Glover continues to find warmth

and enjoyment in her tenth anniversary season

with Music of the Baroque

Jane Glover opens her tenth season with Music of the Baroque Friday night with works of Haydn and Mozart.

For the past decade, Music of the Baroque has offered its audiences an unusual type of two-for-one special.

It’s not a savings that turns up at the box office. It’s a bonus involving what’s being performed onstage. Baroque-era music is full of weighty blockbusters—Bach passions, Handel and Haydn oratorios, works that explore such profound issues as damnation and redemption, human weakness and divine transcendence.

But under the baton of British conductor Jane Glover, who arrived as music director in 2002, the Music of the Baroque chorus and orchestra bring a sense of joyful engagement to even the most serious masterworks. Since Glover’s arrival, there’s an electricity in the air at MOB performances, which is not always the case at classical concerts. The sheer pleasure the 35 instrumentalists and two dozen choristers take in making music together is unmistakable.

Music of the Baroque celebrated its 40th birthday two seasons ago with an ambitious schedule that included both Bach’s Christmas Oratorio and Handel’s Messiah. Glover and the ensemble will be joined by guest soloists to open her 10th anniversary season with MOB this weekend in program of Mozart and Haydn, spotlighting the latter’s Lord Nelson Mass.

Founded in 1972 by Thomas Wikman, MOB was at a crossroads when Glover took over. Wikman, a gifted organist and conductor, had built it into one of the country’s leading Baroque and Classical ensembles. But by 2001 the group seemed to be stagnating. Wikman left at the end of the 2000-01 season, and seven guest conductors auditioned for the post the following year. Karen Fishman, who joined MOB as executive director in 2000, recalls her first encounters with Glover.

“When we started talking about this,” said Fishman, “her name came up almost immediately. People on the staff knew it. She had just begun coming to Chicago Opera Theater, but she was known to people in our circle independent of that.” (Glover conducted COT’s superb production of Monteverdi’s Orfeo in fall 2000.)

Now 63, Glover had carved out a strong career in England and Europe. Trained at Oxford, with a special interest in 17th century Venetian opera, she was music director of the Glyndebourne Festival’s Touring Opera from 1981 to 1985. She was music director of the London Mozart Players from 1984 to 1991 and was in demand as a conductor throughout Europe.

“I met her when she was in town for COT’s Orfeo,” said Fishman, “and she was happy to think about having a post in the U.S. There were lots of people who did very good work [as guest conductors] and who the musicians liked. But she was both the musicians’ choice and our choice because of all the things she brought to the job—knowledge of the repertoire, lots of experience working with choruses and singers. She’s a collaborative artist, the musicians really liked her, the audience responded really well. It proved to be a good fit from every perspective.”

From Glover’s standpoint, the feeling was mutual.

“What drew me to the group was the warmth of the players,” said Glover, “the great artistry of the players. The repertoire too—17th and 18th century music—was absolutely my heartland repertoire. And there was the city itself; it was ticking off so many boxes for me.

“I can’t believe it’s been 10 years. That’s obviously a sign that we’re having fun. In no way has the time dragged, every year is a challenge and a huge reward and so much fun to put together and to execute.”

Tall and slim, Glover is lithe on the podium, seeming to drawn the long-lined, lyrical phrasing she wants with the sways and dips of her body. Whether they’re performing a Mozart symphony or a Bach chorale, MOB sounds transparent and light on its feet under Glover’s baton. She clearly knows how she wants to shape each musical phrase, but she also demands emotional involvement with the music from herself and her musicians.

Principal cellist Barbara Haffner, one of Chicago’s leading cellists and a member of MOB since 1977, has worked with Glover at Chicago Opera Theater and as a featured soloist on MOB concerts.

“She expects a lot,” said Haffner, “and she knows when she’s getting it and when she’s not. And she asks for it when she isn’t. It’s not just a matter of note-lengths and phrasing. It’s a matter of commitment—emotional, psychological.”

Robert Morgan, MOB’s principal oboe, is also a veteran ensemble member, having joined the group in 1972.

“In many ways she really is the savior of Music of the Baroque,” said Morgan. “Things had gotten very stale. We needed a boost, and she gave us that boost. She’s a terrific presence in front of the orchestra and an inspiring leader.”

Mary Stolper, a high-profile, Chicago-based musician who became MOB’s principal flute four years ago, agrees. “I’ve found Jane to be truly a breath of fresh air,’’ she said. “She doesn’t just bring an academic idea—‘I know what’s supposed to happen in Mozart.’ She brings not only that knowledge, but she adds her own flair and joy when she conducts Mozart.

“She isn’t afraid to take chances. She has a definite idea of what the music means to her, and she has the Music of the Baroque orchestra that will deliver it for her.’’

During the past decade, Glover has tried pushing the edges of MOB’s programming, adding a taste of Stravinsky and Britten to one season’s programming, reaching back to pre-Baroque composers in others.

“We went backwards and forward,” said Glover. “I’ve always enjoyed enormously our forays into 20th and 21st century repertoire. But there is a vociferous portion of our audience who say, ‘Look, we’re supporting music of the baroque, not music of the 20th century,’ and I respect that.”

As for period instrument performance, “In a sense, we’ve abandoned that,” said Glover. “The Baroque Band [a Chicago-based period ensemble founded by Garry Clarke in 2007] has appeared, and there are only two or three of our own players who do both [period and modern instruments]. It was great fun to do, but it didn’t have a great deal to do with who we actually are.”

This season, the focus is on Glover’s 10th anniversary as music director. Highlights include Haydn’s Lord Nelson Mass Oct. 5 and 7, Handel’s oratorio Israel in Egypt Apr. 7-8 and Bach’s St. John Passion May 19-20, all conducted by Glover. She also presides over an all-Mozart program Jan. 25 and 27. Principal Guest Conductor Nicholas Kraemer leads all-Bach concerts Nov. 18-19 and orchestral music by Handel and Haydn Feb. 22 and 24. William Jon Gray, MOB chorus director, conducts the annual Holiday Brass and Choral concerts Dec. 13-16.

There’s no end, Glover said, to her programming ideas for MOB. But big works such as concert versions of rarely performed, early Mozart operas or massive Handel oratorios like Saul or Jephtha will have to wait until the economy improves.

“These are all long pieces that require long rehearsals, which would require long budgets,” Glover admitted. “I’m very realistic about this.”

But she does treasure the fact that MOB’s administration considers adequate rehearsal time a necessity rather than a luxury.

“They’re just wonderful about, ‘Now how much rehearsal do you need?’ It’s never, ‘This is all you can have,’” said Glover. “This is one of the things I loved instantly about this organization. We rehearse properly. I’m afraid an awful lot of organizations around the world, as times have gotten harder, have simply lopped off rehearsal. And that won’t do. It really won’t. You cannot present stuff that hasn’t been properly rehearsed. I’m so grateful [to MOB] for that.”

In 2009, Glover became artistic director of opera at London’s Royal Academy of Music, and she has a busy conducting schedule elsewhere in Europe and the U. S. But she continues to value her work with Music of the Baroque.

“It’s the favorite thing that I do,” said Glover. “Maybe this is something that we’ve sort of changed in the past 10 years, the sense of just what fun this is. There is nothing more fun than sitting down and making great music with people you know and like very much. It doesn’t, honestly, come much better than that.”

Jane Glover opens Music of the Baroque’s season with Mozart’s Divertimento in F major, K.138, and Symphony No. 38 (Prague) and Haydn’s Lord Nelson Mass. Soloists in the Haydn mass are Susanna Philips, Kathryn Leemhuis, David Portillo and Stephen Morscheck. The program will be presented 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Harris Theater and 7:30 p.m. Sunday at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie.