Craig Trompeter has been a musical presence in Chicago for more than twenty years, performing in concert and over the airwaves with Second City Musick, Music of the Baroque, the Chicago Symphony, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Chicago Opera Theater, the Cal Players, the Newberry Consort, and the Oberlin Consort of Viols. As chamber musician, he has appeared at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Glimmerglass Festival, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, and the Valletta International Baroque Festival in Malta. He has performed as soloist at the Ravinia Festival, at the annual conference of the American Bach Society, with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and with Music of the Baroque. He is the Artistic Director of Haymarket Opera Company.
How did you get started in music?
My parents bought a piano for Christmas one year, and I took the ten free lessons that came with it. I was supposed to come home and teach everyone else, but that never quite happened. I was instantly hooked on music. My first recital piece was “The Drowsy Dinosaur.”
How did you come to play your instrument?
One day a lovely string teacher named Linda Etter came into our fourth grade classroom and demonstrated all the violin family instruments. I loved the sound of the cello and signed up for private lessons with Lois Palen right away. At the time I was fascinated by some of the classic musicals, and Ms. Etter painstakingly wrote out by hand Broadway tunes for cello solo to encourage me. When I learned she would marry and move away, I wept so hard I had to leave my 6th grade class.
What is the biggest challenge you face as a musician?
The biggest challenge is also the biggest joy: preparation. Practicing my instrument(s) is the tip of the iceberg. I love studying the history behind each piece I perform. This can be a monumental task (with an opera or oratorio), so time management is perhaps the real challenge.
Do you have a favorite performer?
If I had to choose one it would be either Maria Callas, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, or Elly Ameling.
What are a few of your favorite books about music?
Among my favorites are Richard Taruskin’s Oxford History of Western Music, Bruce Haynes’s The End of Early Music, Johann Joachim Quantz’s On Playing the Flute, Judy Tarling’s Weapons of Rhetoric and Piero Weiss’s Opera: a History in Documents.
What else are you reading?
The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain, The Compleat Conductor by Gunther Schuller, and The Art of Possibility by Rosamund and Benjamin Zander.
Who are your favorite 17th- and 18th-century composers?
J. S. Bach, Handel, Marc-Antoine Charpentier, Mozart, and Haydn. I also adore Barbara Strozzi, Francesco Cavalli, and Marin Marais. Then there’s Monteverdi…
If you were stranded on a desert island, is there one piece of music you would like to have with you?
Mozart’s Così fan tutte. I would probably smuggle in Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier, too.
What drew you to early music and period instrument performance?
When I was in my early teens I heard a concert by the early music ensemble Calliope. I was fascinated instantly by the unusual and beautiful sound of the viola da gamba. My superb piano teachers Susan and George Fee (aka “Ma and Pa”) possessed a vast knowledge of music history, as well as a huge recording collection. They loaned me a record of music by Gilles Binchois and Guillaume de Machaut. Then my Aunt Noreen and Uncle Tom gave me a recording of Bach’s cello suites played by the great period cellist Anner Bylsma. I loved the directness of his approach to the suites. I was fortunate to have a wonderful cello teacher at the Cleveland Institute of Music, Alan Harris, who encouraged my pursuit of period performance.
How many instruments do you own?
Two cellos, two gambas, two harpsichords, two pianos, and an erhù which I hope to learn to play one day.
Which one do you play the most?
It depends on the time of year! I love the challenge of staying in shape on multiple instruments so I can be ready at a moment’s notice on just about anything.
What are the main differences between your period instrument and its modern version?
The bow I use is modeled after a 17th-century violin bow. Its tapered shape (much lighter at the tip) and convex curve are ideal for making the note shapes specified by writers like Leopold Mozart and Francesco Geminiani: notes with a gentle articulation at the beginning of the note, followed by a beautiful “bloom.” A “modern” bow (defined as far back as the late 18th century by François Tourte) is more heavily weighted at the tip and allows for a more sustained sound through the bow -- ideal for the expansive melodic lines of the 19th century and later.
What do you love about HOC?
I love the spirits of the people in our company! Everyone is so dedicated, creative, and passionate about bringing our performances to the public. I love the working atmosphere—focused, committed, and joyous all at once. I also love attending our Board of Director’s meetings. Our BOD is off-the-charts intelligent and committed to making our company thrive.
Do you have a favorite rehearsal or concert memory from a past HOC event?
I’ll never forget almost jumping out of my seat when someone laughed so heartily at one of the jokes in Telemann’s “Pimpinone.” Whoever said “18th-century opera is stuffy” didn’t come to that show.
What is your favorite thing to do when you’re not making music?
I love to move. I spend a lot of time rolling around on the floor while listening to music or reading. The Feldenkrais® Method opened me up to the beauty of learning things I don’t know. I am so grateful to my superb teacher trainers Paul and Julie Rubin. I love swimming, walking, dancing, singing, great films, books, and studying foreign languages.
What is the first thing you think about in the morning?
Bacon. I don’t eat it every day.
How would you describe the relationship between you and your instrument?
Stormy but rewarding.
Who are your musical heroes?
Elizabeth Blumenstock revived my love of instrumental music. Recordings of mezzo soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson never fail to move me.
If you had to play only one composer for the rest of your career, whom would you choose?
What music do you listen to most often?
I love great singing! When I’m not listening to opera and art song favorites, I’ve got Mahalia Jackson, Patsy Cline, Dolly Parton, or Ella Fitzgerald “on the victrola.” I share with my partner David a love for some of the great folk music artists like the Carter Family and the McGarrigle Sisters.
If you had not been a musician what do you think you would have done instead?
I hope I would have had the courage to be a social worker and/or uppity activist, like my parents Judy and Larry.