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Bach festival spreads its wings

More events, variety of venues slated under Bailey’s direction

The Northwest Bach Festival is in expansion mode.

This year, under the guidance of new artistic director Zuill Bailey, the festival is growing up and out, from four or five performances a year, all in the majestic St. John’s Cathedral, to nearly a dozen musical events, plus receptions and films, spread in venues around town.

The idea, Bailey said, was to create a great diversity, with something for everyone.

“The festival, in my opinion, I see it as the community celebrating the arts,” he said. “Not only something for everybody, but something almost every day of the week in some regard. Each event is very, very different. People can be very selective or they can go to everything.”

Bailey, a world-renowned cellist, succeeded Gunther Schuller, world-renowned composer, conductor and horn player who retired last year after 20 years as the Northwest Bach Festival’s artistic director. Gertrude Harvey, executive director of Connoisseur Concerts, which puts on the festival, said their main goal this year was to maintain the high standards Schuller established.

“Zuill has said in order for us to do what we’re doing, we’ll be standing on the shoulders of a giant,” she said. “Certainly quality has to remain at the highest level.”

As in past years, the festival will feature four classics concerts, two of which will be at St. John’s – the March 2 solo performance by pianist Piers Lane of the complete Nocturnes by Frederic Chopin, by candlelight, and the March 9 finale, featuring Bailey and pianist Lara Downes in a program of American works by artists including Samuel Barber and Leonard Bernstein. On Feb. 28, violinist Rachel Barton Pine will tackle Niccolo Paganini’s 24 Caprices at the Lincoln Center, on the North Side, while on March 8, Downes will travel to Barrister Winery for a program called “Bach to Brubeck.”

Also, as in the past two years, Bailey will perform J.S. Bach’s Six Suites for Unaccompanied Cello, a work Bailey calls one of the greatest works by any composer. This year, however, the plan is to shake things up a bit.

“Last time we did this, it was in the historic church where there was a lot of reverence going on and we all kind of communed the feat of Bach,” Bailey said. This year, he’s spreading the music over six nights and six different venues, ranging from the 60-seat Patsy Clark Mansion in Browne’s Addition to the 750-seat Bing Crosby Theater downtown. It will allow people to explore Bach’s masterpiece in a more casual, social setting. Chamber music, after all, was meant to be played in more intimate rooms. “It doesn’t have to be in a grand, grand, grand space,” Bailey said.

“I love adventure, and I can’t wait to experience this with everyone,” Bailey said “and make it very comfortable and casual but very insightful.”

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