One of my friends on social media asked, this morning, “Are we in for a Nor’easter this weekend?” At first I thought it was a bit of colorful hyperbole, but, alas, it looks as though we may have a bit of a tempest! I shall hasten to add, I became hooked on the Bethlehem Bach Festival in 1989 as a 9th grader, during some particularly treacherous weather, so I don’t think that should be at all an impediment to one’s attendance. Bring an umbrella, wear some galoshes, and brace yourself for an immersion, in addition to the forecast rain, into the beautiful music of Bach!
You’ve surely been to the website to order your tickets, you’ve pondered all of the fantastic offerings, you may have read my Festival preview in the Bach Choir News and you’ve received our e-mails about backup plans for bad weather (the Festival Brass and Saturday Chorale Sing may be indoors in Packer Memorial Church), and now you’re excited for the feast of excellent music, happy homecomings, and other Festival happenings. I have a few additional thoughts and pro tips to offer:
1. Get thee to one (or more) of the lectures!
George Stauffer, the Dean of the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University, is one of the great Bach scholars of our time (most of whom regularly decamp in Bethlehem to offer these lectures). The intriguing title of this year’s offering is “Why Bach Matters.” Most of us could gush on for hours, and it will be most rewarding to hear how one of our finest thinkers about Bach will distill the sum of his wisdom and knowledge into a single lecture. Likewise, Larry Lipkis, the highly credentialed luminary from Moravian College, will offer an informal talk during dinner on Friday night. His erudition is only equalled by his good humor. You will laugh and learn. Visit the website for more information and tickets.
2. Both Friday Afternoon Programs will be fantastic.
I was unable to choose, so I’m going to both (Bach @ 4 this week, the concert in the Saal, next). The Saal usually sells out, but it’s worth calling the office to see if any tickets remain. How often can you hear chamber music in an actual chamber? Plus, the soprano aria from Cantata 36 is on offer, and I’d travel further than across the river to hear Agnes Zigovics sing it. I’m sure there are a few available to Bach @ 4, which also features a chorale sing (you can sing with the Bach Choir!) as a prelude to the performance. The acoustics and the visual environment at Incarnation of Our Lord Church are spectacular. So is the program it’s worth taking an afternoon off to attend.
3. In addition to galoshes and an umbrella, pack your allergy medicine.
I offer this bit of wisdom every year, but Lehigh University is in full bloom, and though one side-effect of the rain may be to tamp down some of the pollen, the Lehigh Valley, in general, is an allergist’s dream. Your lungs, ears, and eyes will thank you.
4. Come to The Nightingale.
Last year for the Saturday morning performances, we had Taylor II Dance to thrill us. This year, we’re reprising our collaboration with Bethlehem’s excellent Mock Turtle Marionette Theatre, which received great acclaim at our Family Concert this year. The marionettes, themselves, are fascinating works of art, and in the hands of our extremely talented marionettists, they come to life in ways that are whimsical, deeply entertaining, and touching. The music will range from Couperin to Bolcolm, by way of Bach, Mozart, and others. If you don’t leave with a grin on your face and a spring in your (galoshed) step, come find me and we’ll chat.
5. Prepare to be rocked by the recorder.
I always grimace when I see a certain kind of social media post. It usually has a picture of a recorder, and the wiseacre who posts it says, if you want to punish your enemies, give their children a recorder. As the husband of an elementary school music teacher, and a musical connoisseur, I usually end up commenting with a link to a performance of one of Vivaldi’s concerti, and drop the mic at that. Tricia van Oers, this year’s Festival Artist-in-Residence, is a virtuoso, and both the lyrical and pyrotechnic potential of the instrument will be much on display. We’ll be hearing her in Bach, Telemann, and a number of other composers, and you’ll be both thrilled and moved by her artistry.
6. Allow the Mass to work its magic.
The American composer Michael Torke once said, “Who needs a therapist when we have Bach’s B-Minor Mass.” I’m not sure Bach is a reliable replacement for time, if necessary, on the couch, but I will attest to the flip side of his deeply spiritual music, it is logic-made-sound. In the chaos of our current historical moment, sometimes it is soothing and healing to experience extraordinary beauty in the form of exquisitely composed music. Bach was an unsurpassed master of counterpoint, and hearing his genius solutions to the challenges of composing in a contrapuntal style brings order to our minds and souls, and the experience of the Mass will echo in your psyche for some time.
7. After the spiritual rhapsody of the Mass, let your hair down at Zimmerman’s Coffee House.
For years I bemoaned the lack of a sort of after-party for the Festival. It always felt a little anti-climactic to share in the power and majesty of the Mass, and then all go our separate ways. Now we have another option. You can enjoy German food and drink, and hear the next generation of Bach performers (auditioned high school and college students) pick up the torch for this incredible music. There are usually some surprise guests, and you’ll surely appreciate the opportunity to share in the Bach fellowship a little longer.
8. Bring a friend.
We’ve been at this for a while (this is the organization’s 110th Festival), and we’re confident of the music’s power to create an atmosphere of cheerful fellowship, spiritual nourishment, intellectual simulation, and aesthetic pleasure. We love it when someone new joins us – while the Festival’s grand traditions are inestimably valuable, we’re so very, very delighted to welcome first-timers to the family. Shared experiences form some of the most powerful memories – bring your child or grandchild, your neighbor or friend, and welcome them, with us, to a weekend brimming over with the very stuff of life.
I’m going to many of the programs (in addition to singing in a few), so I’ll have a wrap-up of the first weekend up on the blog at the end of the weekend. Check back – I might have a few more tips if you’re coming on Weekend II!