Weekly Magazine

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BACH’S TOPSMegill

FESTIVAL ASSOCIATE CONDUCTOR Andrew Megill (right) seemed a little surprised to realize that the “Main” concerts contained less than 90 minutes of Bach’s music in each of the two weeks of nightly concerts, but pointed to the other programs that featured Bach. He agreed that there are dozens of great Bach sacred cantatas, plus a bunch more of the highly entertaining secular cantatas, that have been largely ignored—enough to include one on every Main concert program for years before having to repeat any of them. (He told me that he has performed somewhere between half and two-thirds of them, and maintains a bucket list goal of doing them all.) He also told me that the planning for the 2017 season was a collaboration between Paul Goodwin (Artistic Director), himself, Steve Friedlander (Managing Director) and board chair CyrilCyril Yansouni, who, Megill said, has taken a more active role in artistic decisions than most board presidents of his knowledge. I had the pleasure of a chat with Yansouni (left) who had led the board of directors in past seasons. He pointed out to me that Megill was, for the first time this season, conducting the Tuesday Main concert, which includes a major Bach cantata, along with music by American composers Barber, Copland and Bernstein. Historically, Megill conducts the Wednesday Carmel Mission program, for this season Monteverdi’s sensational 1610 masterpiece, Vespro della Beata Vergine. Festival Marketing Director Scott Sewell phoned to protest our assertion last week that the Festival had spent heavily on advertising its 2017 season, saying that its budget was the same as in 2016. Months of print advertising would seem to refute that, though electronic media caching makes it appear bigger than it actually is.

MOVING ON AND UP THIS WEEK

BACH FESTIVAL continues in Carmel and other area venues. HIDDEN VALLEY hosts flutist Keith Underwood; you may know his playing from film scores and TV commercials, but his day job is New York Chamber Orchestra, NY Philharmonic, Orpheus Ensemble, Orchestra of St Luke’s, and the Eastman, Julliard and Manhattan schools of music. 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA opens on the Morgan Stock Stage at MPC, Disney’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST opens at Cabrillo Stage and MEASURE FOR MEASURE begins its run at Santa Cruz Shakespeare. ERIC BURDON & THE ANIMALS take the Beach Boardwalk, and several well-known composers chat each other up at the Cherry Center in Carmel. For more listings and links, click our CALENDAR

LehmkuhlI CANTORI CHOIR CHOOSES NEW CONDUCTOR

TOM LEHMKUHL takes up the reins following Sal Ferrantelli’s retirement after 35 years. Lehmkuhl is director of choirs at Carmel High and Carmel Middle Schools. I Cantori rehearsals begin in August. For nine years, Lehmkuhl taught at American schools in New Delhi and Mumbai. He joined the CUSD faculty in 2013. (Photo by Lyn Bronson.)

 

ACTORS: NEED TO SOUND IRISH? JEWISH?

SAMMI GRANT is legally blind and a professional dialogue coach.

 

 

 

 

 

 

SACRAMENTO BALLET GRABS SEIWERT

SeiwertAMY SEIWERT, choreographer-in-residence with Smuin Ballet, will take over as artistic director of Sacramento Ballet, starting with the 2018-19 season. Seiwert’s work is well known to Carmel balletomanes thanks to Smuin’s regular appearances here. She danced with Smuin for nine years and before that with Sacramento where she will replace Ron Cunningham and Carinne Binda who were important mentors to her during her dancing career. She told an interviewer, “The Sacramento Ballet has been in me ever since I left.”

SOUNDS OF THE NIGHTMARE MACHINE

EERIE UPON CREEPY and how they do it. Close your eyes in order to freak out. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FRESH REVIEW

TWO BACH FESTIVAL concerts. Click HERE

Scott MacClelland, editor; associate editor, JJ Raasch.

 

80th Bach Festival

By Scott MacClelland

THE 80TH CARMEL BACH FESTIVAL opened with a muted orchestral fanfare and a mostly subdued tone on Saturday evening in the Sunset Center auditorium. Despite the trumpets and drums that signal JS Bach’s festive intent, the Cantata BWV 11 (1734-35) “Lobet Gott in seinen Reichen” failed to ignite, perhaps due to its overall pastoral character, or its lower tuning of A-415 hertz that mitigates against ears familiar with the more brilliant A-440, or its intimate Baroque instruments. That outcome was even harder to square since the crack Chorale was doubled by the locally-assembled Festival Chorus.

As if in cahoots, the program notes by Allen Whear began by arguing that the BWV 11 qualified as an oratorio—the so-called “Ascension”—that describes Christ’s ascent into Mhairiheaven. Cantata or oratorio, who in the Carmel Bach Festival audience cares? And at under 30 minutes, this one also lacks the gravitas of the composer’s dramatic masterpieces. The biggest problem with program notes everywhere begins with the annotator’s assumption about his/her readers, in this case off the mark. (Whear’s notes here read as if he’s applying for an academic position at some university or music school.)

The cantata/oratorio included Festival-veteran solo tenor Thomas Cooley, soprano Mhairi Lawson (pictured) and bass-baritone Dashon Burton, both with a previous solo season—Burton has also sung in the Chorale—and introduced mezzo-soprano Meg Bragle.CORRECTION: Mindy Ella Chu was a last-minute replacement for Bragle.

The ensuing Concerto Grosso by Philip Glass—like the Festival itself now turned 80—required the orchestra, consisting of four winds, five brass and strings, to retune to A-440. From the stage, conductor Paul Goodwin said he “loves” the piece. In it, Glass takes an unusual turn with the old Baroque form that both satisfies the formal expectations and piles on a great range of variety given its propulsive rhythms and repetitive ‘cells.’ You’ll find similarities with Beethoven—think the Sixth and Seventh Symphonies. But in Glass that variety, mostly in terms of instrumental combinations, is more subtle and, therefore, more demanding of the listener. Moreover, Glass’ rhythms are internally more syncopated, further raising the stakes. Two animated dance-like movements sandwiched a more relaxed “Southern California” mood in the 20-minute performance.

Best in show, and retuned back to A-415, was Henry Purcell’s “Come Ye Sons of Art,” a sixth and last birthday ode composed in 1694 for the popular Queen Mary—wife of King William of Orange—who died shortly after at age 32. (Purcell himself died in 1695 at age 36.) In significant ways, Purcell demarked the rise of the “High Baroque,” a consolidation of French and Italian developments, mostly in the realm of instrumental music—or rather how to convey deeply felt emotion through instruments. (The great operas of Monteverdi, Cavalli and Lully had led the way for the vocal forms.) But it’s the riotously individual personality of Purcell that pivoted all that came before into a newly expressive channel, not unlike the neck of an hourglass. A flood of greatness ensued: Corelli, Vivaldi, JS Bach, Handel, D Scarlatti.

All of this could be found in this splendid cantata, including all manner of wit and tweak. Lasting as long as the Bach, it beguiled and charmed as the text itself called out various instrumental cameos. Mezzo Bagle was here joined by Patricia Thompson in a marvelously blended duet. On the basis of this work, the unprecedented operatic masterpiece Dido and Aeneas, the riotously Fairy Queen and other Shakespeare musical adaptations and his other theater music, Purcell was far freer to self-indulge in a world of secular rather than sacred arts. And so much the better. The Bach Festival should carve a much larger hole for him to fill.

Likewise Handel, whose “Worthy is the Lamb…Amen” from Messiah, the Chorus now rejoining the Chorale, put paid to this salutary start to the Festival’s 80th—until the encore, “Hallelujah,” added its inevitable exclamation point.

MY SEARCH FOR BACH at his festival next took me to All Saints Church on Monday afternoon. Soprano Mhairi Lawson, a gem of a find who debuted in Carmel at last year’s Festival, opened a Bach cantata program—one cantata and cantata arias—with a small instrumental ensemble. Notwithstanding a relative paucity of Bach this summer, the large turnout made clear how strong remains an appetite for his music, especially among longtime local music lovers.

Lawson began the concert with BWV 199, “Mein Herze schwimmt im Blut,” dating from 1714 and with a text by Georg Christian Lehms. Not yet 30, Bach painted in vivid and haunting music the passage from the sinner’s abject humility before God to rising hope and ultimate joy in salvation. (You find this same dramatic instinct in Mozart, Schubert, Brahms and Mahler, and countless other masters.) So compelling was this performance, with its oboe and solo viola obbligatos, and later rising instrumental figures, that the following arias and duets, with tenor Thomas Dooley, could not displace its impact from memory. However, the arias and duets, drawn from five sacred cantatas, and, as an encore, from the secular “Hunting” cantata, provided enchanting glimpses into a casket of overlooked treasure. Dooley ran into some road bumps with the coloratura melismas in his opening aria from BWV 5, “Ergiesse dich reichlich du Göttliche Quelle,” but warmed up nicely after that.

Lawson and Dooley were more than ably supported by violinists Patricia Ahern and Marika Holmqvist, violist Karina Schmitz, cellist Margaret Jordan-Gay, oboist Gonzalo X Ruiz and Dongsok Shin at the chamber organ. Ahern and Schmitz delivered some formidable obbligato workouts.

While the Bach Festival continues with all kinds of other guys, I’m sticking with Bach. Marketing director Scott Seward told me in a phone call that in choosing Bach, Festival founders Denny and Watrous were “only” looking for a brand. Woe unto anyone who launches a festival with the name of Bach for its “brand.”