We’ve had two nights of rehearsal for the festivities this weekend, and things are sounding very well! Steve Siegel has an excellent preview up at the Morning Call, as does Melinda Rizzo at Lehigh Valley Live. We’ve also sent word out on various NPR affiliates, and a complete compendium of the 108th Bethlehem Bach Festival’s events are available on our website. Our fantastic administrative staff has been working overtime to attend to a myriad of new details, and I know that our already spectacular hospitality is going to be enhanced with several new touches, including shuttle busses, golf carts, and lots of opportunities to mix and mingle with guarantors, performers, staff, and Bach enthusiasts from all around the country. I attend performances throughout the tri-state area, and I always take careful note of patron services, and I hope it won’t seem like bragging (particularly because I have no responsibilities in this area), but our staff really is second to none.
We’re really excited about this year’s program, beyond the excitingly enhanced amenities. The opportunity to hear J. Reilly Lewis reflect on a lifetime of making Bach’s music will surely be a wonderful treat. The conductor of the Washington Bach Consort and the Cathedral Choral Society is a longtime friend of our organization, and his insights will be a marvelous introduction to the rich fare on offer for the next two weekends.
Many in our Festival audience haven’t had the opportunity to experience our Bach at Noon performances, and the atmosphere of loving discovery carefully cultivated by our conductor par excellence. The new Bach at 4 concerts seek to remedy this. In an intimate, extremely acoustically favorable environment, you’ll be able to hear Greg explain the music with great insight, charm, and infectious enthusiasm (all in his sonorous baritone), and hear repertoire that’s hard to pull off by the full Choir (it’s nearly impossible to balance 90 singers against, say, a single recorder). In addition to the two gem-like cantatas on the program, you’ll be able to hear Trish van Oers play Vivaldi’s Goldfinch concerto, a piece that should be rapturously beautiful as Spring has sprung around us. I hope you like the setting of this special concert, The Incarnation of Our Lord Church, as much as we do. The stone surfaces of this room produce a most pleasing reverberation, without any of the “swimminess” of Packer Church. If you come early, you can join Greg in a Chorale Sing (one of two, the second preceding the Saturday Mass performances). Singing for Greg is a treat, and it will be a very user-friendly experience to immerse ourselves in some of Bach’s most compact masterpieces.
After pre-concert preludes by some of our young friends, the Friday evening performances promise to be quite fantastic. The Pentecost cantata, BWV 172, Erschallet ihr lieder, is quite a treat, with deeply impressive trumpeting by the fearless Larry Wright and his colleagues. This year’s artist-in-residence, Caroline Goulding, brings us an exciting collaboration on the E-Major violin concerto – she comes to us highly recommended, and we’re delighted to welcome such a talented, rising virtuoso to the Bach family. We’ll conclude the concert with Cantata No. 69, whose opening chorus is an extraordinary tour de force – a riveting double-fugue with an extremely melismatic theme paired with a second theme that’s simultaneously sturdy and fleet of foot.
Saturday morning’s orchestral concert will feature three warhorses of Bach’s oeuvre, The First Brandenburg, the Fourth Orchestral Suite, and the Chaconne from the D-Minor Partita for Violin. Interposed in this heady mix will be The Chaconne Project, led by the inimitable Larry Lipkis. As part of this project, student musicians learned to improvise over the ground bass of the Chaconne, and their variations will be accompanied by Bach Festival Orchestra in a special composition by Larry, himself. (Larry will also lead a discussion of this year’s repertoire in an informal dinner on Friday evenings – see our webpage for more information). After the performance by the CP, Caroline Goulding (the first weekend) or Elizabeth Field, our concertmaster (the second weekend), will perform the Chaconne from the Partita.
We completed our rehearsals of the choruses from our signature piece, the Mass in B-Minor, this evening. Hearing this masterwork in Packer Memorial Church is a Bach Choir tradition dating well over a century. We love it, and we love what singing and playing this amazing work evokes, both in us, and for our audiences. This is the summation of one of Western civilization’s greatest artists’ life’s work! It is a privilege of inestimable value to revisit it each year, and we hope that is so for our audience as well.
Finally, one last innovation (of many, visit the website for all the details), and that is our Zimmerman’s Coffee House performances at the Hotel Bethlehem. Bach often arranged performances of the Collegium Musicum at his local coffee haunt – they’ve been described as free-wheeling, delightful displays of virtuosity and bonhomie. Larry Lipkis has agreed to serve as master of ceremonies, and, accompanied by delightful German cuisine by the Hotel’s excellent Chef, Michael Adams, local young musicians will offer musical bonbons in a convivial atmosphere of good cheer and delight. There may even be an appearance by our own Kapellemeister and some of his friends, and these “unbuttoned” events should be an excellent way to wrap a wonderful, rich weekend of musical, aesthetic, and spiritual beauty. Many of us have long pined for a party to end the festivities, and, I think Zimmerman’s Coffee House will be a dream come true!
If you’ve already purchased your tickets, you’ve made a wise investment. Bach in Bethlehem is extremely good for one’s soul. If you’ve been on the fence, now’s the perfect time to order tickets. Ravishing music, beautiful surroundings, stimulating discussion, and wonderful people – all are facets of the Bethlehem Bach Festival, and we would be most delighted to welcome you to this august celebration!