The 42nd annual edition of the Chicago area’s Bach Week Festival will feature all six of J.S. Bach’s beloved “Brandenburg” Concertos, performed in the course of concerts April 10 at Nichols Concert Hall in Evanston and May 1 and 3 at Anderson Chapel at North Park University on Chicago’s North Side.
The festival is a collaboration between Bach Week and North Park’s School of Music.
This will be the first Bach Week Festival to present the complete “Brandenburg” Concerto cycle. Two of the concertos will anchor each principal concert program, alongside other Bach compositions.
An intimate, late-evening Candlelight Concert in Evanston on April 10 will offer music for recorder and theorbo, another festival first.
The festival opted not to program all six concertos in a single concert, as was recently done by other ensembles who gave Chicago performances of the complete set.
“Taking a marathon approach to these vigorous, inventive, and virtuosic works can test the stamina of concertgoers and musicians alike,” says Richard Webster, who helped organize first Bach Week Festival in 1974 and has been music director since 1975.
“In true festival fashion, we always aim for a stimulating range of musical colors, textures, and ensemble forces in each program,” Webster says. “Invigorating variety and high-octane artistry are what make the Bach Week Festival so festive.”
The May 1 concert will have a 20th-century twist: it will include Igor Stravinsky’s Bach-inspired “Dumbarton Oaks” Concerto, which shares themes with the “Brandenburg” Concerto No. 3, also part of the evening’s program. This will be the festival’s first pairing of those two works since the early 1990s.
Festival’s new faces
Webster unveiled the complete roster of 2015 festival musicians, which includes artists making their Bach Week debuts. Among them are rising young professionals Tina Beverly, soprano; Will Liverman, bass-baritone; and David Govertsen, bass. All are alums of the Ryan Opera Center, the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s elite singer-training program. Mezzo-soprano Julia Elise Hardin is a resident studio artist with Milwaukee’s Florentine Opera.
Other new faces at Bach Week are flutist Jennifer Gunn, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s piccolo player; recorder players Lisette Kielson and Mirja Lorenz; and horn player Adam Unsworth.
The 2015 festival will also see the long-awaited returns of revered artists such as trumpeter Barbara Butler, music professor at Rice University, whose credits include Music of the Baroque, Eastman Brass, and the Grant Park Orchestra; and horn player Gail Williams, music professor at Northwestern University, original member of the Summit Brass, and former associate principal horn with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
Evanston concerts April 10
The festival gets underway at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, April 10, at Nichols Concert Hall, 1490 Chicago Ave., Evanston. The concerts will include Bach’s Concerto in D Minor for Two Violins, BWV 1043; the Cantata “Ich habe genug” (I have enough), BWV 82; and “Brandenburg” Concertos No. 2 in F Major, BWV 1047, and No. 5 in D Major, BWV 1050.
The evening’s soloists will include singer Douglas Anderson, bass; flutist John Thorne; oboist Judith Kulb; trumpeter Barbara Butler; violinists Renée-Paule Gauthier, Stefan Hersh, Desirée Ruhstrat, and Matthias Tacke; and harpsichordist Jason Moy.
At 10 p.m., following the season-opener concert, Mirja Lorenz, recorder, and Joel Spears, theorbo, will perform a Candlelight Concert in the Nichols Hall lobby. The theorbo is a large, long-necked lute, a pear-shaped predecessor of the modern guitar.
Founding members of the new ensemble Black Tulip, they’ll perform works from the early and late Baroque: Bartolomé de Selma y Salaverde’s Canzon Terza, J. S. Bach’s Sonata in C Major, Georg Philipp Telemann’s Sonata in D Minor, Johann Hieronymous Kapsberger’s Toccata Settima, Dario Castello’s Sonata Seconda, and Nocola Matteis’s “Ground after the Scotch Humour.”
Concertgoers can partake of complimentary champagne and fine chocolates.
Chicago concerts May 1 & 3
The festival will head to Chicago in early May for a two-concert series at North Park University’s Anderson Chapel, 5149 N. Spaulding Ave.
A concert at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, May 1, will offer Bach’s “Brandenburg” Concerto No. 1 in F, BWV 1046, and No. 3 in G, BWV 1048; Igor Stravinsky’s Concerto in E Flat (“Dumbarton Oaks”); and Bach’s “Coffee” Cantata, "Schweigt stille, plaudert nicht" (Be quiet, do not chat), BWV 211. The cantata, which has been likened to a mini-opera, takes a humorous look at caffeine addiction in Baroque Germany.
Soloists will include soprano Tina Beverly, tenor William Watson, bass-baritone Will Liverman, and flutist Jennifer Gunn.
The notoriously difficult French horn parts in the First "Brandenburg" and “Dumbarton Oaks” will be handled by Gail Williams and her former student Adam Unsworth, a University of Michigan instructor who has played with the Detroit Symphony and Philadelphia Orchestras.
The festival-finale concert at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, May 3, at North Park will include Bach’s “Brandenburg” Concertos No. 4 in G Major, BWV 1049, and No. 6 in D Major, BWV 1012.
Chicago Symphony Orchestra cellist and festival stalwart Katinka Kleijn’s performances of Bach's unaccompanied cello suites have been a recurring festival feature in recent years. This year, she’ll play Bach’s Cello Suite No. 6 in D Major, BWV 1012.
The concert will conclude with Bach’s Mass in F Major, BWV 233.
The afternoon’s soloists, in addition to Kleijn, will be soprano Julia Davids, associate music professor and director of choral activities at North Park University; mezzo-soprano Julia Elise Hardin; bass David Govertsen; recorder players Lisette Kielson and Mirja Lorenz; and violists Roger Chase and Claudia Lasereff-Mironoff.
Richard Webster will conduct the Bach Week Festival Orchestra and Chorus and North Park University Chamber Singers.
Tickets and information
Single tickets for each of the festival’s three main concerts are $30 for adults, $20 for seniors, and $10 for students with ID. All tickets for the April 10 Candlelight Concert are $20. Festival subscriptions for the three main concerts are $80 for adults, $50 for seniors, and $20 for students. Tickets are available at www.bachweek.org or by calling 800-838-3006.
Bach Week is one of the Midwest’s premiere Baroque music festivals. The event enlists musicians from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Lyric Opera of Chicago Orchestra, and other top-tier ensembles, while featuring some of the Chicago area’s finest instrumental and vocal soloists and distinguished guest artists from out of town.
The 2015 Bach Week Festival is supported in part by the Elizabeth F. Cheney Foundation for the “Brandenburg” Concertos cycle, The MacArthur Fund for Arts & Culture at the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation, and the Illinois Arts Council Agency, a state agency.