We are nearing the final stages of preparation for the 107th Bethlehem Bach Festival, and it’s looking to be a stunner! The Festival is the culmination of our season, and follows on the heels of the world premiere of our new comic opera composed by Chuck Holdeman, with the libretto by Bill Bly, as well as a delightful performance of Haydn’s epic oratorio, The Creation. We also enjoyed the last Bach at Noon of the season with exceptional playing and singing of a Mozart horn concerto, and the second half of the Coronation Mass. What follows, now, is a complete immersion into the genius of Bach, and an opportunity to experience his total grasp of the kaleidoscope of human emotions. There is literally something for everyone in this year’s Festival programming, and, before I take a look at the individual components, I thought it might be helpful to pan out and look at the Festival as a whole.
For Friday afternoon and evening, Greg Funfgeld has selected, as the uniting thread, the theme of Bach and the Healing Power of Music. Six of Bach’s most stunning cantatas will be offered, each jewel-like in its intricacy, and each an emotional journey of exceptional depth, empathy, incomparable spirituality, and clarity. On Friday afternoon, with a reduced choir and more intimate orchestrations, we will hear a funereal cantata, perhaps unsurpassed in its eloquence (I think in all of western music), speaking directly to the bereaved. We will journey on a voyage by sea, with the metaphor of the cross at its center. We will listen to Bach’s using the 130th Psalm as an attempt to cry from the depths and offer the tonic of redemption with extraordinary creativity. On Friday evening, the entire choir will assemble with the full Bach Festival Orchestra to present especially vivid music of great zest, whimsy, depth, and, to conclude, the eternal fire and the wellspring of life. There are also opportunities to hear from two scholars in animated discussions of Bach’s music: Michael Marissen in the Distinguished Scholar Lecture, and the wonderful Larry Lipkis offering his take on the music for the Festival in an informal talk coinciding with the buffet dinner in the Asa Packer room.
On Saturday morning, you may elect to either hear one of the great lutenists of our time, Ronn McFarlane, playing with a wonderful colleague, William Simms, on theorbo, in the intimate setting of the Saal of the Moravian Museum, or a reprise of Young Meister Bach, our new opera. On Saturday afternoon, the crown of the Festival, our performance of the Mass in B-Minor. Throughout the Festival, there will be opportunities to socialize, to learn more about the work of The Choir, and to enjoy the delightful beauty of Lehigh University’s mountainside campus in the full bloom of spring. The two weekends of the Festival promise to be wonderful encounters with some of the most moving and beautiful music ever written, lovingly rendered with expertise and passion by singers and players who do it all “for the love of Bach.” Among the performers and our wonderful staff, the excitement is palpable. We so hope you’ll join us! Check back often for more updates on the music, the process of everything coming together, and previews and wrap-ups of the performances. If you haven’t already, order your tickets now at the ticket page of The Choir’s website.