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Early Music from Around the World

Off the Cuff with Charles Sullivan

Jan. 8, 2014
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Charles Sullivan has seen it from both sides. For much of his life he was a musician, and for many years he led his own choral and string group, the Sullivan Ensemble. Since 2001, when he became executive and artistic director of Early Music Now, one of the Midwest’s foremost promoters of early or “pre-classical” music, Sullivan has been a presenter rather than a performer, with only a Sunday job at the St. John’s on the Lake chapel to satisfy his urge to play.


How did you become involved with Early Music Now?

When Thallis Drake pulled together Early Music Now in 1986, I sat on the bylaws committee. Eventually, Thallis asked me if I’d consider being Early Music Now’s manager. She was doing it all herself. I inherited a strong organization.


How has the mission of Early Music Now changed over the years?

The mission hasn’t changed. My interpretation of the mission maybe pushes the limits. We originally defined early music as “music prior to 1800.” About five years ago I added the tagline, “across borders, across time,” to emphasize that it’s not just Western-sourced classical music, but something far broader, culturally and geographically. I’d like Early Music Now to nurture the connections between the music of today and the sources.


Was there pushback against Early Music Now presenting music from the Near East, Asia and elsewhere?

Initially, but less now. We remain dedicated to early European music but aren’t limited to it. We need to expand our audience to continue doing what we do. Under all this is the question of diversity, including age diversity. Our audience tends to be 45-plus, which doesn’t worry me. There is an endless supply of seniors coming up, but they need to come with some background in the arts, which, given our educational system, is becoming a problem.


Increasingly, Early Music Now is doing educational outreach.

Recently, we brought Pallade Musica to Milwaukee. They are a young, award-winning Baroque ensemble. We arranged for them to do a performance, a residency and a master class at UW-Parkside. It was very successful with students. The orchestra director said, “It’s spectacular for us, because we don’t have these kind of resources.” Pallade Musica then did a lecture-performance for UW-Milwaukee’s String Academy for musicians age 7 through 17.

This year, we are heavy on education. In March, East of the River will do a residency in the West Allis-West Milwaukee schools, with which we have a growing relationship. They will work with hundreds of students and do a performance for students and parents with subsidized tickets.

Early Music Now will present Britain’s Orlando Consort for a performance of Renaissance music on Feb. 15, at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church; East of the River for music from the Balkans through Armenia on March 15, at UWM’s Zelazo Center; and Four Nations Ensemble performing cantatas and works for solo harpsichord on April 12, at the Zelazo Center.


For more information, go to earlymusicnow.org.


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