May 18, 2009
Jane Glover, music director of Chicago’s Music of the Baroque since 2002 and recently named artistic director of Opera at London’s Royal Academy of Music, is a Baroque scholar, author, and opera conductor with a penchant for modern dance. However unlikely a combination that may seem, for the past decade Glover has been a collaborator in several of choreographer Mark Morris’ projects that brilliantly use modern dance to embody 18th-century music. Next weekend, Glover conducts the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestrra, four vocal soloists, and a chamber chorus as Cal Performances presents the Mark Morris Dance Company in L'Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato (1988), set to George Frideric Handel's oratorio of that name (1740) on poetry by John Milton.
As an opera conductor, tell us about your experience with dance.
Most of what I do is with Mark Morris. I came to it by accident when Mark asked me to conduct L’Allegro in 1997. It’s a project I completely adore and would want to do every night of my life. I thought I knew L’Allegro and then I encountered it through Mark and his consummate dancers and it was illuminated for me all over again.
Modern dance seems an unlikely companion to Handel’s work. What is your feeling about such a combination?
When you’ve seen it you’ll be utterly beguiled by it, as everyone is. Mark Morris is one of the most musical people I’ve ever met. I trust him implicitly.
Do you feel the production is a modernization of Handel’s Baroque piece?
No, rather an illumination. Like all Baroque music, Handel’s music is based on dance anyway. The more we can make 18th-century music light on its feet, the better it sounds. Putting it literally into the bodies of dancers is a natural extension of that.
If you were to describe your personality, would you call it Baroque?
If it means refined, elegant and sort of crazy then maybe I’m all of those things. I feel completely at home temperamentally and musically in the 18th century even though I conduct Renaissance and contemporary music as well. So yes, I’d say my heart is there.
What else does an 18th- century temperament mean to you?
The four geniuses — Haydn, Bach, Mozart, and Handel — demonstrate elegance in very different ways. Other characteristics they share are vibrancy, deep humanity, crossing of barriers that speak to audiences very directly, and there is an abundance of invention.
If you could work with one musician or composer, living or dead, who would he or she be?
Oh Mozart, unquestionably. I think he would terrify the life out of me, actually, but I worship the man. As you may know I wrote a book about him [Mozart's Women: His Family, His Friends, His Music, Harper Collins] and I’ve been totally immersed in his music all of my professional life.
What’s the most exciting venue (or circumstance) that you’ve ever conducted in?
One of the greatest nights of my life was conducting Britten’s War Requiem at the BBC Proms in Royal Albert Hall about 10 years ago. There are some great theaters with acoustics that really help: Bordeaux’s Opera Theatre, Berlin Philharmonic Hall, Harris Theater in Chicago, Carnegie, and a number of others.
Tell us a bit about your home life.
I live alone but I’m not lonely. An ancillary benefit of my new faculty position at the Royal College of Music will be spending more time at home. I adore working in North America, which I do a lot, but it’s a long way away and I get a bit crazy if I don’t return to the still point of my turning world, namely my own home and those that I love.
Who among politicians or cultural figures do you admire most?
I adore Barack Obama. As an honorary Chicagoan I feel tremendously proud of him and very excited that he’s in Washington. The whole process of his election last year was thrilling. In the U.K. Tony Benn and Shirley Williams were people who were really interesting.
What sort of popular culture do you enjoy?
Theater is my great passion. I read a huge amount. I’m quite a sporty person; I ski every year. I’m a runner and jog two to three times a week although it used to be six times. It’s a great joy particularly in our springtime. I like movies but I tend to see those on planes.
Which country has the best cuisine?
What suits me very well is Italian. French and Chinese are always splendid. I love your California vineyards. I’m looking forward to the Zinfandel.