Friday, August 14, 2015

A Chat with Donald Livingston, founder of the Twin Cities Early Music Festival

The Twin Cities Early Music Festival is under the umbrella of Lyra Baroque and is in its second year of existence. It is led by Donald Livingston, a talented harpsichordist and organist, (who attended Indiana University’s Early Music Institute at the same time I did). He has since moved to the Twin Cities, where he has shared his musical talent. Cincinnati’s own Baroque harp player Elizabeth Motter is performing a concert in the TCEMF with Consortium Carissimi. You can learn more about the Twin Cities Early Music Festival by visiting their website at

What inspired you to start the festival? What is the model?

There has been talk for years among different groups in town about starting a festival. Nothing ever came of it, though – probably because it was a ton of work. A “festival” can mean so many different things, too. No one really knew what this meant because they were not talking about the same thing. I started the TCEMF, based on an idea that my dad had: “you can’t start a parked car.” You won’t go anywhere, if you aren’t moving. You have to be willing to take a chance and go in the wrong direction.

I decided to start the festival last year, using the resources we have locally. It also helped to base it on what our state funding agency’s requirements were for a festival. The second year was shaped with input from the first year’s participants.

In addition, I looked at all the things in this country that call themselves a festival, examined their structure and mission, and modeled appropriately. The Madison Early Music Festival has a strong workshop component and is primarily for amateur musician participants. The Boston and Berkeley Festivals are large organizations with a presenting function. There is also Boston’s producing aspect with their successful operas. Boston also has a fringe concert element, where musicians can self-produce. Anyone can present a concert at Boston!  This was a great aspect to consider because our festival can be based on people here – not just imported stars who leave the day after the concert. This fringe concert element allows everyone to have a place at the table. We do bring in a few highly-skilled players to inspire us and raise the bar even more. However, I like the aspect of our choosing rep, based on the people and skills available, locally.

What is your vision for the future of the festival?

We already have a Baroque instrumental program, which is a workshop structure for fine players already. Goals for the future include fostering and nurturing amateurs from the larger community, who want to play early music. We want that grass-roots musical experience that can happen with early music. This will cultivate an environment here in the Twin Cities to inspire more amateur and professional interest and will make us a more desirable place to live and make music.

How many groups are there? How many events?

There are around 24 groups and 4 soloists this year. About 6 of the performances are ad-hoc arrangements, where people formed ensembles just for festival. Some concerts are new groups or older groups that came back together for the festival.

When is the festival? Tell me about the venues for the festival?

The festival is the entire month of August. We have a variety of venues: the Landmark Center (a former federal courthouse turned arts center), the Schubert Club, the University of Minnesota, Augsburg College, and Hamline University, and three prominent churches.

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