For its 35th anniversary season, the Bach Week Festival in Evanston is returning to its roots — going Bach to the future — with every concert devoted exclusively to the music of its namesake, Baro
For its 35th anniversary season, the Bach Week Festival in Evanston is returning to its roots — going Bach to the future — with every concert devoted exclusively to the music of its namesake, Baroque composer Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750).
Festival concerts will be presented on May 2, 4, and 9, all at the Music Institute of Chicago, 1490 Chicago Ave., in downtown Evanston.
“The festival will showcase the range of Bach’s genius — from intimate pieces for solo instruments to grand works for chorus, soloists, and orchestra,” said Richard Webster, the festival’s music director. Webster played harpsichord at the inaugural festival in 1974 and has been music director since 1975.
Performers are the Bach Week Festival Orchestra, many of whom are members of the Chicago Symphony and Lyric Opera of Chicago orchestras; the Bach Week Festival Chorus; and distinguished instrumental and vocal soloists.
Chicago Symphony flutist Louise Dixon played at the first Bach Week Festival in 1974 — the same year she joined the CSO — and has missed only one festival. She echoes comments of other top-rank local musicians who feel a deep personal connection to the event. “I love to play the music of Bach,” she says. “He has written some of the most beautiful music in the entire repertoire for my instrument. To play this music in an intimate setting with really first-rate instrumentalists and singers is a labor of love.”
Michael Henoch, the CSO’s assistant principal oboist, also played in the first Bach Week Festival and has performed in almost all of them. Though he’s unable to participate this year because of a schedule conflict, he says, “My heart and soul are with the festival. It’s a chance to perform music I’ve loved all my life, with wonderful colleagues who feel the same way. I encourage the community to support the people who work so hard to make this happen.”
The 2008 festival comprises four concerts of back-to-back Bach to be held over three days, including an atmospheric “candlelight concert” of solo harpsichord music.
“The Bach Week Festival offers a unique opportunity to hear the music of this amazing composer, performed by some of the Midwest’s premiere musicians in a friendly, intimate, and casual atmosphere,” Webster says.
The opening concert Friday, May 2, 7:30 p.m., includes the Brandenburg Concerto No. 4 in G, BWV 1049, noteworthy for its dazzling violin parts, to be played by former Vermeer Quartet violinist Mathias Tacke, with flutists Anita Rieder and Alyce Johnson. Bass vocalist Douglas Anderson and oboist Judith Kulb are soloists in the cantata "Ich habe genug" (“I have enough”), BWV 82. Festival director Richard Webster is organ soloist in the Prelude and Fugue in A Minor, BWV 543, one of Bach’s great organ works and a model of Baroque counterpoint. “The recent restoration of the Ernest M. Skinner organ at the Music Institute of Chicago allows us to bring the great organ works back into our repertoire,” Webster says. The program concludes with the Suite No. 4 in D for Orchestra, BWV 1069, a collection of Baroque dances with lively interplay among strings, winds, brasses, keyboard, and percussion. A complimentary post-concert reception, with light refreshments, will be open to all attendees.
The concert Sunday, May 4, 7:30 p.m., begins with the richly energetic Concerto in D Minor for two violins, BWV 1043, with solo violinists Desirée Ruhstrat and Mathias Tacke. The concerto’s slow movement is noteworthy for the expressive, intertwining melodic lines of the solo violins. Soprano Patrice Michaels and flutist Louise Dixon are soloists in one of Bach’s few Italian cantatas, the cantata "Non sa che sia dolore" (“He does not know what sorrow is”), BWV 209. The double-choir motet "Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied" (“Sing to the Lord a new song”), BWV 225, challenges singers with its nonstop rapid notes. The concert concludes with the most famous of Bach’s six Brandenburg Concertos, the Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G, BWV 1048.
The main concert on Friday, May 9, 7:30 p.m. will strike a chord with harpsichord lovers. Multiple harpsichordists — David Schrader, Stephen Alltop, and Richard Webster — will take the stage at the same time for the Concerto in C Major for three harpsichords, BWV 1064. The Brandenburg Concerto No. 6 in B Flat, BWV 1051, features violists Max Raimi and Melissa Trier Kirk. Soprano Patrice Michaels, tenor William Watson, and bass Douglas Anderson sing Bach’s famous cantata "Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme" (“Wake up, the voice calls us”), BWV 140, with Stefan Hersh on violino piccolo and the festival orchestra and chorus.
The festival concludes May 9, 10:15 p.m. with a Candlelight Concert. Harpsichordist David Schrader plays excerpts from Bach’s "Das Wohltemperierte Klavier" (“The Well-tempered Clavier”). A Bach Week musician since the 1980s, Schrader is known for his numerous recordings on harpsichord and organ for Chicago’s Cedille Records, his work with the Rembrandt Chamber Players, and his appearances with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. A complimentary champagne reception follows Schrader’s performance.
Bach and Nothing But
The last all-Bach edition of the annual spring Bach Week Festival was in 1981.
To maintain audience interest and avoid repetition, festival planners say they broadened its scope over the years to include other baroque composers, as well as composers from the Classical era through the 20th century who were influenced by Bach.
Following lower-than-expected turnout at last year’s festival, the organizers decided to rethink their strategy. They were particularly moved by comments like that from one longtime festival fan who pointed out that on the one night he was free to attend a concert, there was no music of Bach on the program.
“That really drove the point home,” Webster said. “Our core audience wants to bask in Bach.”
Hence, this year’s festival theme: “Bach . . . and nothing else but Bach.”
Tickets and Info
Cost-saving subscriptions to the entire four-concert series are $100 for regular adult admission, $85 for seniors 65 and older, and $75 for students with identification. Prices are the same for both main-floor and balcony seats.
Single tickets for each of the concerts, except for the May 9 candlelight harpsichord concert, are $35 regular adult admission, $25 seniors 65 and older, $20 students with identification, and $10 children 10 and younger.
For the candlelight concert, tickets are $25 for adults, $25 seniors, $25 students, and $25 children.
All seating is reserved. For tickets and ticket information, phone (800) 595-4849; order online at www.bachweek.org.