A Conversation with Bruce Duffie
Powerful and talented women are not rare in The Windy City. Our
resident opera company has been run by Mary Garden (1919-20), Carol Fox
(1954-80) and Ardis Krainik (1981-97). [See my Interview with Ardis
Krainik.] Our symphony chorus was
founded by Margaret Hillis in 1957, and she also conducted the Chicago
Symphony on many occasions both at home and on tour, as well as being
Music Director of the Elgin Symphony Orchestra for several
seasons. [See my Interview with Margaret
Hillis.] Having noted all this about others, it comes as no
surprise that after displaying her musicianship with the Chicago Opera
Theater and Music of the Baroque, Jane Glover was asked to be Music
Director of the nationally-known early-music ensemble in 2002.
Glover has a well-deserved reputation as a conductor of early music and
Mozart, and has been heard in major cities and far-flung corners for
many years. She has also made numerous recordings and been heard
on radio and television at frequent intervals. For details on her
career, and many more photos, visit her website. For now,
suffice it to say that Glover is always in demand around the globe, and
we are lucky to have her on a regular basis.
In 2000, the Chicago Opera Theater was embarking on a series of Baroque
operas, and Glover was asked to conduct them with her usual flair and
authenticity. She graciously agreed to meet me for a
brief chat after a rehearsal of Monteverdi’s Orfeo. We settled into a
small, cramped office that was used as the box office on performance
nights, and where piped-in background music was available for the
workers . . . . .
Bruce Duffie: We’re in a
room where there might be a little thumpy music at
some point. Was there a time when Monteverdi was considered “thumpy
Jane Glover: I think
there is a tremendous amount of rhythmic energy in Monteverdi and
indeed there is plenty in Orfeo.
was happy to have parties and to express vivaciousness and energy in
music as the next guy. The wonderful thing about him though, in
music — his madrigals and his solo stuff
— is that he can turn the
emotions on a nanosecond. You can be roaring with laughter one
and pouring with tears the next. It’s like all great composers,
can just turn that knife in your gut without you realizing it.
you realize the feeling has turned from the comic mask to the
BD: Was he doing this on
purpose to manipulate you?
JG: I don’t think it was
necessarily to manipulate you, but he was
certainly doing it to move you. I suppose, in a sense, he was
manipulating his audience, but it wasn’t calculated as if there’s
something not quite right about it. I think
he knew about this. Human emotions and passions
were so important to him that he was really grasping onto
both the performers and the audience, and trying to match the two
BD: It seems today there
is purposeful manipulation.
I was just wondering how far back in music history this goes.
JG: Oh I think it goes
all the way to when people begin to
tell stories of how people treat each other. That’s the important
thing, how real people treat each other. They’re not talking
about mythological things and how people turn into trees; we’re talking
about real people having real emotions and real
hearts. That’s what mattered to Monteverdi. Then you know
inevitably taking your audience with you.
BD: So an opera from 400 years ago does
speak to us today as we’re
coming into a new millennium.
[Photo at left: Glover in rehearsal with the
Chicago Opera Theater]
There’s a famous letter of Monteverdi from, I think, 1616, in which
precisely about this. He was asked to set some
pastoral text of trees and rivers and personify
these in music. He wrote back a furious letter back saying, “How
possibly represent trees in music since trees don’t sing? What
interests me is the human being; how they respond and how their
passions are expressed.” He said exactly
that in a letter, I’m not
making it up.
BD: Do you rely on
letters for his ideas or do you rely just on what
music is left?
JG: Both. There
are a lot of letters of
Monteverdi and they are very revealing. Like all musicians
Monteverdi complained about money an awful lot of the time, and in fact
some of his letters are really quite boring in that sense. We
care much now whether he was paid that much more or less. You
wish these letters had more of that sort of
wonderful revelation about what really mattered to him. It’s the
way with Mozart, really. All composers letters are interesting
ultimately, and what fascinates me about Mozart is that he lived
one of the most turbulent times — politically
and socially — in the history of Europe, and
there is absolutely no mention of it at all; no mention of
the collapse of the ancien
régime, or all that was going on in Europe
at the time which was so intoxicating to people like Beethoven and the
slightly younger generation.
BD: So he was just
concerned with the emotions he was putting into his
JG: Absolutely; it’s
extraordinary. Of course he’s concerned with his
friends and family and his own bodily requirements in some considerable
way. Yet, although he didn’t seem to be aware, really, of the
world and the how it was going to affect the society, he was very much
part of. You feel that this extraordinary genius has, from the
age of eight,
actually understood (as Monteverdi does) this whole sort of business of
how people react in extraordinary situations. Mozart was a
natural writer and dealt with these incredibly lofty things
duty and responsibility and patronage and the love of a father for his
daughter. How can you expect an eight-year-old to
understand? But he jolly
well does! Of course in his older years, he knows sublimely and
people treat each other in the DaPonte operas, which is so
devastatingly true. I think the great opera composers, of
whom Monteverdi and Mozart are two very similar equals, have that
absolute innate understanding of human passion. That, combined
with their extraordinary
ability to express it with the additional ingredient of
music to the poetry, actually produces a total which is
greater than the sum of the parts.
BD: Were they revealing
too much perhaps of themselves in their music?
JG: Curiously, in
Monteverdi’s case, I think he is quite an
autobiographical composer. For instance you know when he had
times and his people died, it’s often reflected in the kind of music he
writes. Mozart, on the other hand, was not at all an
composer. The great shining example of that, which we know from
his letters, was when he was at his most desperate in terms of not
employed and being desperately in debt and begging people to lend him
money and give him a smidgen of work. In six weeks in that
summer, he wrote Symponies 39,
40 and 41 with apparently effortless
brilliance. You would never know from those symphonies that here
a man on the brink of despair.
BD: Should we know that
when we go into the concert hall or the opera house?
JG: Not necessarily,
no. He wouldn’t want you to know that, really. We
know that from the very private letters that he wrote to the chap
who lent him money from time to time, but he always wanted to show
the sunny side of himself, the brilliant side of himself.
think, was more . . . I was going to say honest, but that’s
wrong. He was an
extraordinarily introverted person who could actually not get over that
business of being able to hide what happened to him. I mean here
in Orfeo, the rotten things
haven’t happened to him yet, but
nonetheless he understands what does happen and how people do react
when there’s bad news.
BD: In your career you
conduct opera, concerts, choral work — you
seem to do it all. How do you select which
engagements you will accept and which you may, perhaps, turn aside?
JG: Ideally I like a
balance between opera and concert work, and between original
instruments and modern instruments. I’m very lucky that
I do get asked to do a great variety of things and it’s sort of
looked after itself, really. I can’t say I’m turning down a huge
but the lovely thing is I am in a position to say, “Oh
yes I’d love to
do that,” and, “I’d rather
do this than do that.” In an ideal year
would be a balance between stuff in the theatre and stuff in the
concert hall, and also stuff away and stuff at home; that’s also
BD: I was going to ask
if you left enough time for home life.
JG: My home is in London, and
I spend a lot of time in this great country of yours which I love very
much. I’ve also spent
a lot of time in Australia this year, which is also a great country and
I love it very much, but it makes it hard to get home for weekends.
BD: You really do
JG: I’m not
complaining. I’m having the time of my life, really, and I
know that. I go to fabulous places and do wonderful music with
exciting and interesting and very dear colleagues, and I think my cup
very full in that sense. I’m a lucky person.
BD: Of course when you
conduct in Europe it’s very similar to America
or Australia, but you also conduct in China.
JG: I have conducted
there. It was a great challenge; fascinating and
rewarding. It brings with it, as it does in
Finland and Hungary, the challenge of working with people whose
language you don’t
understand at all. Of course in Finland
and Hungary they do have enough languages that one can speak if one can
get by. But in China, it’s one of the few times that I worked
through an interpreter and I didn’t like it all. For a start you
really know whether what you’re saying is accurately being translated
or not. You might say to a musician, “Be
careful that that’s
not flat,” and it comes out, “Be
careful, that’s an apartment.” Obviously
there’s all these sorts of huge possibilities for a lack of
BD: You couldn’t talk
just in music?
JG: In the end, I found
that you do away with your
interpreter more and more. The international language of music,
Italian language of music is very much understood by most musicians all
over the world. You can demonstrate by singing or in other ways,
but it is a challenge and in general things take a teeny but longer.
BD: You didn’t find it
JG: I found it very
challenging. I adopted some kind of modus operandi.
BD: But they responded
JG: Absolutely they did;
very rewarding it was, too.
BD: Did you do anything
with traditional Chinese instruments, or
only with western instruments?
JG: Actually only with
western instruments, but on another occasion,
when I was touring the far east with the London Mozart players in 1991,
we did go to Taipei, and there we were asked by the local promoter to
Mozart’s Flute Concerto with
traditional Chinese flutes.
BD: I would think that
would be wonderful
JG: Well, it wasn’t that
great. For a start, the chap who played the
flute was absolutely brilliant. When I say the flute, it wasn’t
flute; he had to play three because the tessitura of Mozart’s flute
required three Chinese instruments; but he was so
dexterous in putting one down and continuing the same phrase on
another instrument. It was a fascinating experience, of course,
ultimately I don’t believe we did anyone a service, least of all
Mozart. Having said that, my own experience of listening to
instruments, I think the sounds are absolutely ravishing. I
remember the first time I heard some of the erhus – their string
instruments – it was incredibly
plaintive, totally individual sounds; you are immediately transported
into another world. Also their harmonic system is different
from ours. I’m so fascinated with musicians from not only China
but also Japan and Korea – they understand our Western music so well
and perform our music so well, and we barely begin to understand
theirs. I think that’s very humbling for us.
* * *
BD: You give
most of your performances in the theatre but you also make a number of
recordings. Do you conduct differently for the microphone than
you do for
the live audience?
JG: One would like to think not, and
indeed one of the real challenges
of the recording studio is to be aware of the audience that
you can’t see. I think audiences contribute to performance much
than they probably ever realize. As a performer myself, I love
performances. I’m at home performing live, but when you’re in a
recording studio you have all the endeavor and none of the reward in
the sense that you get nothing back. All you have is that
light and that wretched clock which keeps ticking, and you know you’ve
got to get it done by
5:30 that afternoon. It’s terribly hard to lose yourself in the
to such an extent that you could shape it and build the cathedral that
you have in front of you — which is, after
all, what we’re doing with a
piece of music — but at the same time making
sure that all the bricks
fit perfectly and that all the grouting is done. And all of the
time, as I say, that clock is ticking, and time is expensive in
recording sessions. That’s very hard for me and it’s also
hard for the players. Then you do start putting an odd brick
and an odd brick there and it gets even harder. Let’s
just patch from this bar to that bar, and so on.
BD: Is there no sense of
satisfaction at the end that you know it’s all
there someplace and can be assembled?
JG: Yes, and then you
really have to trust your producer of course.
BD: Is the producer
JG: Oh sure. I
don’t think I’ve ever worked with a deaf one. You need
somebody who not only has a good pair of ears but has a good pair of
hands. I’m using the old fashioned measurement, now, when it
really was cutting and pasting, but these days it’s all done
digitally. They’ve really got to be good at that as well as
with their ears. It’s so terribly important that you get the
the box that you’re hearing at the studio. Sometimes, on radio
you get a producer who says that sounds right and you say well that
doesn’t sound right to me and you go and listen and they found
something that actually doesn’t match up at all to what you want.
think, OK let’s start again; let’s try and find out what we’re all
here, and then we’re working on the same pitch.
BD: Basically, though,
you’re pleased with the recordings that are out?
JG: [Hesitating] Ugh!
[Both laugh] I always hate listening to my own recordings. When
cut comes of any new recording I’ve done, I always ask for it on
cassette rather than on CD because I’ll play it in the car. There
you have so much extraneous noise you can
get the overall picture without hearing all the cracks —
which you can
sort out afterwards. But it’s terribly important to get the
feel of it. Then you listen with very, very detailed ears.
A recording, after all, is not forever. Because it’s a permanent
implies that this is how I feel this piece goes, when in
fact it’s only
a snapshot, it’s only how I feel it goes now. There are
countless examples where
people have recorded pieces more than once and of course they develop
and they change. What Karl Böhm did in 1956 is quite
different from what
he did in 1966 and so on. The whole thing of performing practice
evolves all the time. It’s not just something like a cathedral
you build and stays there forever. It does go on changing with
the light and changing with the seasons and I think we have to respond
I think one of the things that was really fascinating about the
20th century to a large extent was that the recording industry led to
differences in performing practice. People would hear a recording
then they’d do what they heard somebody else do. But also the
thing about original instruments, which informed so much the
way we thought about early music — not just
music of the 17th century,
but music of the 18th and indeed music of the 19th century. We
all learned from that and then
you think, “OK let’s record Beethoven again in a
new light. Let’s
look again at Mozart.” And the whole thing
continues to evolve in a
very fascinating way. That’s why it’s important for us to keep in
mind, too, that once you’ve recorded your Mozart 40, that is not it, but in 10
years time you’ll do it again other things will have been learned.
BD: I assume then it’d
be impossible either in the theatre or on record
to sometime get it all right.
JG: If we thought that,
there would be no other mountain to climb. A
man’s reach should exceed his grasp or what’s a heaven for.
BD: I see, but you
always strive for it.
JG: Yes, of course we do, of
course we do. The fascinating thing
about particularly great music — and I come
back to Mozart again, because
I have a huge involvement with him; I must’ve performed the 40th
Symphony or Symphony No. 29
in A so many times that I probably can’t
count, or Handel’s Messiah
which I’ve done certainly over
50 times (I did count that once) — and
although we all know it
backwards, it is never anything less than a challenge. It is such
glorious music that every time you find something new. You know
somewhere in that audience is someone who’s never heard it before, and
you do it for them, and in the course of that you find something
you’ve never thought of before. It’s a bit like working through
the streets of Venice — which is somewhere I
happen to know very well because I lived there for awhile when I was
doing research into Monteverdi and Cavalli.
Everyday you see something you’ve never seen before and it’s the same
with familiar music. Once you think, “Oh
I know how this goes,” I think you shouldn’t
perform it again. If you ever find yourself
thinking, “Oh please not another…,”
just don’t program it. Once
it’s routine for you the audience will think it’s routine. Music
never be routine it must always have that feeling of the first
BD: I would assume that
if you say don’t perform it again, still if you
come back to it in 10 years you’ll find it fresh.
JG: Oh yes, of course
you will. Just rest it for a bit
BD: We’re kind of
dancing around it, so let me ask the real easy question:
What’s the purpose of music?
JG: The purpose of
music, like the purpose of art, the purpose of
culture, it is something that is going to transform and
illuminate and irradiate the hum-drum struggle of real life.
That’s a quick answer off the top of my head, but we get very involved
in the hard task of making it from birth to death with people
that we love and people for whom we’re responsible — and
other people for
whom we should be responsible — and certain
things help. Beauty in any
form helps, I think, whether it’s a glorious view or whether it’s a
great meal or whether it’s a novel by Jane Austen or whether it’s a
symphony by Beethoven. These things enrich and enhance our lives
show us what we can do.
BD: Are you conscious of
the audience that’s behind you
BD: Does it make a
difference if it’s a festival audience where
they’re paying more attention than a typical subscription audience
where it’s business people who’ve been beating their brains out all day?
JG: Oh goodness yes, you can
always tell that. I’ll tell you an
audience story. I’m sure you’re aware of the BBC Proms in the
Royal Albert Hall in London, this amazing music festival that
happens every summer. I did my first Prom in 1985 with the London
Mozart players who were then my orchestra, and it was pre-tty
one of those really scary first nights in one’s life. You look
it and think, “My God, I was a nervous wreck.”
It was live on radio
and it was also on television; it was a huge thing. We
began with the Schubert Symphony No.
5, which starts with nothing. I forget which colleague said
that the beginning of Schubert’s Fifth
Symphony is a transition from nothing to the first subject.
sitting in my dressing room before the concert and Robert, the
Comptroller of the Proms came in to wish me good luck. He
said, “Just remember, let the audience settle
before you start.” I
thought that was a really helpful piece of advice because the
thing about the proms is that the arena is huge. It can
seat 5,000 people. There are people sitting all around
the sides, but in the arena itself people are standing. It is
standing to hear these concerts. They aren’t comfortably
There’s an extra energy in the air. So I went out and I took my
there was lovely applause. I turn round and instantly the
place was pin-drop silent. Robert’s advice was actually quite
wrong! It was not them I had to wait for, it was me! I had to wait for
settle before I could actually start. The proms audience for me
best audience in the world. I just love playing the Proms.
They’re just great and they give you everything at the
end. But you’re absolutely right about corporate
BD: Is it perhaps even
more special to get an audience that you
know is kind of half asleep, and by the end realize that you’ve gotten
through to them?
JG: If you can do that,
of course it’s wonderful. There are so many
hazards nowadays in audiences. It used to be the coughers, then
suddenly it was the wristwatches and now it’s the cell phones. It’s
just appalling. I was
conducting a performance of the Magic
Flute in Miami a couple of years ago and five
mobile phones went off during the course of the performance.
People not only let them wring they answered them
and had conversations, I couldn’t believe it.
Tamino! It’s for you!” [Both laugh] Some
producer is going to use that on stage at some point.
JG: Oh yes, I’m sure, if
they haven’t already.
BD: Those are the
pitfalls of being a conductor. What advice do you
have for young conductors just starting out?
JG: I do get asked by
young conductors things like, “How do I start?”
or, “What do I do?”
There are two ways of learning how to be a conductor. One is by
watching people you really, really admire, the other is by doing it.
BD: I assume the second
is much better
necessarily. I was very lucky in the early part of
my career to work with and for Bernard Haitink and adjacent to my very
good friend Simon Rattle. Now
those are two pretty damn good role models. Very, very different
both absolutely compelling, and I learned a tremendous amount from both
of them. There are countless others — including
Andrew Davis whom I worked with in my early days at Glyndebourne
— from whom
you learned all the time. But of course there is no substitute of
very physical thing of feeling music in your hands. Apparently
can go to classes and be taught how to beat
five to the bar and how to stand and how your body should be
balanced. I’ve never
been to any of those. Like many British conductors I came through
different route — through the university and
then into just doing it.
There’s no substitute for feeling the music, even if it just means
you’re leading a madrigal group or a brass group or string friends or a
glee club, anything. Get some chums together and neglect no
opportunity if you
think you’re going to do it. Actually find out how it
feels. Don’t just stand in front of a mirror with
recordings. That won’t get
you anywhere. You can start small but you have to conduct
something. You have to
discover not just the clarity of your gesture, you have to discover the
eloquence of your gesture so you not only tell them where to play, but
how to play.
BD: Are you always right?
JG: Not always,
no. That’s why you need to practice!
That’s why I tell people to just do it. You’ll
find out for yourself what works and what doesn’t.
BD: Are there are times
when you come to a new orchestra or a new
soloist and you discover something from them?
JG: Oh yes, you learn
all the time. All the time you learn. Sometimes
out of the mouths of babes... You’ll work with one of the many
kids who are so brilliant on the circuit now, and they will reveal
something. You can go to an orchestra, even in the middle of
they’ll tell you something and give you an insight. It’s
great. You never stop learning. I hope,
perhaps, to impart something back
BD: Now that you’ve learned from these
others, is it pleasing to you that there are conductors now
looking to you and learning from you?
JG: I hope they
are. In a curious way, although I’ve now been conducting
25 years, I still somehow feel that I’m just climbing a ladder.
the new kid on the block?
JG: Sort of.
You’re only ever as good as your last performance, therefore the next
as well be your first. Of course you do get more confident, in a
sense. You have discovered
what works and what doesn’t work, but you’re still always trying to
climb that thing’s way.
BD: That unreachable top?
JG: Yeah, forever
climbing up climbing way.
BD: Are you
pleased with where you are at this point in your career?
JG: I’m very lucky with
where I am at this point in time. I am in Chicago doing
Monteverdi and the next thing I do is
Benjamin Britten and Haydn at the BBC, and then it’s Barber of
Seville. I have a very rich and varied diet and you can’t
wanted to touch on something very, very briefly because we’re
getting out of the era to talk about it. Do you feel you’re
a role model
to make sure other women know that they can be conductors, too?
JG: Well, if I am I’m
very happy to be that. There are many women on the circuit
now. When I began, 25 years ago,
there weren’t so many.
BD: So you’ve been part
of the transition?
JG: You can put it that
way. I’m one of the eldest. There are some fabulous
women conductors now. There are plenty of us about now,
moving around the continents. I think that’s great, and if I’ve
part of that to encourage other people, I am terribly
touched by that. As I said I’ve been doing it 25 years and in the
words of the lady from Follies,
“I’m still here.”
BD: I hope so for a long
JG: I hope so, too.
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© 2000 Bruce Duffie
This interview was recorded in the box office of the Ruth Page
Auditorium in Chicago on September 25, 2000. Portions were used
(along with musical examples) the following January.
transcription was made in 2008 and posted on this
website in November of that year.
To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been
transcribed and posted on this website, click here.
broadcaster Bruce Duffie was with WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago
from 1975 until its final moment as a classical station in February of
2001. His interviews have also appeared in various magazines and
journals since 1980, and he now continues his broadcast series on WNUR-FM,
as well as on Contemporary Classical Internet Radio.
You are invited to visit his website
for more information about his work, including selected transcripts of
other interviews, plus a full list of his guests. He would also
to call your attention to the photos and information about his
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