Clarke, Director of the Baroque Band

Clarke answers questions about his career, the founding of the Baroque Band, and their forthcoming participation in Chicago's first-ever Early Music festival.

Garry Clarke is artistic director the Baroque Band, a Chicago-based baroque orchestra. He is also a baroque violinist with an extensive career of performing in Europe and America.

I recently asked Garry about his background, the Baroque Band, and his future plans.

You spent many years playing in European period instrument ensembles, and now you’re based out of Chicago. How did that come about?

I originally came to the states in September 2004. I had been working in the UK as a period violinist but also had been becoming involved arts management side. Ever since my college days I’d always been setting up little chamber groups so this was just a natural extension of that.

In 2003 I decided that I’d like to see what the academic approach to arts management was advocating as everything I’d done until then was from a purely practical, ‘has to be done’ standpoint – on the job so to speak. So, in August [of the same year] I started a masters program at City University in London.

It was a crazy time; I was traveling from my home in Staffordshire to London (117 miles), I was running a small music group, contracting freelance orchestras, running a concert series and festival, and playing with other London period-instrument orchestras!

During that year I was selected as one of five international fellows to come and work under the mentorship of Michael Kaiser, president of the J. F. Kennedy Center for the Performing arts in Washington D.C. It was a ten-month program and an amazing opportunity. Thus, I arrived in the U.S. in September of 2004.

As fellows we were privileged to be able to attend any performance in the Kennedy Center that we wanted to – absolutely amazing!

Anyway, one night I decided to go to a vocal recital of Britten and Purcell being given by a British singer and pianist. During the intermission I got chatting to a lady sitting in the row in front of me and well, the rest is history as they say. Instead of returning to the U.K. as planned, I stayed in the States.

She is an artist, and in August 2006 we moved back to her hometown, you guessed it, Chicago, as she had been offered a place to study on the masters program at the Art Institute.

Tell us about the Baroque Band.

When I arrived in Chicago I was still traveling to conduct and perform both in the U.S. and returning to the U.K. four or five times a year, while also doing some freelance arts management consulting. The period-instrument scene in Chicago had some nice chamber music groups but no regular period-instrument orchestra. I spoke to one or two colleagues and in 2007 we launched the Band.

Our first performances were in the May of 2007, when we also announced our first full season (2007-08).

Since then we’ve given more than 100 performances, so far. Our first recording came out on the Cedille Record label in February this year – Biber’s Mensa Sonora; In 2008 we were named resident ensemble for WFMT Radio; We made our debut at the Ravinia Festival in 2009 (and are returning this summer); and we are also resident ensemble at the Music Institute of Chicago.

We present our own series of concerts including downtown at Symphony Center, in Evanston to the north, and in Hyde Park to the south. In 2008 we performed at the Madison early Music festival and we return to Madison this year to perform for the American Bach Society.

We have also just started our own podcasts.

We have been very lucky to get great support from the public and the press. In 2009 we were named by the Chicago Tribune as one of the ten most important happenings for the decade on the Chicago classical music scene and our “Dublin Messiah” was picked as one of the top five concerts in 2009 alongside performances by Simon Rattle, Riccardo Muti, and Christoph Eschenbach.

It has been a crazy two and a half years!

The Baroque Band is taking part the first-ever Chicago Early Music Festival this April. What will the ensemble be performing?

Yes, we will be performing eight of the concertos from Vivaldi’s L’Estro armonico on April 21st at St James Cathedral, but we will also be performing on April 25th as we are beginning a three-year collaboration with Chicago Opera Theater.

And we’ll be in the pit for Cavalli’s Giasone which is also happening in the festival.

We are very excited about the festival. It is being presented by the City of Chicago and for a first year it has a lot of things going on. The period-instrument scene in Chicago is really gathering pace and it’ll be amazing to see so many things come together in this week long festival.

Can you share with us any details about Baroque Band’s next season?

At this moment that’s a closely guarded secret but I can say we have some very exciting things lined up for the 2010-11 season. An announcement will be coming on our website sometime in late May.

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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