Conductor / Composer  Harold  Bauer

A Conversation with Bruce Duffie


On the first day of February, 1997, Harold Bauer came to WNIB, and we taped an interview.  Parts were used to promote an upcoming production by the DuPage Opera Theatre in Glen Ellyn, Illinois (24 miles west of downtown Chicago).  We also spoke in more depth about this work, and about his other ideas and activities.  Our full conversation is included on this webpage . . . . .

Harold Bauer:   I’ve been at the College of DuPage for the past twenty years.  This is the twentieth season, and I still tend to speak in terms of seasons rather than academic years.

Bruce Duffie:   That’s the musician in you!  [Both laugh]

Bauer:   The New Philharmonic was started in 1977.

BD:   By you?

bauer Bauer:   By me, yes.  I was hired by the College of DuPage to be on the music faculty, but the primary mission was to begin an orchestra program of professional caliber, and also an opera company.  We also began things for student participation.  The New Philharmonic was born after extensive auditions.  It started out as a chamber orchestra, and our first concert was twenty-six musicians.

BD:   Do they also play for the DuPage Opera Theatre?

Bauer:   They are the pit orchestra, yes, and it’s been a fabulous experience.

BD:   You’ve been Music Director elsewhere, too?

Bauer:   Yes, I have been Music Director of five other orchestras.  My first job was with the Lake Forest Symphony.  Victor Aitay [concertmaster of the Chicago Symphony] took over when I departed for Peoria, Illinois.  I was Music Director of the Peoria Symphony for six years, and concurrently conductor of the Quincy Symphony for four of those years.  Then I moved to Erie, Pennsylvania, where I conducted the Erie Philharmonic for three years (1974-76).  Then I came back to this area, and became affiliated with the College of DuPage.  My first professional position began in 1962, so I feel very fortunate to have been able to live a life as a conductor all this time.

BD:   You did some composing as well?

Bauer:   Yes, early on, and continuing.  Composition has been a very important part of my life, and there’s always a desire to do more.  But I felt the pressure of making a decision early on, and composition took a back seat.  But once you’re involved in something like that, you never rid yourself of it.  It’s always there, and I’m always thinking of things.

BD:   Throughout the years of conducting, has it been a little better for you, having put certain notes in certain places on a piece of music paper?

Bauer:   Oh, absolutely!  There’s no question that being involved as a composer has been a very strong influence in the way I approach a score.  It’s also been a very strong motivating factor in wanting to perform new music.  I’ve always performed new music, and championed certain composers.

BD:   Now, here at the DuPage Opera Theatre, you are going to combine your talents of composing and conducting?

Bauer:   Yes!  In 1963 I wrote a one-act opera, Lazarus.  It was in a very different phase of my life, and I would hate to think I haven’t changed since then.  It’s a very demanding work.  I’m not sure I would have the nerve to write anything so difficult today, but it’s one of those early children that has remained very much in my mind through the years.  It was performed in 1965, when I was the Music Director of the Community Music Association in Lake Forest.  It was quite successful, as I recall.  It was very exciting, and a proud moment for me.
BD:   I wonder if someone who was in the audience then will be in the audience now?

Bauer:   Yes.  As a matter of fact, I hope one of the original singers will come out to hear the performance.  It was also performed two years later by the Cambridge Opera Workshop, and apparently it was very well received.  Then it was retired, as it were.  It’s very difficult to get an opera performed.  It’s monumentally difficult.

BD:   How did you decide to bring it back now?

Bauer:   I’ve been thinking about it for a number of years, and simultaneously thinking that it’s really time to do Gianni Schicchi.  I’ve done a lot of Puccini, naturally.  Any opera conductor loves to do Puccini, and I’ve been looking for place to do it.  I didn’t want to get into the whole Trittico, but I was looking for some venue to do Gianni Schicchi with something else, and one day the thought occurred to me
what about Lazarus?  So, I got the score out.  One has to be rather cautious about approaching something that does go back so long.

BD:   Did it surprise you when you opened the score?

Bauer:   It surprised me that it was so difficult.  I would write quite differently today.  I’ve lived with it for quite some time now, because I wanted to make sure that it was still a statement that I could believe in.  I played it on the piano, and tried to sing things in my own broken way, and I came to the conclusion that it was still a very valid statement.  I resisted the temptation to make changes.  I’ve only added a very few things just to thicken the orchestra in a few places, and to help the singers grab the pitch.  But I decided to really go easy on the changes, because otherwise it becomes a different work, and rather than re-work a whole one-act opera, I’d rather just write another one.

BD:   What’s the running time?

Bauer:   It’s about fifty minutes, just under an hour.

BD:   That makes it a nice companion to Gianni Schicchi.

Bauer:   It does.  As a matter of fact, it makes a rather short evening because Gianni Schicchi is only about forty-five or fifty minutes.  So, with an intermission, it makes a nice evening.

BD:   Two full operas?

Bauer:   That’s right, two full operas, and two very contrasting operas.  I do feel that Gianni Schicchi is one of the great gems in the repertoire.

BD:   Is it intimidating for you to cast singers to sing your own opera?  It’s easy to cast Gianni Schicchi...

Bauer:   [Interrupting]  It’s not so easy to cast Gianni Schicchi, but I know what you mean.  We have a wonderful Schicchi, David Holloway.  You probably don’t know the name, but he is a very interesting baritone who had has twenty-five plus years of career as a leading baritone in the major opera houses of the world.  In the U.S., he has sung at the Met, at the Lyric here in Chicago, at San Francisco, at Dallas.  For twelve years, he was a leading baritone at the Deutsche Opera am Rhein in Düsseldorf.  Then, he came back to this country with his wife, Deborah, just a few years ago.  I met him through my wife, who had asked him to teach for her at North Park College.  She needed someone to teach voice, and David thought it over and decided to do it.  He is wonderful.  It's a voice in the full peak of its maturity.  [For more about Holloway, click HERE.]

BD:   What are the dates of the performances?

Bauer:   February 13th and 15th (1997), Thursday night and Saturday night at 8pm, and Sunday afternoon, February 16th at 3pm.  A lot of people simply haven’t realized yet that the Arts Center at the College of DuPage is a wonderful place for opera.  It has an eight-hundred-seat auditorium with a deep pit.  There is also plenty of free parking.  It
s an easy drive from anywhere in the Chicago area, and is very accessible from the expressways.  It’s just a great place for opera, and a very good place for symphony.  We’re very happy, very pleased to have such a facility, and we have excellent designers.  Our costume person, Joanne Witzkowski has done a superb job on many productions for us, and so we’re feeling very good about it.  It’ll be a fine evening.  Geoffrey Edwards, who is resident stage director for the company, has brought his usual wonderful touches to the production.  I think it’ll be a good evening!

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   Let’s come back to the difficulties of casting people in your opera.

Bauer:   It takes good musicians, of course, people who are very secure rhythmically, and who are not afraid to approach new music.  I don’t have to tell you that Chicago is a very talent-rich metropolitan area, so there’s an enormous amount of talent around here, and, fortunately, lots of people who are dying to sing opera.  So, rather than the feeling of desperation of never being able to cast this, it was really a question of making some careful decisions.

BD:   Are you pleased with those decisions?

Bauer:   I’m very pleased!  There are so many phases of learning a new score.  First you have to get familiar with it.  You work through the rhythms, and then you begin working through the pitches.  At many of those early rehearsals, the singers are really musical typewriters, punching out correct rhythms and correct notes.  Sometimes you go home thinking that it’s correct, but I don’t remember that it sounded so tedious.  Then, all of a sudden, they begin to get secure, and then they start really singing.  That’s when the music begins.  In those first couple of staging rehearsals, they forget everything musically, but you know that is going to happen.  It’s not
because they’re incompetent.  It’s just when you start thinking about the motions, you tend to forget a lot of the music.  So, after two or three of those rehearsals, we realized we needed to get back together again and have just a plain music rehearsal.  That happened this morning, and it was very exciting.  All of a sudden, it’s making music.

BD:   In composing in the mid-60s, this was a time for using a very dissonant, angular style.

anderson Bauer:   An angular style, yes, although I’ve always had a good feel for the vocal line.  It’s an atonal opera, but very vocal, very singable, and not harder than Wozzeck.

BD:   How did the public react to it in 1965?

Bauer:   They reacted very favorably.  Of course, they knew me, and that always makes a big difference.  I was the conductor and I was the Music Director of the organization.  To really find any semblance of
proof, a composer has to be away from home... although there’s nothing wrong with being appreciated by people who know you personally.

BD:   Would it have been better for you to let somebody else conduct it?

Bauer:   That may have been an interesting possibility.  Yes, I could have done that.  I was gratified by the fact that the production was also seen in Cambridge.  I didn’t attend because something came up and I was not able to go.  It broke my heart.

BD:   So, somebody else has conducted it?

Bauer:   Yes, somebody else conducted it, and, of course, the audience didn’t have a clue who Harold Bauer was.  So, there was no personal factor, and it was very successful.  I must say that the libretto itself is a very strong piece.  Jack Anderson wrote the libretto... not the political columnist, but the dance critic for The New York Times.  Jack is a poet, and I met him through a friend.  We introduced ourselves by letter... we didn’t have e-mail in those days (!), and therefore I still have those letters.  He had carte blanche.
  I said I needed less than a one-hour opera, and after several weeks he came up with the idea of Lazarus, and the two sisters, Mary and Martha.  One of them believes in the miracle of Lazarus’s being raised from the dead, and the other doubts.  So, it’s a house of conflict.  A strangera pilgrimcomes to the house to worship the risen Lazarus, and finds instead a household divided between faith and doubt.  Then Lazarus himself comes upon the scene.  He is just a haggard old man who speaks very monotone-like, and is incapable of giving any assistance to someone who might want to believe in the miracle.  It’s just ‘believe as you please’, and this leads to a very violent conclusion in which one sister feels compelled to find some reinforcement for her belief, and the other sister finally persuades the stranger to kill Lazarus, so that a kind of normality can be restored to their life and to the world.  He does that, and then leaves totally disillusioned.

BD:   It
s not a happy ending opera!

Bauer:   It is not a happy ending opera.  The audience will be glad to know that Lazarus is first on the program, so we’ll send them home whistling ‘O, mio babbino caro!’ after Gianni Schicchi.  It had to be the opener.  Believe it or not, when Lazarus was premiered, we did Bastien und Bastienne [a very early Mozart singspiel (arias with dialogue)] to open the evening, and Lazarus concluded it.

BD:   Depending on the amount of dialogue included, Bastien is usually less than an hour.

Bauer:   Yes, it’s fairly short.  We have excellent people this time, including Mark James Meyers as The Stranger, and Andrew Schultze, who is well-known in the Chicago area, singing Lazarus.  Victoria Holland, who is a relative new-comer,
is Mary, and Sarah Holman, a wonderful mezzo who also teaches at Wheaton Conservatory, is singing Martha.  So, I have four really fine musicians, and a wonderfully co-operative cast.

BD:   Are you going to have enough rehearsal time?

Bauer:   [Laughs]  
Enough rehearsal time is somewhat of an oxymoron, but I would say we can’t complain.  One could always use a little more, but...  We haven’t met the orchestra yet, but yes, we’ll have enough rehearsal time.

BD:   Did you ever think about doing the Schubert Lazarus (an unfinished oratorio) along with your Lazarus?

Bauer:   I don’t know the work, but this would be the year to do it.  (Schubert was born in 1797).

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   How’s the New Philharmonic doing these days?

Bauer:   The New Philharmonic is in a wonderful period of maturation.  This is their twentieth year, and in the last couple of years many things have come together.  There’s wonderful support for it in the College.  Being under the umbrella of the College of DuPage is an extraordinary relationship.  It is most unusual that a community junior college should have that sort of posture when it comes to supporting the arts.  We have five professional organizations
an opera company, a symphony orchestra, a jazz ensemble, a theater company, and a choral group called the New Classic Singers, all of which are under the College’s umbrella.  We have tons of student activity as well, but these five professional groups are housed in a beautiful arts center.

bauer BD:   How old is the arts center?

Bauer:   This is the tenth anniversary year, and it has been an incredible boon to that whole area.  There are three performance spaces
a theater that seats 200, a sort of black box area that seats 75 or a 100, and the 800-seat main stage.  There’s many a night when all three are going, and we even have people walking up to the ticket office who ask what’s playing that night.  They can choose between a Shakespeare play, a symphony orchestra concert, or a modern dance recital!

BD:   Sounds like an embarrassment of riches!

Bauer:   It’s very encouraging.  I went to Northwestern, and lived in Evanston for many years, and the Western suburbs seemed like sort of a wasteland out there.  But that’s such nonsense!

BD:   They’ve grown in the last years...

Bauer:   Yes, they have of course, but there’s a vital climate out there.

BD:   Is it good to be able to bring classical music to people who don’t generally come downtown for concerts?

Bauer:   It’s terrific, and for better or for worse, that’s what people need.  If somebody comes up to me asking if they should come and hear the New Philharmonic, or go and hear the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, as much as I would like their business, I would tell them to go and hear the Chicago Symphony Orchestra!  [With a grin]  It is a better orchestra than the New Philharmonic, believe it or not!

BD:   [Pointing out the obvious]  You should tell them to hear both!

Bauer:   [Laughs]  Yes, but the fact is that a lot of people just don’t do it.  They don’t go downtown.  It’s hard enough for me to get to the Chicago Symphony and Lyric Opera.  We try to go as often as we can, but it
s not nearly enough.  So, it’s great to have quality in the suburbs.  The North Shore has it, and the West suburbs have it, too.  The New Philharmonic is a fine orchestra.  I’m very proud of it, and very proud to be part of it.  And, of course, the musical diet varies.  It’s a different challenge.  We did La Bohème, we did La Rondine, and we’ve done Jenůfa [Janáček].  Some of those operas are not familiar even to regular concert-going audiences.  I would say it’s fair to assume that if you come to a production of La Rondine at DuPage Opera Theatre, probably ninety-eight percent of the people are seeing it for the first time.  Certainly that’s true of Jenůfa.

BD:   Are there many who are seeing their very first opera?

Bauer:   Many of them are seeing their first opera, too.  Maybe not as many, but maybe it
s their first opera in English, and they love it.  We forget that there’s always a new generation.  There are always people who are seeing their first opera, and television has helped a lot.  People watch operas on television, [with a grin] but it ain’t the same, you know!  There’s nothing like being there live, and seeing the passion played out right in front of your eyes.  It’s very exciting to be involved in opera.  Also, there are so many young singers here in the area that are just dying to sing.

BD:   What advice do you have for the young singer who wants to make a career?

Bauer:   That’s a tough one.  Each person has to decide what kind of risks they’re going to take, what kind of accommodations and compromises they will put up with.  Even the
successful singer has a hard time of it.  You can sing, say, three or four leading roles in a season, and it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to be able to make a living.  Or, if you do make a living, you might not have time with your family, or you might not be able to have a family, or live with your loved ones, or whatever the case may be.  But if the fire is in your belly, you’ll pursue it.  I find it very difficult to ever say to anyone that a career is not for them, because that’s a little bit too Godly.  Some very unlikely candidates have made very exciting careers.

BD:   Have there been some who should have made careers who haven’t?

Bauer:   Oh, I’m sure.  I shouldn’t say all this just for a singer, but certainly it’s so important for a singer to have time to have leisure, to have rest, to be able to nurture the voice, to learn the repertoire, to learn the style.  I can think of several people right now that should be sponsored for two or three years.  They don’t have to live lavishly, but be kept on some sort of stipend where they can afford to work on their technique.

BD:   They have to be able to live and not have to have a day-job?

Bauer:   That’s right, and certainly not a night-job where you wait tables until Midnight, and the next day have lessons and rehearsals.

BD:   They need to concentrate only on the music?

Bauer:   That’s so important.  It’s important for a violinist, too, but the instrument isn’t as fragile.  It’s not quite as complicated as with the singer, because the voice is a part of the body.

BD:   If you smash a violin, you can get a new violin.  If you smash the voice, it’s done.

Bauer:   That’s right.  You have to take care of that voice, and you have to build it properly.  I hear people frequently say that there are still opportunities in some of the European countries....

BD:   [With a gentle nudge]  ‘Operatunities’???

Bauer:   [Laughs]  Yes, ‘operatunities’ to do more singing, and to get the repertoire.  It’s difficult in this country.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   Are you going back to composing?

Bauer:   Yes!  There are several people who have asked me to write things.  You met my friend John Bavicchi, who is a composer.  
He’s always writing.  I’ve never seen him when he’s not working on something.

bauer BD:   I interviewed him, and I’ve done shows of his music.

Bauer:   We just did a piece of John’s recently, and for some years John has asked me to write a piece for his group out in Boston.  I have to do that because it’s just very much a part of me.

BD:   Let me ask you a real easy question.  What’s the purpose of music?

Bauer:   [Laughs]  Yes, that’s an easy one, isn’t it???  I don’t know what the purpose of it is.  I know I couldn’t live without it.  I only know that it’s enrichment.  Does that boil down to a purpose?  I wouldn’t be able to say.

BD:   Are you optimistic about the future of music?

Bauer:   No, I’m not.

BD:   [Surprised]  Are we talking composition or performance?

Bauer:   We’re talking about the whole scene.  It’s very hard to know where it’s heading with the whole marketing thing, and the whole idea of popularization.

BD:   Do you feel it’s going to become trash, or do you feel it’s going to become lost?

Bauer:   A little bit of both.  I really don’t know, but I don’t want to sit here and sound like a pessimist, or someone who was born in the wrong year.  I have lived in a wonderful period of development, roughly from 1960 to the present day.  That’s a long span (almost forty years), but music education has essentially gone from our school system.  We’re reaping now our first generations of children
and teachers!who have grown up with no musical training, no musical background.  It’s very hard just to be a serious musician, and not be a marketing analyst.  How do we meld pops and jazz with symphonic?  I don’t see that they need to be melded, but maybe I’m wrong.  Opera certainly seems to have a growing audience.  The success of the Lyric Opera, for example, is phenomenal, and encouraging.  Supertitles have meant a great deal.  The fact that people are really understanding what they’re hearing is an encouraging sign.

BD:   Does that make you feel better or worse about doing opera in English?

Bauer:   I’ve always done opera in English.  I wouldn’t consider doing it in any other way.

BD:   You wouldn’t do it in Italian with titles?

Bauer:   I would prefer not to.  There’s definitely something lost.  I can’t imagine that there was ever a composer in history that would have imagined, or wanted their opera in a language foreign to the audience.  As a matter of fact, we have many examples of just the opposite, of musical changes which were made for the translations.  It probably would have boggled their minds to think that such a thing would even exist because, after all, it is drama in music.  Who would go to see Shakespeare in German, yet my father and mother, who grew up in Germany and Austria, always thought Shakespeare sounded so strange in English!  On the other hand, given the situation today with the top singers of the world jetting around to all these cities, of course the operas have to be done in the original languages.  But for me, there’s nothing like the experience of hearing an audience respond to their own language, so I wouldn’t have it any other way.  The titles are very problematic.  For the most part, singers hate it because they hear these audience responses at the wrong places.  Maybe that can be fixed...

BD:   The ones who sing comic operas tell me they get two laughs
one when the audience reads it, one when they sing it.

Bauer:   Exactly.  The hall that we have is very intimate
which should beand that’s the best way to do it.  It’s wonderful to hear the audience involvement.

BD:   Despite all of the ups and downs, are you at the point in your career that you want to be?

Bauer:   I’m grateful to be where I am.  It’s what I’ve wanted.  Maybe at a certain point I envisioned other things, but I’ve had a great run, and am very happy.

BD:   Thank you for all the music, and for the conversation.

Bauer:   It
s a pleasure to speak with you.

========                ========                ========
----        ----        ----
========                ========                ========

© 1997 Bruce Duffie

This conversation was recorded in the studios of WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago on February 1, 1997.  Portions were broadcast one week later.  This transcription was made in 2021, and posted on this website at that time.  My thanks to British soprano Una Barry for her help in preparing this website presentation.

To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been transcribed and posted on this website, click here.  To read my thoughts on editing these interviews for print, as well as a few other interesting observations, click here.

*     *     *     *     *

Award - winning 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 like to call your attention to the photos and information about his grandfather, who was a pioneer in the automotive field more than a century ago.  You may also send him E-Mail with comments, questions and suggestions.