What to give someone who’s having a special birthday: it’s a common
dilemma. The problem becomes more complex when the birthday boy is
William Scheide, the philanthropist and Bach scholar, who turned 94 on
Sunday, January 6. After considerable reflection Scheide’s ingenious
wife, Judy, came up with the answer some time last spring: A concert,
conducted by Scheide’s favorite conductor, whose proceeds would go to
one of his favorite causes. Far from being surprised, Scheide himself
would choose the composers to be performed on the program.
Scheide’s birthday concert takes place Friday, January 18, in
Princeton University’s Richardson Auditorium. Mark Laycock is the
conductor. Laycock, who is best known in the Princeton area for
transforming a modest local ensemble, over a period of 21 years, into
the impressive Princeton Symphony Orchestra, will conduct the
Augsburg, Germany-based Bavarian Chamber Orchestra
(Bayerischekammerphilharmonie). Proceeds from the concert will benefit
Isles, the multi-pronged Trenton organization designed to help the
economically disadvantaged learn to take care of themselves, and keep
their families together.
Interestingly, on the same weekend, on Sunday, January 20, also at
Richardson, the PSO’s second annual concert honoring original board
member and benefactor Edward Cone takes place (see sidebar on
following page). It will be a splendid weekend for classical music
lovers, but one approached by a bumpy road.
Laycock picks up the baton for the Scheide concert after a precipitous
parting from the Princeton Symphony Orchestra last August. What lies
below the surface eludes explanation. No one is ready to account for
what happened. Neither the president of the PSO board, Caren Sturges,
nor its manager, Melanie Clarke, is talking. Orchestra personnel do
not seem to know what occurred. Laycock prefers not to comment on the
separation; when he was interviewed, it was with his lawyer, Peter
O’Neill, on the line. It is difficult even to surmise exactly what
caused the pot to boil over, but animosity peeks through. "We’re going
head to head with the Scheide concert," says PSO manager Melanie
Clarke adds, "Those concerts are linked. It will be an exciting
weekend of classical symphonic music making in Princeton, all of which
is inspired by those closely connected to the entire history of the
Princeton Symphony Orchestra. What a gift to the whole community to
have this terrific orchestra from Germany come over and connect to the
music making that’s been going on in Princeton for the last 20 years.
If you go to one concert, you should go to the other. I will be at
The January 18 Scheide concert is entitled, "The Man, The Music, The
Mission." Owning up to the splashiness of the commemoration, Judy
Scheide says, "All birthdays are big birthdays after you’re 90. We’ll
have another festive celebration again next year."
With 30 members, the Bavarian Chamber Orchestra is an independent
entity, less than half the size of the Princeton Symphony Orchestra.
Founded in 1990, the ensemble has developed a reputation for
excellence in Europe, both for its concerts and for its recordings
(www.kammerphilharmonie.de). The Scheides knew that the ensemble
wanted to invite Laycock to conduct them, and Judy decided that, in
honor of Bill’s birthday, they should instead be invited to Princeton.
"To have the means to bring this orchestra to the United States is a
rare event," Laycock says.
For his birthday concert Bill Scheide chose Johann Sebastian Bach,
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and Franz Schubert as the composers and
turned over the selection of pieces to conductor Laycock, who tailored
the program to Scheide’s wishes, adding touches of his own. "The
centerpiece is Bach’s E-major violin concerto," Laycock says in a
telephone interview. The soloist is prize-winning 17-year-old
Augsburg-born violinist Sarah Christian, who will also play the
Chaconne from Bach’s Partita No. 2 in D-minor for solo violin.
The concert concludes with Mozart’s "Jupiter Symphony." Laycock says:
"It has a triumphant ending, appropriate for anybody who’s over 93."
"As might be expected on a Laycock program," he adds, "there will be a
couple of pieces that people won’t know," in this case, the
infrequently-played Schubert Overture in E-flat, D. 470, and Peter
Heidrich’s unfamiliar "Fourteen Variations on `Happy Birthday,’" where
variations mimic the style of 14 different composers. "The Schubert is
the only overture Schubert wrote that fits the instrumentation of the
Bayerischekammerphilharmonie. I never heard it. So I read the score,
and found it appealing," says Laycock, adding, "Reading the score is
like reading a book and having your mind say the words for you."
"The Heidrich," he continues, "was originally written for string
quartet. I played it as a violist in a string quartet when I was in
conservatory. For this concert I created a new bass part and expanded
it into a larger string orchestra version."
Laycock says that what makes this birthday concert important "is the
three components: the man, the music, and the mission. Every ticket
purchased is a direct contribution to Isles. It’s the most beautiful
way to create a win-win-win situation."
Isles was founded in 1981 by Marty Johnson and two Princeton
University classmates (U.S. 1, April 18, 2007). A capital campaign is
currently underway. The name Isles is metaphorical, emphasizing the
organization’s focus on decentralized projects. From its inception
Bill Scheide has been enthusiastic about Isles’ mission of fostering
self-reliant families in healthy, sustainable communities. Isles
believes in what it calls "three simple truths: the ability of people
to reshape their lives and communities; fairness; and the need to make
a difference in a rapidly changing world." The first Isles project was
urban gardening. Its scope now includes renovating homes and planning
neighborhoods, job training, health care, reducing crime, and
brownfield redevelopment. In its quarter century of existence Isles
has grown from a $10,000 startup to a presence with an annual budget
of more than $4 million.
To celebrate Scheide’s 94th birthday the non-profit is creating the
Scheide Center for Youth Development, a 17,000 square foot facility.
Housed in a former textile mill, the center will enable 140 urban
youths to earn a high school diploma, find jobs, and create
micro-businesses. "It is our tribute to Bill and a life committed to
fairness," Isles states.
Scheide and his wife are the co-directors of the Scheide Fund, a
family charitable fund that operates like a foundation, making major
gifts in seven categories. A list of the categories gives an idea of
the range of Scheide’s far-reaching philanthropic interests: the arts,
civil rights, education, the environment, health and disabilities,
poverty and relief, and religion. Isles, Judy points out, could be
classified with poverty and relief, with education, or with civil
In addition to financial gifts to organizations, Scheide has provided
for buildings in the Princeton area at Princeton University,
Westminster Choir College of Rider University, and the Princeton
Theological Seminary. Princeton University’s Firestone Library is home
to the collection of rare books started by Scheide’s grandfather,
which includes copies of the first four Bibles ever printed; original
manuscripts of music by Bach, Beethoven and others; and the 1735
pamphlet by John Peter Zenger that established freedom of the press in
the United States.
William Scheide was born in 1914 into a family to which music,
culture, rare books, and the well-being of others mattered. His mother
was a singer; his father (Princeton, Class of 1896) played piano.
Young Bill started piano at age six. A graduate of Princeton, Class of
1936, he majored in history since Princeton had no music department at
the time, and earned a master’s degree in music from Columbia
University in 1940. He taught music at Cornell University for two
years. Believing that the Bach cantatas were neglected, he founded the
Bach Aria Group in 1946 and remained with it until 1980. He is the
first American to be published in the Bach Jahrbuch, the German
journal of Bach scholarship.
He practices on the Boesendorfer piano and the Holtkamp organ in the
living room of his Princeton home, which holds a contemporary portrait
of Bach, and regularly turns over the space to meetings of the
Princeton Music Club. Scheide is a performing member of the group. He
tends to play Bach at its meetings. In August, 2003, he played
Schubert’s Impromptu No. 3 at his wedding. His wife, the former Judy
McCartin, worked in the campaign relations department of Princeton
University’s development office, as well as the annual giving office,
where she was in charge of working with her husband’s Class of 1936.
Scheide is a founding board member of the chamber group formed by
Portia Sonnenfeld in 1980, which evolved into the Princeton Symphony
Orchestra in 2000. He is now an advisor to the orchestra. Judy Scheide
is a current member of the PSO board. Judy saysher husband "compares
Laycock to Toscanini and credits him for bringing life to the
orchestra and excitement to its programs. He rejoices in Laycock’s
earthiness and in the infectious energy of his conducting, which
translates into orchestra members putting forth their very best."
Laycock and Scheide form a mutual admiration society. Referring to
Scheide, Laycock says "He’s an extraordinary individual, and an
extraordinary example." In a story in Town Topics, on February 22,
2006, Laycock told Jean Stratton, "I treasure my friendship with Bill
Scheide. I am particularly close to him. He has an understanding of
Bach that is at once childlike and at the same time Godly. An amazing
I ask him if the Stratton article is still accurate. Laycock replies,
"Now I have a different wife. That’s the only difference." On August
26, 2007, Laycock married Nancy Laufer, a classical accordionist
living in Berlin. The couple was married at the Traukirche, Dornheim,
Germany, where Johann Sebastian Bach was married in 1707. Laycock’s
son was the ringbearer.
"Nancy plays only original pieces written for accordion," Laycock
says. "The piano didn’t exist in the baroque period. The accordion
evolved from a folk instrument still later. Today accordions are still
evolving. Nancy plays keyboard pieces and modern repertoire. Bill
loves to hear Nancy play, especially Bach."
After graduating from high school in 1975, Laycock studied viola with
Max Aronoff, violist of the Curtis Quartet and married fellow viola
student, Emily Muller, in 1982. Muller has been a member of the
Princeton Symphony Orchestra’s viola section for some time. Now
divorced, the couple has two sons: Christopher, 20, a student at
Gettysburg College, and James, 11. Emily Muller continues to be a core
member of the PSO, according to the orchestra’s principal violist,
Laycock became involved in music at an early age. Inexplicably
attracted to music, he is the third of four children in a non-musical
family. His father worked for Dow Chemical. He grew up in Washington,
D.C. and St. Louis, Missouri. He chose viola at age nine after a
school demonstration of musical instruments. He thought that the
violin was too high, and the cello too low. In St. Louis, as a student
in middle school, his orchestra teacher encouraged him to conduct and
to audition for the St. Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra, where the
esteemed conductor Leonard Slatkin, (also assistant conductor of the
St. Louis Symphony Orchestra at the time) became a model for Laycock.
At the youth orchestra the manager helped Laycock get conducting jobs.
He began conducting locally at age 16.
Laycock’s official conducting debut took place at age 21 with the
Philadelphia Orchestra, and opened a notable career. Jokingly, he
says, "To everyone’s thankfulness, I’m not playing viola now."
He was the first non-Russian invited to appear at the Moscow Autumn
Festival. He conducted the inaugural concert of the new Cairo Opera
House in 1988, and the sold-out first public classical music concert
in Amman, Jordan. His 2001 debut in Mexico City brought an invitation
to return the following summer to teach a week-long master class for
Mexico’s regional conductors. He has conducted almost 1,800 pieces.
Just over two decades ago, in 1985, Laycock took over the final
concert of the season for the ensemble that has become the Princeton
Symphony Orchestra. Its founder and director, Portia Sonnenfeld, was
ailing. Laycock succeeded her as music director. Introspecting about
his approach to conducting, he told journalist Stratton, "I tend to
feel the music inside. A conductor in the purest sense is one through
whom the composer’s ideas flow and are manifest. . . It requires
passion, great sensitivity, and sometimes great drama and great
sensuality. These have to be communicated to the musicians. . . In
conducting, you must know every part and make it your own."
Laycock is a particularly satisfying person to interview. Having
talked with him several times, I welcome his articulateness and
sensitivity. He responds with intelligence, insight, and imagination.
Repeatedly, after asking him a question, I have learned more than I
had thought to ask.
Interviewed when the PSO celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2005, he
revealed the thinking that infuses his programming. "Musically," he
said, "every work that we do is a high point. I think not in terms of
concerts, but in terms of special events." The New Jersey State
Council recognized the quality of the orchestra by awarding it
citations of excellence in two successive years beginning in 2004..
In the early summer of 2007 the Princeton Symphony unveiled its
2007-’08 season, making public the stimulating programming that
audiences had come to expect with Laycock in charge. Then on August 1
a startling press statement issued by the PSO board of trustees
declared: "Mark Laycock has concluded his long tenure as music
director." The programs planned by Laycock would be led by various
guest conductors, the statement said, citing Laycock’s role in
developing the orchestra into an important community asset and wishing
him well for the future. No reason was given for his departure and
Laycock declined an interview with U.S. 1. ("Prelude: Laycock Is
Leaving PSO," U.S. 1, August 8, 2007).
Outraged reactions appeared in the press. Separate letters to the
editor from PSO violists Jacqueline Watson and Clifford Young, which
appeared in U.S. 1, on August 22, 2007, decried his unforeseen
departure, the vagueness of the official explanation, and the
statement by PSO board chair, Caren Sturges, that playing under guest
conductors would be exciting. "What was `exciting,’" Watson wrote,
"was playing under someone who understood how to make music with all
of us who had been together for so many years."
Invited earlier this month to comment on Laycock’s sudden departure
PSO Board Chair Sturges replies, "I have nothing to say. We parted
amicably. Everybody agreed that it seemed like a good time to
separate." Asked why his departure was so abrupt, Sturges says, "I
would rather not say anything else." Neither is she willing to talk
about whether the board decision was unanimous. According to PSO
manager Melanie Clarke, one PSO board member resigned after Laycock
The Scheides expect to continue their relationship with the orchestra.
"I don’t see us leaving," Judy Scheide says. "I want to have something
to say about the new conductor. We’ve put a lot of energy into our
work with the Princeton Symphony Orchestra."
In Laycock’s absence the PSO continues to carry on, presenting
essentially the programs he planned before his departure. "The search
[for a new conductor] is revitalizing our organization," Melanie
Clarke says. "We’re reaching out beyond Princeton more than ever
before." Robert L. Annis, dean and director of Westminster Choir
College, heads the search.
Meanwhile, the memory of Laycock’s leadership with the Princeton
Symphony Orchestra remains. A sampling of orchestra members
interviewed for this story generally agrees on the excellence of his
leadership. However, their attitudes about performing with guest
conductors differ. Letter-writer Jacqueline Watson says, "Personally,
going to rehearsals now feels more like going to work. So far, working
with guest conductors, I’m not inspired. It feels like I’m doing an
ordinary job. Mark had a vision for the orchestra."
Letter-writer Clifford Young describes the orchestra without Laycock
as "pretty chaotic." "Playing with Mark," he says, "things were always
ready. He knows what he wants to tackle at each rehearsal. Guest
conductors don’t know our strengths and weaknesses.
Young continues: "Under Mark musicians practiced a lot over the
summer. The esprit de corps was especially good; now it’s
deteriorating. We couldn’t have had that kind of esprit de corps
without Mark. It grew gradually because of good experiences over a
period of time. We grew to trust each other. Many sections of the
orchestra thought of themselves as a team. You don’t want to
disappoint your team members. We used to have unofficial viola
sectional rehearsals because of our esprit de corps. We wanted to be
Concertmaster Basia Danilow has a practical reaction to Laycock’s
departure. She joined the PSO as co-concertmaster in 1996. "Laycock
was a supportive colleague and friend," she says. "Change always
presents some difficulties. I enjoy guest conductors; each has
strengths and brings something different."
Jayn Rosenfeld, principal flutist, who has been with the orchestra
since Portia Sonnenfeld assembled the group, has a long-term
perspective. "At first," she says, "it was a small group of local
amateurs and professionals. Portia would have been happy to keep it
local. It was Mark’s desire to upgrade and make it competitive."
Playing for Mark, she says, was comfortable. "We had a lot of
collective memories. He knows our weaknesses and our strengths. It was
like an old pair of slippers. Now, it’s like a new pair of slippers.
We’re waking up. We didn’t realize how comfortable it was with Mark.
It was like a marriage. You don’t see things creeping up. Now we’re
not taking anything for granted. A new person makes you more alert and
makes you watch. The things you expect may not happen. The orchestra
was ready for a change. It was getting in a rut."
Principal violist Stephanie Griffin, who has been with the PSO for
almost three years, takes a balanced view of the situation, missing
Laycock’s leadership, yet sanguine about the future. "I really enjoyed
Mark," she says. "He is a high energy conductor. He’s very clear. I
always felt I knew what he wanted. He’s very emotional, both in his
interpretation and in his conducting style. He has a way of conveying
that with his body language. Often he would program pieces that were
hardly ever played. Still, even in the first rehearsal, he would be
relaxed enough to guide musicians through the new music. I like his
spontaneity and his confidence. I enjoyed doing lesser-known pieces.
It was thought-provoking. You can’t play on automatic pilot when
you’re playing things you’ve never seen before. I do miss him.
"I was upset when I heard that Mark was leaving. It was shocking to
get that letter and realize that the season brochure had no conductor
on it. The orchestra is strong enough, though, that if we find a good
music director, we can go even further."
Conductor Laycock has a unique way, not only with orchestral
instrumentalists, but with soloists. Pianist Mariam Nazarian, who
played a Mozart concerto with the PSO in the spring says, "Mark is
very approachable and is attuned to the needs of the soloist. Soloing
with him is a collaboration. There’s no sense of the conductor being
the boss. There’s a common goal of producing music effectively."
Exposed to historical musical research as a graduate student at
Harvard, Nazarian was grateful for Laycock’s receptivity to
scholarship. "Mark looked into the scholarly aspects of the concerto I
played and worked with the original manuscripts that I brought. He
does his homework."
Laycock presents the conductor’s view when I ask him, point blank: Can
you accomplish what you want musically as a guest conductor, or do you
really need your own orchestra? About to engage in a round of
guest-conducting engagements in Europe and Asia, he believes that one
can achieve the results one desires as a guest conductor. "But," he
adds, "when you have your own orchestra the advantage is that over
time an intimacy and ability to predict the conductor’s movements and
communications develops. That enables you to work not only more
quickly in rehearsal but also to work with an existing understanding
of styles, bow strokes, textures, and musical creation that is always
in progress and not starting from the beginning each time. A guest
conductor can certainly accomplish great things musically, but it also
depends on the repertoire selected, the style the orchestra has formed
under their own music director, and the openness of the orchestra to a
guest conductor’s ideas if they differ significantly from what they
are used to playing."
During the 2007-’08 season Laycock is scheduled for repeat guest
appearances with symphony orchestras in Bochum, Germany; Kiev,
Ukraine; and Bucharest, Romania. He appears for the first time as
guest conductor at the Rudolfinium Dvorak Hall in the Czech Republic
capital, Prague. In October he guest conducted in Taipei, Taiwan.
"This is the time to be pursuing opportunities in Asia and Europe," he
says. "Asia is a big forefront for western music. The excitement and
interest there is palpable. It’s a joy to be part of what’s going on."
Laycock prefers not to comment on his departure from the Princeton
Symphony Orchestra. His focus is on the future, and his mood is
The PSO, for its part, is equally upbeat. "Mark has so many
opportunities in front of him and we do, too," says PSO manager
Melanie Clark. "The PSO could not have done it without Mark. We are
very confident. We scrambled to put a roster together in a two or
three week period in August after Mark’s departure. We’re making the
transition to a new conductor from a position of great strength."
The optimism of both Laycock and the institution he used to direct is
overwhelming. The gaps in the story, however, are frayed portions on
what is, on the surface, being presented as an undamaged fabric.
Bavarian Chamber Orchestra, Friday, January 18, 8 p.m., Richardson
Auditorium, Princeton University. "The Man, The Music, The Mission," a
benefit concert featuring works of Mozart, Bach, and Schubert
conducted by Mark Laycock. In celebration of the 94th birthday of
Princeton resident, Bach scholar, and philanthropist Bill Scheide. To
benefit Isles in Trenton. Register. $35. 609-258-9220.