Bach to the future
Northwest Bach Festival will hit high notes from several legendary composers spanning five centuries
Bach is back in Spokane, and he is not alone. The 31st Northwest Bach Festival lineup includes music by composers stretching from the 17th to the 21st centuries.
The festival opens a four-concert series Friday with a harpsichord and piano recital by Mark Kroll at the Davenport Hotel, followed by a recital Saturday at St. Augustine’s Church by organist James David Christie.
Next week’s festival events include a concert of chamber music Tuesday and a festival finale of vocal and orchestral music on Jan. 31, both at St. John’s Cathedral.
Connoisseur Concerts refers to this year’s festival as “Bach – Before and Beyond,” acknowledging artistic director Gunther Schuller’s desire to show Bach’s music in a larger context.
Schuller, who has had a connection with musical life in Spokane since he was conductor of the Spokane Symphony in 1984, has been the artistic director of the Bach Festival Festival since 1993.
The long string of awards he has received include a Pulitzer Prize and a MacArthur Foundation “Genius Grant.” As he was packing for his annual return to Spokane, Schuller was presented with the Commonwealth Award for Individual Achievement by the state of Massachusetts.
“We’ve always played music by other composers than Johann Sebastian Bach,” Schuller said in a telephone interview from his home near Boston. “But they have mainly been members of the Bach family or famous Bach contemporaries like Telemann and Handel or Rameau and Lully.
“The repertoire of the baroque period is immense. But most listeners don’t know the names of most of those composers, let alone their works.”
In addition to famous works by Bach, Schuller’s programs this year include pieces by composers as early as Bach’s famous predecessor, Heinrich Schütz, and as late as the early 20th-century organist Max Reger.
“There will even be one piece composed just two years ago by our organist Jim Christie,” Schuller says.
Kroll’s opening recital will feature two of Bach’s best-known harpsichord works: the Fantasy and Fugue in C minor and the Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue in D minor.
Along with the Bach pieces, Kroll has programmed a set of variations for harpsichord by Alessandro Scarlatti as well as piano works by Mozart, Hummel and Beethoven.
This is Kroll’s third year with the Bach Festival. He is professor emeritus of music at Boston University and the author of a recently published biography of J.N. Hummel, who was a pupil of Mozart, a friend and rival of Beethoven, and a great advocate of Bach’s music in the 19th century.
Christie, artist-in-residence and college organist at The College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., and professor of organ at Oberlin Conservatory of Music, also has appeared several times at the Bach Festival.
His program for Saturday is made up of passacaglias by composers from the 17th century through his own, and includes Bach’s famous Passacaglia in C minor.
“We call our concert next Tuesday ‘The Bach Continuum in Chamber Music,’ ” Schuller says of the festival’s third performance.
It not only includes Bach’s famous Third Brandenburg Concerto and two of his sonatas, but also two pieces by his French contemporaries, Jean-Féry Rebel and Michel Corrette.
“I guarantee you, Rebel’s ‘Le cahos’ that we’re opening with will amaze everyone,” Schuller says. “It was written in 1737, but there is nothing at all like it until centuries later.”
The finale concert Jan. 31 will feature the Bach Festival Chorus and Orchestra in short works by Schütz, two of Bach’s cantata settings of the text “Was Gott tut, has ist wohlgetan,” and Mozart’s Solemn Vespers.
Soloists for the finale will include soprano Janet Brown, mezzo soprano Krista River, tenor Rockland Osgood and baritone Donald Wilkinson.
Each of the festival concerts will be preceded by a talk by Schuller or by Eastern Washington University musicologist Jane Ellsworth.