Weekly Update, July 9, 2013

French revolution in Carmel

Now in his third Carmel Bach Festival, music director Paul Goodwin’s vision for the future is clearer than ever. Like his predecessor, Bruno Weil, Goodwin deploys his strengths equally with those of his principal players. The festival’s broad strokes gain individual character when concertmaster Peter Hanson refines his Monday night program of Baroque string concertos and sonatas, while associate conductor Andrew Megill takes charge of the Wednesday night choral menu served up at Carmel Mission Basilica.

Goodwin, however, finds deeper illumination when a theme for each festival is chosen—this year it’s The French Connection. “The French contribution to the Baroque, in form mainly the suite, was extremely important to Bach and his contemporaries,” says Goodwin. “Bach used it copiously in his instrumental music, for example the four orchestral suites, and the suites for cello, and partitas and suites for violin and harpsichord.” But, he adds, “Bach made the French example very much his own.”

Since the French example also informs Bach’s vocal music, including some of his most famous cantatas, Goodwin says the players and singers are “thrilled.” Festival programs also include a smattering of 20th century French music by the likes of Joseph Canteloube, Francis Poulenc, Jean-Yves Daniel-Lesur, Maurice Ravel, Reynaldo Hahn and Darius Milhaud (whose La création du monde of 1923, on the Thursday Main concert, is the first major jazz-influenced concert piece, predating Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue.)    

The most comprehensive survey of the French connection takes place during the Tuesday Main concert when, with David Gordon as narrator, vocal soloists, chorus, Youth Chorus and orchestra, Goodwin will spell out the history of French music from Guillaume de Machaut (c.1300-1377) to Leo Delibes and Georges Bizet. Part of that sequence includes the suite from Le bourgeois gentilhomme by Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632-1687), JS Bach’s Cantata Nun komm der Heiden Heiland and Debussy’s Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun. Goodwin also depends on Gordon, now a quarter-century veteran of the festival, to manage the Adams Master Class for young vocal professionals.

Further, Goodwin relies on principal cello Allen Whear to guide the chamber music recitals that are heard at the main stage of Sunset Center as well as many of the run-out concerts at other venues, while Andrew Arthur coordinates the keyboard—organ, harpsichord and piano—repertoire.

Getting started

The Saturday (opening night) Main concert Goodwin describes as transitional “from hell to heaven.” It opens with the thunderbolts of Bach’s dramatic cantata O Ewigkeit du Donnerwort (Oh eternity, you word of thunder.) It closes with Fauré’s serene (mostly) and comforting Requiem. Between are the new festival commission by Thea Musgrave (who will be present) which is based on the Bach musical monogram, B-flat—A—C—B-natural, and one of Handel’s concertos for two wind bands that famously recycles vocal bits from his oratorios and cantatas.

The Sunday afternoon Main program is given to Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, the set of six cantatas that enjoy more popularity in Europe than Handel’s Messiah. Goodwin describes its “extraordinary architecture—oratorio toward passion—buxtehudeoverriding dramatic trajectory” and “lighter textures and French ornamentation.” If such a feast leaves room for dessert that evening, also at Sunset Center, is Schubert’s great Octet in F for strings and winds. (The following Sunday evening, at All Saints Church, Andrew Megill conducts chorale and orchestra members in another grand but even rarer work, Membra Jesu nostri (The limbs of our Jesus) by Dietrich Buxtehude (pictured.)

Megill’s Mission program includes music by Jean-Joseph de Mondonville, Fauré, James MacMillan—the celebrated Scot who won the musical Wimbledon back in 1990 with his Confession of Isobel Gowdie—and Bach. Thursday Main concert features classical/jazz pianist Stephen Prutsman playing Bach, Christian Bach, Milhaud and his own compositions.

What Berlioz wants

In the Friday Main, Goodwin conducts a suite by Rameau, Ravel’s Tombeau de Couperin and the Symphonie fantastique by Berlioz, for which he will set up the orchestra per the composer’s plan and use natural horns and both natural and piston trumpets, small bore trombones and a small E-flat tuba (since “trying to find an ophicleide in California” proved fruitless.) He’s also going to use wooden-headed flutes, gut strings, and pair up each cello with a doublebass. That will make the famous piece sound very different from what most of us are used to.

The Bach Festival crams as much as possible into its two weeks and three weekends. Beyond its seven Main concerts are nine chamber music concerts and solo recitals, some with repeats, and seven one-offs. Even as our Weekly Update is posted, there are several ‘pre-festival’ events throughout this week. And, outside of four Carmel venues, events will also be held in Monterey (2 venues), Seaside, Salinas and Carmel Valley.   

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On our Theater Reviews page critic Philip Pearce catches up with Side by Side by Sondheim at The Western Stage. And we welcome Robert Reid, a local clarinetist who also plays strings, to our Music Reviews page, who comments on the Judith Leclair/Mark Nuccio bassoon & clarinet recital at Hidden Valley. New shows are opening this week, as you’ll see under the Theater listing on our Calendar page, including Macbeth at Paper Wing Theatre and Pirates of Penzance at the New Wharf Theater, both in Monterey, and La Cage aux Folles on the Cabrillo Stage in Aptos.

Scott MacClelland, editor