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.

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

both."

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

rights.

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

person."

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,

Stephanie Griffin.

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

left.

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

top notch."

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

upbeat.

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.

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