Willem Wijnbergen brings the spark of innovation and communitarian purpose to the Bach Festival.
Thursday, April 4, 2002
Photo by Randy Tunnel; Lights Out in August-one of Willem Wijnbergen''s first coups as managing director of
the Carmel Bach Festival was securing All Saints Church in Carmel as a venue for candlelit solo concerts.
For some people, the age of 65 represents a time to begin winding down. For others, turning 65 means starting a second life, one with renewed energy and purpose. For the Carmel Bach Festival, which this year enters its 65th season, that fresh vigor is embodied by the Festival''s new managing director, Willem Wijnbergen. Wijnbergen (pronounced VINE-bergen) comes to the Bach Festival at a time when it faces many challenges and opportunities. An accomplished pianist and organist in his own right, he spent six years as managing director of Amsterdam''s celebrated Royal Concertgebeow Orchestra in his native Holland, and most recently held the same position at the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Now he brings his passion for music and enthusiasm for new ideas to a beloved local institution that has come over the years to define a community.
With the long-planned renovation of Carmel''s Sunset Center finally underway, and with the site of last year''s concerts, the Naval Postgraduate School, now closed to the public due to the events of September 11th, one of Wijnbergen''s principal challenges has been finding a venue for concerts.
"Challenges force you to think," he says, adding that having to deal with this problem as soon as he arrived last fall has allowed him to get to know the community very quickly. The result of having so many possibilities on the table is a summer season with some of the most exciting programming in years.
A new series of solo one-hour candlelight concerts at Carmel''s All Saints Church, for example, is sure to be a highlight of this year''s season. Bach wrote many of his most dazzling and deeply felt compositions for solo performance. The Festival''s opening night will feature a guitar recital by Paul Galbraith; later concerts will showcase several superb violinists and cellists, including Jian Wang, the little Chinese boy-all grown up now-who some may remember from the wonderful 1979 Oscar-winning documentary "From Mao to Mozart: Isaac Stern in China."
Most of this year''s main concerts, conducted by music director Bruno Weil, will be held at the Santa Catalina Performing Arts Center, in Monterey. While last year''s venue featured fabulous acoustics and an elegant atmosphere, some patrons were displeased with its tight seating and imperfect sightlines. This will not be the case at Santa Catalina, which has comfortable seats comparable to the kind of stadium seating found at many new movie theaters.
The theme for this year''s main concerts is the generous and visionary patronage of Gottfried van Swieten, an 18th-century Viennese politician, businessman, and lover of the arts. Van Swieten recognized the genius of Bach during a time when many thought his music to be out-of-date. It was through this championing of Bach that Mozart, one of the beneficiaries of van Swieten''s patronage, principally came to know Bach''s music-an encounter that influenced some of Mozart''s own works. In 1789, van Swieten commissioned Mozart to write a new arrangement of Handel''s "Messiah," a version that will be performed here this summer.
As Wijnbergen speaks rapturously of his awed discovery of Point Lobos and the Carmel coastline, remarking how "it takes you in with its perfect design, its beauty and drama and fullness," I mention that it sounds like he is describing music. It turns out, in fact, that he is. The local landscape evokes for him what he considers "the most moving, most powerful music ever written," Bach''s "St. Matthew Passion." Wijnbergen would like to see this work performed here every year, in the spring, to commemorate Palm Sunday, much as Handel''s "Messiah" is performed yearly in many communities around Christmastime.
The position of managing director requires a willingness to experiment and the ability to plan ahead. (Concertgoers can also wisely plan ahead by purchasing their tickets for the Festival at a significant discount by Sunday, April 7; after Monday all tickets are full price.) One way to try things out has been with the highly successful year-round Bravissima series, created three years ago by the Festival''s Artistic Director, Nana Faridany.
Another major goal for the future is to involve the Festival more in local music education, especially at the elementary school level. At the mention of the recent budget cuts in school music programs, Wijnbergen has strong words. "Disastrous!" he says. "Disgusting!" For Wijnbergen, music''s ultimate purpose is to create a community of responsible group members who experience pride and enthusiasm for shared achievement. Getting instruments into children''s hands is part of his lifelong mission.
"Music offers the ideal circumstances for human interaction-it gets us out of our isolation," Wijnbergen says. Certainly this year''s broad programming has the capacity to do just that. From intimate solo concerts to massive choral works, it will appeal both to those who have been coming to the Festival for years and to those who have yet to attend a single concert.
Every generation sees many changes, yet through it all, Bach endures. Wijnbergen calls him a survivor. "The music of Bach is universal, timeless," he says. "Bach is the bones of music."
The Carmel Bach Festival runs July 13-August 4. For a complete schedule and for information on ordering tickets, visit www.bachfestival.org or call 624-2046. Special lower prices are available only through April 7.