One of my favorite architectural details of the Packer Memorial Church, with its soaring beamed ceilings, radiant stained glass, intricate tile floor, and resonant acoustics is actually something tiny and almost whimsical – this fleur-de-lys, hidden in a corner adjacent the sacristy, leading to what is a sort of apse of which The Choir frequently makes use as a passageway from one side of the chancel to the other. The painters didn’t have to adorn that spot – only those making use of the passageway will ever see it, and yet, it appears he or she couldn’t help it. In the midst of all that grandeur, a secret act of devotion, of craft, of beauty, and of faith. It seems somehow fitting that the 109th Bethlehem Bach Festival, an affair full of majestic sweep and myriad intricacies, should make use of a space full of the echoes of history (musical, academic, industrial), and the undeniable presence of the cheerful spirits of those who have contributed to this august enterprise for over a hundred years. There is so much to hear and see, even before the first note is played. Other favorite details include the painted vines in the baptistry in the rear left of the church, the cool blues of the mural under the rear rose window, and the dusky jewel tones of the stained glass as the sun sets to the west.
For two evenings and two afternoons, instrumentalists, singers, and audience, alike, will become part of the architecture of the place, animating it, pausing in the busy pace of life to remind ourselves of the breathtaking power of beauty, as ordered by one of the greatest minds in Western Civilization, J.S. Bach. To someone not versed in the Bach Choir’s history and tradition, this may seem a peculiar act – of how much truth and beauty is one man capable? I sometimes wonder what it must look like to an outsider (indeed, it’s one of my jobs as chair of our Marketing Committee), but I also consider how we don’t balk at the idea of a Shakespeare Festival, nor was I surprised by the immense difficulty we had finding a parking spot at a blockbuster exhibition of Van Gogh this summer in the Berkshires. I’ve referred to our Festival as our “Rite of Spring” in the past, and it’s also a tremendous moment of homecoming for Bach fans from around the country. It is such a joy to see members of the Bach Choir Family join us from parts near and far, each May. Despite that, and despite our international reputation (this winter, I spoke for a few moments with the music director of the ridiculously-accomplished Belgian early music choir, Voix Luminis, Lionel Meunier, and mentioned that my wife and I sing with The Choir – he replied, “Oh yes, I’ve been to your website more than once.”), reviews by the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and Gramophone, it sometimes feels like we’re maybe a little too much of a well-kept secret. We have more tickets to sell, more seats to fill, and, most importantly, many more souls to reach, with an communal aesthetic experience quite unlike any other that most of us have ever encountered.
It is my invitation to you, in light of all of that, to watch the evocative video, below, by Anisa George, with help from her father, Bill (daughter and husband, respectively, of our fabulous Executive Director, Bridget George), and then follow the link to a PDF of a detailed Festival schedule, and order some tickets, not just for you, but for your children or grandchildren, or a neighbor who might be a soul in need, or a recent widow from work, or someone who could use an infusion of the joy and radiance of Bach’s music. What about the budding instrumentalist or singer in your neighborhood, the young dancer, the longtime classical music fan, or the devout parishioner from church? Bach’s music will resonate with each of them, and the Festival is a wonderful immersion in a world brimming over with the very stuff of life. As our passionate and learned conductor, Greg Funfgeld, says in the video below, “We feel more deeply because of what Bach helps us understand.”
Stay tuned to the blog – I’m going to try to preview as many of the events and as much of the music as I can. 109 is going to be extraordinary.