BachFest Sarasota explores the legacy of Johann Sebastian Bach.
Say the name: Johann Sebastian Bach. Your mind conjures visions of a man in a powdered wig with the jaunty theme of William F. Buckley’s “Firing Line” playing softly in the background.
It all seems so ancient and old-fashioned. And that’s entirely wrong. BachFest Sarasota is determined to settle the score.
This five-day festival explores Bach’s key role in the evolution of modern music with a series of concerts, films and lectures at venues across Sarasota. Artist Series Concerts of Sarasota is presenting this ambitious initiative, in collaboration with the Sarasota Music Archives, Church of the Redeemer and the Choral Artists of Sarasota.
“Bach laid the groundwork for modern music,” says Artist Series Concerts Artistic Director Joseph Holt. “Without Bach, music history wouldn’t exist as we know it.”
Holt says Bach pioneered the possibilities of the major and minor modes that developed after the Medieval and Renaissance period. He explored the permutations of the contrapuntal fugue. In the century after Bach’s death, Mozart, Beethoven and other composers began by practicing his compositions as lessons. They continued to explore the new musical territory Bach had created.
“When Bach died in 1750, he was mourned as an organist and keyboard player,” says Holt. “After that, he was unknown outside a small circle of professional musicians and aficionados. It wasn’t until the 19th century, when Mendelssohn realized that Bach had written an amazing body of compositions that hadn’t been heard for nearly 80 years.”
And that’s when everything changed.
After decades of silence, Bach’s resonant compositions were once again performed. In the decades that followed, Bach’s influence continued to ring out.
“Bach inspires us all to be better musicians,” notes Holt. “His influence is everywhere — you can even trace a direct lineage to George Gershwin! He left us all a tremendous musical inheritance. That’s what we intend to explore at the festival.”
‘The Illegitimate Bach’
Johannes Sebastian Bach fathered 20 odd children in his lifetime. According to musical scholar Peter Schickele, PDQ Bach was “the youngest and oddest” of his brood. In reality, “P.D.Q. Bach” is Schickele’s alter ego—a jesting persona poking fun at classical music’s high seriousness. This concert features a sampler of Schickele’s satirical compositions, including “Liebeslieder Polkas” and “Notebook for Betty-Sue Bach.” Joseph Holt and Lee Dougherty Ross will perform four hands piano, with vocals by four members of the Choral Artists of Sarasota. (Schickele may be funny, but he’s a serious composer. He created the score for Douglas Trumbull’s haunting sci-fi movie, “Silent Running,” in 1972.)
When: 11 a.m. Nov. 15; 12:15 lunch to follow
Where: Michael’s On East Ballroom, 1212 S. East Avenue
‘BBC’s Great Composers: Bach’
Narrated by Kenneth Branagh, this BBC documentary revisits Bach’s legacy with insights from prestigious musicians, musicologists and theologian Karen Armstrong. John Goodman, the celebrated composer, pianist and educator, will present the documentary in association with the Sarasota Music Archive.
When: 2 p.m. Nov. 16
Where: Selby Library’s Geldbart Auditorium, 1331 First St.
‘Intimate, instrumental Bach’
This intimate concert showcases the talents of soprano Adelaide Boedecker, mezzo-soprano Thea Lobo, harpsichordist Mark Kroll, and violinist Carol Lieberman. The program will comprise a selection of Bach’s violin and harpsichord compositions, including Sonatas in A Major and C minor and French Suite for Harpsichord in B minor.
When: 7:30 p.m. Nov. 16
Where: Church of the Redeemer, 222 S. Palm Ave., Sarasota
‘Pipe Organ: King of Instruments’
In Mozart’s opinion, “the organ will forever be the King of Instruments.” Organists Richard Benedum, Cynthia Roberts-Greene and Ann Stephenson-Moe will give Bach’s intricate keyboard compositions a royal treatment with the 50-stop Nichols & Simpson pipe organ at the Church of the Redeemer. Stephenson-Moe says, “This massive instrument has so many variations of color. It’s perfectly suited to the works of the greatest composers for organ.”
When: Noon Nov. 17
Where: Church of the Redeemer, 222 S. Palm Ave.
‘Bach to the Future with Ji’
In a famous Android commercial that aired during the 2016 Grammy Awards, this young, gifted pianist performed a blistering rendition of the third movement of Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” on two pianos, including one tuned to middle C. In this concert, he’ll cover a range of intricate Bach piano transcriptions. These not-so-easy pieces include “Chaconne,” English Suite in G minor, and Ji’s own transcription of the E Major Partita for Violin. This time, he’ll stick to one piano — and that should be more than enough.
When: 7:30 p.m. Nov. 17
Where: Historic Asolo Theater, 5401 Bay Shore Road
‘Bach: Mass in B Minor’
To give voice to Bach’s triumphant choral composition, the BachFest will enlist the talents of Choral Artists of Sarasota with soloists Adelaide Boedecker, Blake Friedman, Calvin Griffin and Thea Lobo. “Bach straddled the Catholic and Protestant traditions,” notes Holt. “Bach was a Lutheran — although he would’ve simply called himself a ‘Protestant’ during that era. The Lutheran faith didn’t have a mass. Even so, Bach actually compiled a mass over several decades. It’s a magnificent piece, and it was never heard in Bach’s lifetime.”
When: 4 p.m. Nov. 18 and 7:30 p.m. Nov. 19
Where: Church of the Redeemer, 222 S. Palm Ave., Sarasota
Tickets: $35, students $15
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