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INTERVIEW: Donald Livingston on the Twin Cities Early Music Festival

The Twin Cities Early Music Festival has just wrapped up – a month-long cavalcade of concerts, workshops, master classes, and intimate recitals. The director of the festival, Donald Livingston, agreed to chat with the Twin Cities Arts Reader‘s Basil Considine about the festival’s explosive growth, wearing multiple hats as a musician-administrator, and more.

Donald Livingston, Director of the Twin Cities Early Music Festival
Donald Livingston, Director of the Twin Cities Early Music Festival

The Twin Cities Early Music Festival burst on the scene in 2014 as a 2-day event. Now it spans from August 5-28, with just two dark days in the middle. What’s been driving this growth and expansion? 

The driving force has been mostly two things: the excitement that surrounds creating anything new has prompted some early music enthusiasts to put together projects for the festival that wouldn’t have gotten done otherwise, and I chose to to craft the schedule as a series of individual events instead of a weekend packed with events to make ticketing individual events possible. The first year’s format of a continuous slate of things happening every hour makes for more “festival” atmosphere, but it is the worst format for monetization. Without funding there was no way to get money into the hands of performers without ticketing individual concerts.

How does this year’s performance slate compare to previous years?

The number of events this year is down. This was expected and, in fact, welcomed, by me. Last year the new format was shiny and new, and I encouraged everyone who had anything to do with early music to participate. This year there were conflicts schedule-wise, but also a few groups put together projects just for the festival last year that were not interested in putting one together this year.

What is the performance curation and organization process like? Do you invite groups, solicit proposals, etc?

The first year two years I asked people to participate. This year I let them come to me, counting on the fact that most people who were really interested in participating would make themselves known. I get a number of proposals from across the country and Europe as well, but have not been in a financial situation to take advantage of that interest yet.

Training is a large part of several prominent early music festivals around the country. TCEMF has its Baroque Instrumental & Dance Program, which makes up a large part of the first half of the festival. Which came first?

The Baroque program came first, technically. It existed as the part of the summer programme at Early Music Vancouver, who decided to end the program in 2015, so we moved the faculty here and continued it under a new banner. However, it was simply a program that dropped in our laps, and was not part of the original plan for the festival.

How many students participated in BIP this year?

I think there [were] 37 students total.

You’re the director of the festival, but also wear many hats as a musician. Are you taking the stage as a performing musician during the festival?

I am a performer this year, and am trimming it back from last year.  Still, I appeared too many times for comfort: in recital with Maria Jette (August 6), on harp with Sprezzatura (August 13), on organ with Bach Cantatas (August 23), with Clea Galhano and Nerea Berraondo (August 25), and finally as conductor for Acis and Galatea (August 26 & 27). Next year, I am reducing that even further by doing a solo recital and one continuo show.
Basil Considine