Thursday, August 04, 2011

More on the Bach Festival

I decided I wanted to write up all of my trip to the Carmel Bach Festival.  I discovered before we left for Vancouver that the Festival began the weekend Jim set off on his first backpacking trip, so I sprang for some concert tickets and 3 nights of motel (all the time I could spare, I had to be at a meeting Thursday evening), and off I went, to spend the next three days eating, sleeping, and attending concerts and lectures.  It was great.  I dumped my stuff at the motel and walked down to my first concert, an amazing semi-staged production of the St. John Passion, which I wrote up in my last post:

The staging in street clothes (see blog) really startled me at first, I thought, can this be the dress rehearsal?  But it really worked.  That evening I went to a smaller concert on double quartets.  The Festival’s new concertmaster explained, before performing the Mendelssohn Octet, that they would do (on period instruments) the original 1825 version which Mendelssohn composed at age 16, which he (the concertmaster) had been asked by the Library of Congress to collate.  It was wonderful. 

I started the next day by almost not getting to the church on time – I miscalculated the available parking at the Carmel Mission, and just made it to the 11 AM organ concert.  I hoped to get to a vocal master class at noon but had to give it up, the Mission was too far away.  Monday night’s concert (not in street clothes) was CPE Bach, Vivaldi, Telemann, Purcell, and a surprisingly good Concerto Grosso by one Richard Mudge.  I also attended the pre-concert talk, at which I learned that C.P.E. Bach ran a musical salon in late 18th century London.  I didn't know that.  All the pre-concert talks were streamed live and are available on the Festival web site.

Tuesday I attended the obligatory lecture on Bach and numerology; only part of this will be streamed live because the lecturer went way over his allotted 30 minutes!  But it was great.  That afternoon I attended a “solo spotlight” centered around the Cantata BWV 55 for solo tenor, plus some flute and harpsichord works, all Johann Sebastian.

Which brings me to the Festival politics.  You may have noticed that quite a bit of what I listened to at the Bach festival wasn’t Bach at all.  This is the first year for the new Festival music director, Paul Goodwin – Bruno Weil just retired after directing it for years.  Goodwin is a long lanky Brit with a major sense of humor, and he’s shaken up some of the stalwarts.  I had two conversations with (much) older attendees who were offended/distracted by the street clothes staging of the St. John Passion, and listened to a (much) older man who complained that they had “taken all the Bach out of the festival,” just before attending a concert of Vivaldi bassoon and cello concerti which he had presumably paid for.  I thought the whole thing was fabulous, but then I like all that period’s music, not just Bach.  

When not in street clothes, Goodwin conducts in a knee-length frock coat (Victorian, not eighteenth century; it had no defined waist).  I haven’t seen one of those for years.

Tuesday evening’s concert, The English Spirit, had not only no Bach, it only had one Baroque piece – the masque from Purcell’s Dioclezian.  It was all English composers – which means the next one after the Purcell was by William Walton (Façade Suite No. 1), a very odd piece set to some incomprehensible poetry by Dame Edith Sitwell.   Yes, they had a narrator read it.  It made NO sense.  This was followed by a choral piece by Sir John Taverner (who is a friend of the music director’s!), and ending with Vaughn Williams’ Serenade to Music.   

The Purcell masque was absolutely hilarious, I practically fell out of my chair laughing; the couples on either side of me never, as far as I could see, cracked a smile.  They were grim.  The Taverner piece, from a choral singer's point of view, was terrifying - four long, slow, soft a capella sections, in very close harmony, after which the orchestra came in under them.  It is appallingly easy to be flat in that situation and they were not flat; I congratulate them.

The Vivaldi bassoon concert I mentioned was my last concert – performed on a period bassoon, and a period cello with five strings (high E).  The web site called it Double Reed Virtuosity, but the printed program said Low Down Vivaldi!  I would have liked to stay and see the film about the Eroica, and the full scale concert in the Mission basilica, but I had to get home.

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