by Daniel Hathaway with Mike Telin
FEATURED THIS WEEKEND: BW Bach Festival
Back for its 90th iteration after a two-year hiatus imposed by the pandemic, the Baldwin Wallace University Bach Festival packs nine concerts, recitals, master classes and lectures into two days this weekend on its campus in Berea, and spills over into the rest of the year with other Bach-related happenings.
“It’s pretty exciting, with all the artists coming back together from all over the place,” Festival artistic director Dirk Garner said in a telephone conversation earlier this week. “We’re really all so relieved to be performing live again instead of doing it virtually or not doing it at all.”
With the help this year of a generous grant from the Kulas Foundation, Garner has invited two Boston-based ensembles to perform individual concerts as well as to join Garner’s BWV Bach Choir on Friday evening, and BW faculty and student singers and instrumentalists on Saturday evening in four of the six cantatas that make up Bach’s Christmas Oratorio.
The Baroque string band ACRONYM will set the stage on Friday with “What Bach Heard,” a musical scrapbook of instrumental works the composer encountered as his studies and career took him from Eisenach to Arnstadt, Weimar, Köthen, and finally to Leipzig.
And the Diderot String Quartet, performing on period-style instruments, will pair a selection of movements from Bach’s Art of Fugue with Beethoven’s Op. 74 quartet on Saturday afternoon.
“They’re world class musicians, but I’ve been saying to everyone I talk to that I think my favorite thing is that they understand the mission of the Festival. In just a week, they’ve really engaged with the students, who follow them around and come and watch them play and learn from them when they’re not involved themselves. They’re infused through the whole Festival, but I thought it was important that they played their own programs. Then, they’ll join my professional choir on Friday night, and sit principal for the Christmas Oratorio. They’ve been as busy as I am, rehearsing every day all day.”
Part of that busy-ness is catching up after the pandemic brought everything to a skidding stop in March, 2020. “I really had nothing for two years, and I went completely remote for a year and a half,” Garner said. “We did virtual choir stuff like everybody else, and kind of got by, but we lived day to day. Teaching any of this online is challenging at best, and to be honest, fairly unrealistic. The whole point of ensemble music-making as a young musician is learning to make music with people, not alone in your apartment. Making a nice little video online is really cute, but it’s not what ensemble music-making means.”
Garner said that when school began this year, his singers could only rehearse — masked — for a short amount of time. “We have great new ventilation systems in the Conservatory, but even with windows open, air purifiers running, and everyone spaced out six or eight feet, we’ve only been able to rehearse for 15 or 20 minutes before letting the room air out. I’ve lost lots of rehearsal time.”
Between concerts this weekend, Bach fans can admire some of the holdings of the Riemenschneider Bach Institute, watch baritone Bradford Gleim and cellist Kivie Cahn-Lipman conduct master classes, hear student scholar Hannah Ross talk about the Bach Institute’s 18th-century viola da gamba, and attend a lecture about the Christmas Oratorio by Kenyon College professor Reginald L. Sanders.
“It may seem funny to perform the Christmas Oratorio in April, but the music is so sunny, bright, and happy that it really fits beautifully with springtime,” Garner said. “And BW replants our grounds based on the Bach Festival schedule, so the whole campus will be bright with fresh flowers they’ve just planted today. It’s really cool. It’s actually one of my favorite parts of the Festival.”
ALSO HAPPENING THIS WEEKEND:
On Friday evening, CityMusic Cleveland will play world premieres by Jasmine Barnes and Jessica Meyers and works by Charles Rychlik and Antonín Dvořák in “Slavic Village Then and Now” at Lakewood Presbyterian (repeated Sunday afternoon at St. Stanislaus), and the Cleveland Cello Society will hold its annual roundup, i Cellisti, rescheduled from February, at St. Paul’s in Cleveland Heights.
Guest pianist Emanuel Ax joins guest conductor Alan Gilbert and The Cleveland Orchestra on Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon for Chopin’s Second Concerto at Severance, plus pieces by Lili Boulanger, Unsuk Chin, and Debussy’s La Mer.
Also on Sunday afternoon, Carl Topilow guest conducts the Suburban Symphony featuring James Thompson in Bruch’s Violin Concerto, the Youngstown Symphony and Ballet Western Reserve present Adolphe Adam’s Giselle, and Hudson’s Music from the Western Reserve hosts the 25 students in Kent State’s Musical Theater program at Christ Church.
Details in our Concert Listings.
WEEKEND ALMANAC: April 8 through 10, 2022
It was the Spanish Flu that took American composer Charles Tomlinson Griffes’ life on April 8, 1920 at the age of 35 in New York City. His most famous work is his 1915 piano piece, White Peacock, which he then orchestrated in 1919. Other compositions include his Piano Sonata, The Pleasure Dome of Kubla Khan (based on a poetic fragment by Samuel Taylor Coleridge), and Poem for Flute and Orchestra.
In addition to many programmatic pieces for piano, chamber ensembles, and voice, it is his unpublished Sho-jo (1917) — a one-act pantomimic drama based on Japanese themes — that makes him one of the first American composers to draw direct inspiration from Japanese music. Pianist Michael Lewin plays The Pleasure Dome of Kubla Khan here.
Three memorable dates in Black American classical music history appear on the April 9 calendar: the birth of composer Florence Beatrice Price in 1887, the birth of bass and actor Paul Robeson in 1898, and Marian Anderson’s 1939 concert at the Lincoln Memorial, sponsored by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, that drew a crowd of 75,000. The performance protested the decision of the Daughters of the American Revolution to prevent the contralto from performing at the DAR’s Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C.
Having been neglected for decades, the music of Florence Price is now appearing on concert programs everywhere. We devoted much of the Diary on June 3, 2020 to Price on the anniversary of her death, and Lilyana D’Amato wrote about her in our Legacy of Black Musicians series on July 29, 2020. As more and more of her music is being re-engraved and re-issued, programmers will want to keep up with the progress of that project by visiting the Wisemusic catalog here.
Robeson had an eventful career that included venturing into the troubled political waters of mid-20th century America, where he fought against fascism but got close enough to the Communist Party to be investigated by the House Un-American Activities Committee. His life is summarized in the documentary Here I Stand, and a sample of his vocal artistry is available in this 1936, second version of Old Man River (note both versions of the lyrics in the notes).
And Marian Anderson, the first Black singer to perform at the Metropolitan Opera, thrilled a huge audience on Easter Day, April 9, 1939 with this performance, accompanied by Finnish pianist Kosti Vehanen. The occasion is treated at somewhat greater length in this short documentary, and the press had much to say about the incident.
The Philadelphia Tribune wrote, “A group of tottering old ladies, who don’t know the difference between patriotism and putridism, have compelled the gracious First Lady to apologize for their national rudeness.” The Richmond Times-Dispatch wrote, “In these days of racial intolerance so crudely expressed in the Third Reich, an action such as the D.A.R.’s ban … seems all the more deplorable.” — Wikipedia article on Marian Anderson
On April 10 we celebrate the birthdays of French jazz pianist and composer Claude Bolling (1930, in Cannes), and Uzbek pianist Yefim Bronfman (1958 in Tashkent).
Published on ClevelandClassical.com April 8, 2022.