Rosenberg’s passion for early music enhances director’s job

Steve Rosenberg, a professor of music at the College of Charleston, organizes Piccolo Spoleto Festival’s Early Music Series.

Steve Rosenberg’s living room in Mount Pleasant boasts an impressive collection of early music instruments from around the world. Each one has its own story, and Rosenberg, a world-touring recorder soloist and the director of Piccolo Spoleto’s Early Music Series since its inception in 1986, talks about each with an infectious, childlike enthusiasm.

“This is what’s called a Saz,” he said, pointing to a light-wooded, glossy string instrument hanging on the wall. “I got that from Turkey. It’s used in a lot of Medieval music. I bought that instrument, and I bought this drum.” Rosenberg pointed to a small, ornately decorated hand drum. “I was in Istanbul when I bought that maybe 25 years ago.” He also plays lute and banjo.

On his living room table is an array of recorders, from simply designed maple wood recorders of the Renaissance period to the ornately designed, English boxwood recorders of the Baroque period. There’s also a small sopranino recorder, not more than six inches long, the Baroque equivalent of the modern-day piccolo.

Leading up to college, Rosenberg was unable to find a conservatory that taught early music, so he planned to go to Juilliard as an oboist instead. But he couldn’t escape the draw of the recorder and early music. He moved to France, where he could pursue early music as a formal course of study.

His studies developed into a career as a recorder soloist, and he toured throughout France and Africa, performing at the Comedie Francaise and for an historic film production of “Sleeping Beauty.”

In theater productions of “Hamlet,” Rosenberg would mime playing the recorder onstage as a previously recorded CD of him playing sounded in the background.

“He had quite a career as a recorder player in the days when early music was getting off the ground,” said Scott Pauley, a theorbo player with the early music trio Chatham Baroque, a frequent Piccolo visitor. “He played not just recorder but all sorts of early winds. He really was one of the founders of the early music movement.”

Rosenberg’s passion for early music led to him performing at Piccolo Spoleto for its first season in 1978. He subsequently became director of the festival’s Early Music Series as well as a professor at the College of Charleston.

“I think, in a way, the Renaissance and these instruments — it’s sort of like a new music,” he said. “It’s a new music because it’s new repertory, new instruments, and it is, even though we’re going back in time, something new and different — revolutionary.”

Natalie Piontek is a Goldring Arts Journalist from Syracuse University.