For over twenty years Arthur Haas has taught at festivals across the United States and Europe, and this wealth of experience has helped him shape the Amherst Early Music Baroque Academy. Last week, I got a chance to ask him about what makes the Baroque Academy special.
A Rch Experience
“No other festival offers as rich an experience as Amherst’s combination of a fully staged Baroque opera, masterclasses, chamber music, orchestral music, special topic classes, and instrument exhibition. Some festivals or workshops offer a small chamber music program, some have opera, but only Amherst has all of it together. This allows each student to learn and grow in countless ways, from multiple teachers, in many different settings.
The Opera Project
The opera program is a wonderful opportunity for young, emerging singers to gain experience performing a fully staged Baroque opera with period costumes, dance, and a full Baroque orchestra. The continuo and orchestral musicians in the opera benefit tremendously from this experience as well - getting to work on recitatives and arias and learning to manage all the special situations that arise when performing staged opera.
And while some students devote much of their energy to the opera, others get a chance to delve into special topics. Last year we ran a class on French ornamented airs and brunettes for singers, winds, and continuo players. This year, we are considering a Caccini class for singers and harpsichordists. We will tailor the special topics classes to the students that attend. We make every effort to create a program that will challenge and excite everyone.
Each year we focus on a different geographic region. And because the student level is so high, we can work intensely on questions of style, ornamentation and advanced ensemble playing. This year we will perform Italian and Spanish music. We will look at many of the big names- Vivaldi, Corelli, Handel, and also explore the experimental world of 17th Century Italy and Spain - Castello, Frescobaldi, Fontana, Cima, Merula, Soler and more. And since this year we are performing an Alessandro Scarlatti opera, we might put special emphasis on his secular cantatas and orchestral music in other classes throughout the day.
We strive to make each year’s festival match the music and student needs for that year. By rotating faculty, we are able to bring in experts of different musical styles. For example, since last year was French year, we brought Ryan Brown to direct the opera production. Ryan specializes in French 18th century opera, and he runs the only French Baroque/classical period opera company in the United States. This year we have Dana Maiben teaching violin, because she is an expert in 17th century Italian music. At other festivals where the faculty does not change, you always get the same perspective. At Amherst, each year gives you the opportunity to learn from someone new.
We are lucky to hold the festival at Connecticut College. This allows the faculty to interact with the students throughout the day; at meal times, after concerts, and whenever there is time off. Students and faculty can eat together, take coffee break together, and everyone sleeps in the dorms. If you are a night owl, being at Connecticut College also allows students to have 24/7 access to harpsichords and practice rooms. We have a wonderful collection of harpsichords loaned to us each year by makers from across the country.”
The 2011 Baroque Academy will meet from July 10 through 17 at Connecticut College as part of the Amherst Early Music Festival. The program is for advanced amateur, pre-professional, and professional singers and instrumentalists. For more information about the program, audition deadlines, and faculty go here.