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Early music festival adds a Spanish flair

Early music festival adds a Spanish flair


The Madison arts world seems to have caught Spanish fever.

In April, Kanopy Dance staged its Spanish-inspired dance concert “Postcards from Spain.” In November, Madison Opera will perform the tale of the Spanish gypsy “Carmen.”

Spanish culture will be center stage this summer, too, at the Madison Early Music Festival, or MEMF. The annual festival running Saturday through July 15 will feature workshops and public concerts on the theme “Quixotic Musical Treasures from the Golden Age of Spain.”

Each year, MEMF delves into early music from a different era or geographical region. This year’s inspiration: The novel “Don Quixote de la Mancha” by Miguel de Cervantes, and the rich art that flourished during Renaissance Spain.

Don Quixote is also the subject of “Man of La Mancha,” the 1964 Broadway musical that Madison’s Four Seasons Theatre will present Aug. 4-6 in Union Theater.

Memorial Library, too, is going Spanish by hosting a special display titled “Don Quixote Through the Ages,” with books, musicals and other scores from the UW-Madison Libraries collection through Aug. 10. Visitors can even scan a QR code at the library to hear a Spotify playlist featuring early Spanish music that will be performed at the Madison Early Music Festival.

So — what is it about Madison and Spain this year?

Maybe just coincidence. Madison Early Music Festival latched on to its theme because it segues nicely from MEMF’s Elizabethan program in 2016, created to honor the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death, said co-artistic director Cheryl Bensman-Rowe. (Shakespeare and Cervantes, she points out, share the same death date.)

Plus, Bensman-Rowe and co-artistic director Paul Rowe, both UW-Madison faculty, had a chance to bring in Philadelphia-based Piffaro, a Renaissance band that had done intense research to create a program featuring music referenced in the Cervantes novel. The band calls its program, titled “The Musical World of Don Quixote,” a historical “musical soundtrack” to the book.

Piffaro will perform Saturday in Mills Hall in a ticketed public concert. That performance will be a kickoff to the weeklong festival, which consists of not only concerts by visiting artists, UW faculty and students, but also offers some 30 workshops for festival participants.

About 100 people are registered for MEMF instruction this year, the festival’s 18th, Bensman-Rowe said. Participants can select from more than 30 classes in voice, dance, and period instruments — ranging from the lute and harp to recorder, sackbut, shawms and viola da gamba.

Registration for the week of classes and concerts is $575, or $250 for full-time college students.

Public concerts mostly take place in Mills Hall in the UW-Madison Humanities Building, 455 N. Park St., and feature a pre-concert lecture beforehand. Tickets range from free to $20 ($10 for students). An all-concert pass is $90.

Performances include:

  • Saturday:

Piffaro, The Renaissance Band

  • , performing “The Musical World of Quixote,” which takes listeners into the sound world of the Spanish Golden Age. 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall. Tickets $20; $10 students.
  • Sunday, July 9:

Xavier Diaz-Latorre

  • , from Barcelona, Spain, performing “Fantasias & Danzas del Siglo de Oro” on the vihuela and five-course guitar. 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall. $20/$10 students.
  • Tuesday, July 11:

Daphna Mor

  • (recorder, ney, voice) and

Kane Mathis

  • (oud) Duo, plus violin and percussion, perform music from Andalusia, North Africa, the Ottoman Empire and Sephardic Diaspora. 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall. $20/$10 students.
  • Thursday, July 13: The

MEMF Dance,

  • featuring music and dance instruction in the Play Circle, second floor of Memorial Union, 800 Langdon St. Tickets $10 (cash only) at the door.
  • Friday, July 14:

MEMF Participant Concert

  • , with workshop participants performing in ensembles coached by faculty artists throughout the festival week. 1 p.m. in Mills Hall; admission free.


  • performs “Splendor of the Spanish Renaissance” at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall. $20/$10 students.
  • Saturday, July 15:

MEMF Advanced Loud Band and Early Opera & Continuo Workshop Concert

  • ; free concert performed at 2 p.m. at Music Hall, 925 Bascom Mall.

MEMF All-Festival Concert

  • titled “Iberian Tapestry: Music and Conquest from the Spanish Golden Age,” featuring festival workshop participants, faculty and guests, is at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall. $20/$10 students.

Free lectures will be offered throughout the festival; for more information see


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