King of Classical

Hogwood at the Hong Kong Sinfonietta in 2010.

This Friday, Oct. 25, Cornell University welcomes one of its Andrew D. White Professors-at-Large, and, for lovers of classical music, this is momentous. Christopher Hogwood, internationally renowned conductor, harpsichordist, writer, teacher, and advocate of historical performance, will be here for a week-long residency that features five public events—a lecture, symposium, seminar, and two teaching sessions with Cornell ensembles. The work and appearances worldwide of this scholar-conductor, at the forefront of historically informed performance for years now, continue to delight, inspire, and influence all sorts of musicians as well as a wide and admiring public.

The Andrew D. White Professors-at-Large number twenty outstanding individuals from around the world, chosen from five disciplines. They are elected for a six-year period, during which they visit the campus upon several occasions for about a week (they can come up to six times per year). They are considered full members of the university faculty, and their activities extend to students as well. A 13-member faculty committee sends nominations to the president and the board of trustees, who vote upon this honor. Although he was elected in 2012, this is Hogwood’s first visit.

This professorship, named for the university’s co-founder and first president, comes from White’s plan to establish a system of non-resident distinguished teachers and professionals, acknowledged for their accomplishments in diverse disciplines. Many notables graced the campus during his tenure. The present program was established in 1965 to celebrate the university’s first centenary. Among the current professors are a physicist, biologist, wildlife conservationist, sociologist, diplomat, and journalist, while past eminences include Toni Morrison, Eudora Welty, Jane Goodall, and none other than John Cleese. Now we will have the extraordinarily accomplished Christopher Hogwood, with a myriad of highly acclaimed conducting and solo performances to his name and an almost endless discography list.

Christopher Hogwood was born in Nottingham, England, in 1941. One of five children, he alone has a career in music. He started out rather late, at 14, but soon was learning to play the harpsichord. After specializing in music and classical literature at Pembroke College, Cambridge, he studied performance and conducting with eminent musicians, most notably Raymond Leppard and Gustav Leonhardt. In 1967 he founded the Early Music Consort with this friend David Munrow (also a former student at Pembroke College), a group of expert musicians who specialized in baroque and early classical repertory played on period instruments. “It was the mood of the time,” he said.

And then in 1973 he founded the now-famous Academy of Ancient Music, inviting “good people” with whom he played the harpsichord and who were thoroughly at home on early instruments. He was 32 years old. The original idea for the group was to do a recording of Thomas Arne overtures for Decca Records. When asked how long they rehearsed for such an endeavor, he replied, “about three hours.” The group of 27 players went on to many more recordings, mostly of baroque music, Handel and Purcell in particular, but then decided to move forward to include music of the classical period.

It was the right time. Decca was contemplating a new complete cycle of Mozart symphonies, and was debating whether to use a well-established modern European orchestra or to try a historical project involving period instruments. Fortunately for the Academy of Ancient Music, and for the world, Decca opted for the historical recordings, which would appear under the label L’Oiseau-Lyre (the name of a music publishing and recording company devoted to historical editions and performances that had been sold to Decca in 1970).

Hogwood enlisted the eminent Dutch violinist Jaap Schröder, experienced in classical string style, to serve as the ensemble’s concertmaster, and Mozart specialist and Cornell professor Neal Zaslaw (editor of the current Köchel catalog of Mozart’s works) to serve as consultant. Zaslaw had been doing lengthy research on these very symphonies (his significant book on the subject was published in 1989), and was well informed about such matters as orchestra size, make-up, and seating arrangements, as well as different venues and acoustics, and issues like articulation and dynamics. Besides serving as musicological adviser, he wrote the liner program notes.

The project grew to be monumental. It seemed there were more Mozart symphonies than anyone knew about—“It gave us and Decca a bit of a shock,” Hogwood said. They decided to start with K.133 (listed in catalogs as No. 20). In the end, the earlier symphonies were included, and after ten years, and individual recording releases, seven boxed sets came out in 1982. The whole endeavor was well supported by Decca—“a form of patronage that is no longer with us,” Hogwood admitted—and it proved to be very successful. The recordings have received the highest praise, one critic calling the project “one of the most important in the history of the phonograph.” For many listeners they were a revelation. We sat up and thought, “Oh, that’s the way this music is supposed to sound.” The recordings have since been reissued as CDs.

Hogwood and the ensemble went on to record the Beethoven symphonies for Decca, released in 1986–1987, and a selection of Haydn symphonies, with Cornell musicologist and Haydn specialist James Webster as adviser. To these major accomplishments are added numerous other brilliant recordings.

Since the early 1980s Hogwood has conducted regularly in the United States. He was artistic director of Boston’s Handel and Haydn Society from 1986 to 2001 and musical director of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra from 1988 to 1992. He stepped down as head of the Academy of Ancient Music in 2006, becoming its director emeritus, but has returned each year to conduct one major project. This year marked the ensemble’s 40th birthday, and, after they had performed a Handel opera together, Hogwood threw a big party at his home in Cambridge for them. Since 2010 he has been professor of music at Gresham College in London. Although he no longer plays solo keyboard concerts, he frequently presents masterclass and coaching sessions on keyboard performance. He told me he now spends his time teaching, touring, doing opera work, and writing.

He is a collector too and has some amazing instruments—10 clavichords, four fortepianos, and three harpsichords—holdings that he has “gradually improved” over the years. When asked if he had a special place for them, he explained that he has “four music rooms.” They are climate controlled, he added, and everyone spends a lot of time tuning the instruments. They are excellent reference tools for him. He shows them to other researchers, and lets students play on them.

Hogwood finds now that he conducts much less early and classical music, and works more with a mixed orchestra. He conducts Mendelssohn, and good amount of 20th-century music—Stravinsky, Martinù, Hindemith, Britten, and Tippett. He works all over the world, this season it has been Germany, Poland, and Japan. There doesn’t seem to be a different approach to conducting period instrument versus modern orchestras. The period instrument ensembles tend to be better prepared, he admitted, but adds that times are changing and many modern orchestras are very good indeed. In the end, “You take what they’ve got and run with it.”

As for scheduling, he divides his time 50 percent for travel and 50 percent “at home being a musicologist.” He has published many papers and two books on Handel, and has worked tirelessly as an editor of major publications—he is chairman for the edition of complete works of Bach’s son Carl Philipp Emanuel, with seven or eight volumes coming out per year and a projected total of 123. His project on the works of Francesco Geminiani is smaller, only 17 volumes. The latest accomplishment is the publication by Bärenreiter of Corelli’s Opus 5 violin sonatas, where he has established the realization of the continuo parts from manuscript sources. This is the first time that 102 separate sonata movements in embellished versions by 18th-century players and composers have appeared in print.

Hogwood holds many honors, including Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire and the Handel Music prize. Most recently he received an honorary doctorate from the Royal Academy of Music, presented by His Royal Majesty Prince Charles. In 2011 he was a juror at the first Westfield International Fortepiano Competition, held on the Cornell campus. Now he returns as Andrew D. White Professor-at-Large.

After spending a week in New York at Juilliard, Hogwood will come up to Ithaca, a place where he has many ties. He told me that his earliest connection with the period instruments movement in the United States was through fortepianist Malcolm Bilson and Cornell’s DMA in Historical Performance program. He has worked closely with professors Zaslaw and Webster on late 18th-century Viennese classical music. During his week here he participates in the following programs, of which all are free and open to the public. On Friday afternoon, Oct. 25, he presents a lecture, “The Past Is a Foreign Country: Why Making Music Matters,” at 5:15 p.m. in Call Auditorium, Kennedy Hall.

He takes part in a symposium, “Collections and Collecting,” on Sunday, Oct. 27, at 2 p.m., in Lincoln B20, which will explore an ancient cultural practice, but with a special focus on “working” collections used in performance, study, or research. A collection of historical instruments recently donated to the music department will be displayed. That evening, at 7 p.m. in Barnes Hall, is a masterclass with Les Petits Violons (Cornell’s period instruments ensemble, named after a small group constituted for the young Louis XIV) on a sonata by Corelli (from Opus 5) arranged as a concerto grosso by Geminiani.

He will chair a seminar, “The Present and Future of Historically Informed Performance,” on Monday, Oct. 28, at 7 p.m. in Lincoln 316 (entrance through the Music Library). And on Tuesday at 2:55 p.m. in Barnes, he coaches the Cornell Chamber Orchestra in a piece he is very pleased about—“It is a good choice, and nice for a visiting Englishman”—Five Variants of “Dives and Lazarus” by Ralph Vaughan Williams. Not well known, the piece (based on an English folksong) was composed in 1939 for the New York World’s Fair and first performed that year.

So come and listen and see Christopher Hogwood in action. It will be memorable indeed. And the good news is that there are plans for him to return in 2014, the 300th birth anniversary of a special interest, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach.

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