Program “wanders through a labyrinth of pre-Bach Italian mysticism”
By Peter Alexander
J.S. Bach never heard Pink Floyd or visited St. Mark’s Cathedral in Venice, but both play a part in the Boulder Bach Festival’s opening program for their 35th season.
The concert, “Italian Roots,” will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Friday in the Stewart Auditorium at the Longmont Museum in Longmont, and at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in St. John’s Episcopal Church in Boulder (tickets). The program includes music by Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber, Jacques Arcadelt, Dario Castello, Johann Jakob Froberger, Biagio Marini, Marco Uccelini and Johann Christoph Bach on the first half, and two works by festival namesake J.S. Bach after intermission.
The Longmont performance opens the Bach Festival’s 2015–16 season and “Bach in Longmont,” a series of three concerts in the new Stewart Auditorium. The series also includes educational events centered at the Longmont Museum.
Performers will include violinist Zachary Carrettin, musical director of the Boulder Bach Festival (BBF) and the Bach Chamber Singers, a small ensemble of four singers. Featured guest artists will be soprano Josefien Stoppelenburg, who sang on the BBF performance of the Bach B-minor Mass in February of this year; Matthew Dirst, a Grammy-nominated harpsichordist and renowned scholar; and violinist Michiko Theurer, BBF artist-in-residence.
Carrettin praises the new auditorium in Longmont. “It’s a beautiful acoustic space, and the lobby is very inviting,” he says. “As (people) walk into the hall, they will realize that it’s an intimate hall, but world class nonetheless.” The connection to St. Mark’s Cathedral, which is famous for having multiple choir lofts so that sounds come from different directions, will be in the creative way Carrettin creates similar effects in the intimate auditorium.
“Whether you want to use the ancient term antiphonal, or the 20th-century term stereophonic, we will be placing artists in different parts of the hall,” he says. “That’s an element of the way we are presenting the entire first half of the program, without pauses between pieces. We’ll improvise transitions from one work to another, and sometimes traveling from left to right on stage.
“The idea is to create half of a concert that is sewn together as its own journey. I have to think of the Pink Floyd albums, or the Yes albums, and the way the artists would weave together pieces of music, sometimes bringing back ideas from previously played songs so that by the end of the album the listener feels that they’ve been told a story.”
According to the BBF Web page, that story will be one of “wandering through a labyrinth of pre-Bach Italian mysticism.” What makes it a labyrinth is perhaps the fact that the composers vary from text-book names unfamiliar to most audience members down to the utterly obscure, but Carrettin is happy to illuminate the various corners of the labyrinth.
“It’s not in the program, [but] I decided to open the program with the Passacaglia for solo violin by [17th-century German composer] Heinrich Biber,” Carrettin says. “The Passacaglia, with its repeated bass line and variations, immediately brings the audience into a space of timelessness.”
That timelessness sets the stage for the earliest piece on the program, a madrigal by 16th-century Flemish composer Arcadelt. He was so well known in his lifetime that a 1596 painting by Caravaggio, featured on the BBF Web page, shows a lutenist playing one of his pieces. The text, about love and death—like many madrigals—in turn sets the stage for later works on the program.
The next piece returns to the 17th century with a Toccata by Froberger, who was known as a the composer of keyboard suites and descriptive pieces. “Bach was a virtuoso keyboardist and improviser,” Carrettin says, “so Froberger is an opportunity for us to look at other great keyboard composers.
“Matthew Dirst ,who’s performing [Froberger’s Toccata] is really an incredible, dynamic scholar and author of a recent book called Engaging Bach. He is perfect for bridging the Italian style and Bach, starting with a piece that just plays with the facility of a keyboard instrument.
“As the program progresses, you’ll hear Matthew in various perspectives and lights.”
The rest of the first half plays out with Dirst playing first a sonata for violin and harpsichord by Castello with Theurer; then a set of variations for harpsichord and two violins by Marini, with Theurer and Carrettin; and another piece by Froberger. The first half ends with the Bach Chamber Singers performing music by one of J.S. Bach’s older relatives, Johann Christoph Bach.
“He was actually the most known Bach composer before Johann Sebastian, but history doesn’t remember him,” Carrettin says. “This short motet, World, goodnight, is stunningly beautiful, so I think it’s a great way to end the first half.” Like the Arcadelt, this is another piece reflecting on death.
Carrettin describes the first half of the program as “fragments within a dream,” which contrasts with the two very familiar works by J.S. Bach that will be played in full on the second half: the much loved Harpsichord Concerto in D minor, BWV 1052, and a version of the cantata Ich habe genug, BWV82a for soprano—the concert’s final musical meditation on death.
“Dirst will perform the most famous Bach harpsichord concerto,” Carrettin says. “He’ll be just accompanied by string quartet, so you will really get the sound of the harpsichord ringing throughout the hall.”
Turning to the cantata, Carrettin says “There are several special elements of our performance. One is that we are doing this one per part, featuring Ysmael Reyes on flute. We’ll have two violins one viola, one cello, and one double bass, and Dirst will play harpsichord.
“Soprano Josefien Stoppelenburg, who thrilled audiences in the B minor Mass, will return to sing this. And what’s so special about this performance is that we’re using the rarely performed version that Bach wrote for soprano.”
Bringing together guest artists with local musicians in something Carrettin especially enjoys. “What thrills me is having an internationally recognized harpsichordist, and an internationally recognized virtuoso soprano sharing the stage with expert front-range musicians and young professionals,” he says.
“What I like is bringing together different generations, different life experiences, and artists from different geographical locations. What ends up happening is these paths of discovery and relationships are created. To me that’s as thrilling as the music.”
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Music by Biber, Arcadelt, Castello, Froberger, Marini, Uccelini, Johann Christoph Bach and J.S. Bach
Boulder Bach Festival Chamber Singers with Zachary Carrettin, violin, and guest artists
7:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 16
Stewart Auditorium at the Longmont Museum, Longmont
7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 17
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Boulder