Brace yourself for a long, omnibus post. It’s the week of the 109th Bethlehem Bach Festival, and things are coming together marvelously. Follow this link to a complete schedule of the events.
We’ve had two evening choral/orchestral rehearsals, and things are really coming together. The Choir has acquired a new acoustical shell, which stands mostly unobtrusively behind the choir, and has served to focus our sound in the vast, voluminous acoustics of Packer. Hearing has improved slightly for individuals in my section, and my wife reports that in the center front of the Choir, it’s much easier to hear the other sections. Reports from the audience side of things suggest that there’s greater immediacy and focus from the performing forces, which is great news! We’ve been working on movements of The Mass, as well as the choruses from Bach’s ebullient Easter Oratorio, which is featured in the Friday night concerts.
Friday Night Concerts
Those concerts are going to be banner events for lovers of the trumpet – the EO has the trumpets in the Bach Festival Orchestra in the stratosphere, and they’re tackling the parts with great panache, elegance, and, perhaps most of all, courage! The icing on the cake will be Terry Everson’s performance of Bach’s Second Brandenburg Concerto – which will be an exciting contrast to a work we last heard on a natural trumpet (played by the amazing Guy Ferber), with the period instruments of the Bach Collegium Japan, at our Gala Concert, this fall. Terry will be playing a modern piccolo trumpet, and it will be a thrill to hear (and see) him ascend the heights of that notoriously difficult, extremely rewarding work! Tony Cecere and Dan Braden, our two horn players, will also be applying their prodigious skills to a fiercely nettlesome horn duet in Bach’s Cantata No. 100, Was Got tutt, das ist Wohlgetan. Greg described it tonight as a horn duet, with a trio sonata (for flute, oboe, and basso continuo), in the midst of a chorale cantata. It is charming music, with a rousing melody, and florid accompaniment. Great stuff! Here’s Greg Funfgeld introducing the concert:
Distinguished Scholar Lecture
I would show up to hear Dr. Christoph Wolff, our distinguished (in a vast understatement!) scholar, read the phone book, such is the allure of his learned and singular contributions to the arena of Bach scholarship. Luckily for us, he’ll be bringing us news and insight into the ever-evolving field, from his perch as the Director of the Bach-Archiv Leipzig. If you join us for this free lecture, you will be in the presence of greatness (no hyperbole). Dr. Wolff, to my thinking, is the dean of a worldwide community of Bach scholars, someone who has illuminated so much of our current understanding of the Kapellmeister. In fact, his Bach biography was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize!
Friday Afternoon Concerts
I’m going to let Loretta O’Sullivan, our fabulous principal cello, preview the Friday afternoon concert of Bach, Händel, and Vivaldi, at The Incarnation of Our Lord Church.
Those who are attending the concert at the Saal of the Moravian Museum will be treated to intimate concerts exploring the Italian influence on Bach, Händel, Vivaldi, and Corelli, including two Bach cantatas written (and sung) in Italian. The concert is titled “Treacherous Love,” which promises an afternoon of stirring and stimulating music!
Saturday Morning: Taylor 2
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The amazing dancers from Taylor 2 are always happy to come to Bethlehem, not least of which for the privilege of performing with live instrumental music. The performance will feature some works new to Bethlehem, as well as a reprise of Esplanade, a Bach Festival audience favorite. The first time I saw Bach’s music danced was a disorientingly joyful one – our talented friends in Taylor 2 make the architecture and spirit of Bach’s music come alive in another dimension, and these performances promise to be revelatory.
Saturday Afternoon: The Mass
The Mass has received a little extra love and polish this year, and, in rehearsal, it’s been sounding glorious. I’m somewhere around my 32nd performance of the piece, and each year, I never tire of it. It’s a splendid homecoming to some of the most inspiring, most joyful, most deeply-spiritual music ever composed. I’ve written before that the extreme order and beauty of Bach’s music is logic made sound, and the thorough grounding we experience in the very stuff of life as we make our way through this epic composition is deeply compelling and life-changing.
Saturday Evening: Zimmerman’s Coffee House
I know a few of the performers for this year’s ZCH, and they’re quite excited to be singing and playing for this new, exciting affair. You can relax, hear the next generation of future Bach performers offer charming performances in a casual venue, with great food and drink. This is, perhaps, the best way to wrap-up a weekend of spectacular music-making.
Other Festival Activities
There will be two chorale-sings, leading up to performances. One will be prior to the Bach at 4 concert at Incarnation Church, and the other will be prior to the Mass on Saturday afternoon, accompanied by the Festival Brass Choir. Come sing some of Bach’s glorious harmonizations of the hymnody of his time – no matter your level of experience or skill singing German, it ends up being a light-hearted and wonderful time.
Dr. Larry Lipkis, one of the region’s great musical raconteurs and renaissance men, will offer an informal talk at the buffet dinner offered on Friday evening, between concerts. Larry is a genius – a composer whose commissions include the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Houston Symphony, and, among many others, the Bach Festival Orchestra! He teaches all manner of music and musicianship at Moravian College, where he is the composer-in-residence, and he’s also one of the founding members of the Baltimore Consort, titans of the early music scene. His remarks are always illuminating and leavened with a great deal of humor and good cheer. If you avail yourself the opportunity to hear Doctors Wolff and Lipkis, and attend some of these concerts, it will have been like taking a graduate course in Bach, only a lot more fun!
Finally, on Sunday, May 22nd, you can come hear the finalists of our Competition for Young American Singers, co-sponsored by The Bach Choir and the American Bach Society. Past winners have become audience favorites here in Bethlehem, and several have gone on to careers of international stature. The competition begins at 1 pm in Peter Hall, on Moravian College’s Priscilla Payne Hurd Campus.
Finally, one pro tip: If you suffer any kind of seasonal allergies, the campus of Lehigh University, resplendent with flowering trees, bushes, and shrubs is like an allergen obstacle course. It’s a stunning environment, full of spring colors and fragrances, but you’ll want to medicate, and medicate thoroughly!
I am going to try to attend as many of these events as possible (including those in which I am not singing), and I’ll wrap them up here as time allows. Visit our website for more information and to order tickets – 109 is a festival you won’t want to miss!