CHAMBER MUSIC restarts the Classical Calendar following the holidays. The CLAREMONT TRIO (above) plays for Chamber Music Monterey Bay on Friday, including Beethoven’s great “Archduke” Trio. Violinist Roy Malan and colleagues give the SANTA CRUZ CHAMBER PLAYERS two performances of “Czech, Please,” with music by Dvořák, Smetana & Suk. PAPER WING THEATRE opens Christopher Durang’s VANYA AND SONIA AND MASHA AND SPIKE. For links to these and other live events, click our CALENDAR or on the ad, left.
MARINA DANCE COMPANY GOES TO BIG APPLE
SPECTORDANCE to perform Ocean Trilogy at the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater in New York City on January 14th as part of the Association of Performing Arts Professionals conference.
OAKLAND SYMPHONY LOOKING FOR NEW ED
EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR search now underway. If you’ve got the ambition and the creds, click HERE
FOR THE LOVE OF BACH
JS BACH in context, with two important new recordings, a Bernstein perspective and thoughts about the 2018 Carmel Bach Festival.
YULIANNA AVDEEVA has released an excellent introduction to Bach’s solo keyboard music, three popular works written on the harpsichord but entirely suitable for fortepiano, or modern piano as here. She gives these works multifaceted interpretations, from the highly virtuosic to the deeply circumspect. The Toccata in D gets its jovial due. The English Suite in A Minor (BWV 807) is seriously energized; its French dances come with a German inflection. The Overture in the French Style (BWV 831) by contrast speaks with a French accent, from its extravagant large-scale opening overture to its Echo finale. The trick is always to balance the individual voices to keep the harmonies and/or counterpoint transparent, no easy challenge but here well met.
TOKE MØLDRUP is principal cellist of the Copenhagen Philharmonic–and since 2005 a teacher at the Royal Danish Academy of Music–who now enjoys an international solo reputation that includes commissions and premieres. Titled “The Six Cello Suites Revisited,” the set includes Suite 1 Revisited, a new arrangement in the form of a classical trio sonata by composer Viggo Mangor of Bach’s Suite in G. Right from the start, Møldrup plays with a high order of urgency and restless intensity. This extends to the frenetic, highly ornamented bourrée movements of the Suites 3 in C and 4 in E-flat. By contrast, it grows weird with the spooky one-note-at-a-time sarabande from Suite 5 in C Minor. These 36 movements seethe with unflagging invention, witness the bagpipe effect in the second gavotte of Suite 6 in D, at 25 minutes the longest of the set. When Pablo Casals recorded them (for the first time) in the 1930s, he counted heavily on the dance rhythms that run rife throughout. When Colin Carr played them at Music @ Menlo several years ago, he turned them into profoundly-felt monuments of extraordinary personal vision. It is this range of possible interpretations that gives them their never-ending beguile. For cellists they are holy writ without which one cannot claim to be a master of the instrument.
For this collection, Møldrup uses a 1697 David Tecchler cello, substituting a five-string Italian instrument for the wildly decorated Sixth Suite. Essays in the CD’s program insert are exceptionally informative and fresh. The charming Mangor arrangement, unfortunately, blurs more than enlightens the substance of the unvarnished Suite in G. (Click on the album covers above to enlarge them.)
BERNSTEIN EXPLAINS IT ALL
FROM THE TONIC to the dominant, the 12 tones, and unbridled ‘chromaticism’ contained by ‘diatonicism.’ Who emerges as the ultimate hero? JS Bach, of course.
HOW MUCH BACH IS REQUIRED FOR A BACH FESTIVAL?
THE FOUNDATION of Western classical music is Johann Sebastian Bach, on whose example the entire subsequent tradition right up to the present is built. No celebration of that tradition could be better named than “Bach Festival.” The bedrock of that foundation is the vast corpus of Bach’s sacred cantatas, the very works that were conspicuous by their absence at the 2017 Carmel Bach Festival and will again be absent in the summer festival of 2018.
Actually, a smattering of Bach’s small-scale (though certainly not unimportant) chamber cantatas was/will be included in these two festivals, but none of the major concert cantatas. Why is that? The best answer I have been able to come up with is that music director Paul Goodwin prefers works by other composers in his flagship “Main” concerts, the big-production programs presented in ‘prime time.’ To be sure, Goodwin will open the 2018 festival with Bach’s Suite for Orchestra BWV 1066 and has restored the Matthew Passion to the two Sunday matinees. As entertaining as it is—with horns added in—the Suite BWV 1066 does not stake a serious claim among Bach’s best orchestral suites and concertos. Of course, the Matthew, like the John Passion and B Minor Mass, is one of the greatest works of the western canon.
At the 2018 Bach Festival, that leaves a recital of Bach’s organ music and a sampler of his chamber music.
As for the Main concerts, the opening Bach will immediately redirect to Carl Orff’s spectacular 1936 symphonic-mainstay, Carmina Burana. On Monday, Vivaldi’s vastly overexposed “Four Seasons” will be paired, as has become all too common in concert programming, with Astor Piazzolla’s Four Seasons of Buenos Aires. Opera excerpts by Handel, Mozart, Beethoven and Wagner (!) will constitute the Tuesday night program. (Bach wrote no operas.) On Wednesday, associate conductor Andrew Megill will give the regional premiere of Dieterich Buxtehude’s Membra Jesu nostri, a masterpiece of seven short cantatas by the Danish-born organist who deeply influenced Bach’s own organ music. (Megill, long-serving choral master during the festival’s Bruno Weil tenure, still thinks of the festival in terms of “Bach and baroque.”) The first Thursday ‘Main’ features violinist Edwin Huizinga and guitarist William Coulter in a pops “crossover” program; the second Thursday goes to all-American song, with Megill’s festival chorale singing everything from Shaker hymns and folksongs to Tin Pan Alley. Bernstein’s On the Town and Beethoven’s “Eroica” Symphony make up the Friday Main program.
No matter how you slice or rationalize it, Bach has largely been shunted to the side, to programs that appeal to the die-hard Bach fans like me. This may be done to broaden the festival’s appeal to audiences with limited interest in Bach, or to indulge music director Goodwin’s appetite to learn repertoire more to his taste. But at some point it also raises questions about the Bach Festival’s core identity and the standard it bears as an exemplar of the man and the music without which the entire western classical tradition would have gone in a very different direction.
Sebastian Bach has been losing ground at his namesake festival in Carmel since the late Sandor Salgo, a Jewish ‘devout’ Bach-lover, who, notwithstanding far more limited resources, set the high bar during his 35-years at the helm of the Carmel Bach Festival, a standard many of us still remember and still desire. SM
VIOLINIST ROBERT MANN DIES AT 97
FOUNDING PRINCIPAL of the Juilliard String Quartet in 1946, and one of the most influential of American chamber music teachers, retired from the quartet five decades later in 1997. As a member of the Juilliard School faculty, his impact on many of the most famous string quartets today cannot be overstated. He died on New Year’s Day.
SWINGLE SINGERS SWINGLE BACH
“BLUTE NUR” from the Matthew Passion
8 TENS @ 8 short play fest in Santa Cruz. Click HERE
BRIDGE PIANO QUARTET in Santa Cruz, with video. Click HERE
ENSEMBLE MONTEREY presents “Three’s Company” in Carmel and Santa Cruz, featuring rare treats by Gustav Holst, Randall Thompson, Bohuslav Martinů, Debussy and Dmitri Shostakovich. Music competitions announced.
Scott MacClelland, editor; Rebecca CR Brooks, associate editor