MUSIC REVIEW: Bach Festival @BaldwinWallace by Laura Kennelly


Fri 4/15-Sun 4/17

This annual three-day celebration of J. S. Bach and his musical legacy — scheduled every spring at Baldwin Wallace University for the past 84! years — demonstrates once again that Bach and his minions still rule in a musical world. The event started off with a 5K race Friday morning dubbed the Bach Rennen (some 81 participants — if you count the dog whose registration fee was also paid). The rest of the weekend saw lectures and concerts galore.

The highlight had to be Saturday evening’s marathon-long and glorious presentation of the St. Matthew Passion, BWV 244, conducted by Dirk Garner. Rufus Müller shone in the role of Evangelist (he owns that part, singing from memory and acting through gesture and facial expression the meaning of the words) as he guided us through Matthew’s account of Christ’s betrayal and death. Deep-voiced and calmly elegant, bass Dashon Burton sang the role of Christus. An outstanding ensemble, consisting of Yulia Van Doren, soprano; Luthien Brackett, mezzo-soprano; Matthew Anderson, tenor; and Jason Steigerwalt, baritone, created persuasive and balanced performances both in solo parts and when called upon, with each other.

The Festival Choir, divided into two sections arranged on opposite sides of the stage, luxuriated in numerous choral interludes and vibrantly responded to events being narrated by the Evangelist. The Baldwin Wallace Symphony Orchestra, similarly divided into two with concertmasters Wei-Shu Co and Sara Schaft, provided expert and touching instrumental voices. Organist Nicole Keller, seated center stage at the beautifully carved wooden portative organ, provided continuo for both choirs.

It was so easy to be so transported by the beauty of song and the credibility of the artists that time flew, which was a good thing since the marathon mentioned above lasted almost three hours. A musical feast, an extravaganza, a delight? Yes, all of those pointed out that well-performed classical music lives even today and that it does so with utmost vibrancy.

Friday night’s concert by the Motet Choir (directed by Garner) featured a repeat of the recent Focus Festival’s “the little match girl passion” by David Lang, accompanied by a brochure which showed parallels between Lang’s piece and the St. Matthew Passion. A short motet by Bach (BWV 228) and songs by contemporary composers Moses Hogan and Eric Whitacre were also on the program.

Other events included daily short pre-concert pieces played by the Festival Brass Choir (directed by John Brndiar) outside the Conservatory. In addition there were two lectures: Richard Edwards’ (“Implications of Neuromusical Research: Music is Natural. Music is Nurtured”) and Robin A. Leaver’s (“Bach’s St. Matthew Passion and Good Friday Vespers”); a panel discussion about anti-Semitism; a piano recital by Sean Duggan featuring Bach and concluding with Beethoven‘s massive Hammerklavier Sonata (who made the connections between the two B-composers ring out firmly), and a Sunday concert with the Treble Choir (directed by Jordan Saul) in the Berea United Methodist Church.

Bottom Line: Another marathon festival of music with plenty of Bach talk that, actually, only makes us eager to listen to and watch next year’s 85th celebration of the eternally young Herr J. S. Bach.

[Written by Laura Kennelly]

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