Bach To Sunset
Carmel Bach Festival returns to its new home with a collection of quirky favorites.
Thursday, July 17, 2003
Photo: Festival conductor Bruno Weil reopens the Sunset Theater with Bach''s Cantata 30.
If coming into this weekend''s kick-off to the 66th annual Carmel Bach Festival, you''re a little fuzzy on the über-composer''s place in the musical cosmos, don''t worry--the great unwashed are also welcome to take part in the three-week long celebration.
"We''re always thinking about what it is to build an audience," says Jesse Read, principle bassoonist and coordinator of the Festival''s recital series. "We try to hit the people who have grown up with pop music and then they want something a little more serious, and they get interested in Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals, and suddenly they get interested in orchestral music and chamber music and early music and Bach and then they wake up."
Read, who is the director of the music department at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, says this musical awakening usually happens for folks as they get a little older.
"It isn''t as if the only people who understand this music were from a former generation," he says. "This music touches all generations, but particularly the people who are ready for it. They reach an age where they understand the concepts of life and death and religion and spirituality and communion and all of those things that this music represents."
Read doesn''t feel one needs to be a practicing Christian to appreciate Bach. "You don''t have to be a Lutheran, Methodist or a Catholic to get this music," he says. "You get the music. You get the real devotional inspiration that he had to write this stuff.
"Our job is to make sure people get confronted with it and touched by it and made curious by it. This is really in your face. You''re glued to it and involved in it and it''s transporting. And transformational--that''s the point."
While the 18th-century German composer is known primarily for his awe-inspiring religious compositions, the opening night festivities will feature a less widely known aspect of Bach''s work--the Cantata 30a, one of his rare secular cantatas. Bach''s cantatas--literally "to sing" in German--generally were for church purposes, but he also would write them for public ceremonies and even just for pure entertainment (his humorous cantata on the evils of coffee drinking, especially for women, is a classic).
After two years without a permanent home, there is no more important celebration for the Festival than its return to the Sunset Theater in Carmel this Saturday night at 8pm.
Once a modest elementary school auditorium, the Sunset has been transformed at a cost of $21 million into a state-of-the-art theater complex. Improvements include upgraded acoustics, more spacious seating and enhanced backstage facilities for the musicians who come from all over the world to perform at the most prestigious and oldest Bach festival in the western United States.
Featuring the lyrics, "We come into this house with joy," the Cantata 30a couldn''t express the sentiments of longtime Festival participants like Read any better. A 25-year veteran of the event, Read says the return to the Sunset "means everything.
"The music needs a home and the audience needs a home. And it needs a consistency that it always has had and will have again now that we''re back in it. You play in a hall and you use it as an instrument. You learn to use it, you learn to love the acoustics, you learn about the way it works. The audience gets familiar with it. You find out what music works best in it."
Saturday night''s concert also features Stravinsky''s Concerto for Strings in D Major and Bach''s Brandenburg Concerto No. 4. The evening ends on a rousing note with Bach''s Magnificat--a mix of soloists and choir that is a full-frontal orchestral assault on the senses.
"It''s just a big outpouring of joy and happiness," Read says. "It has the trumpets and the timpani and the chorus and the great melodies that everybody recognizes."
With the Magnificat, the Festival is upholding a long-standing opening night tradition.
"The last piece on the program is usually some big, huge monumental choral work that everybody sort of wants to stand up and cheer at the end of," Read says.
Although Saturday night is the official opening, the Festival--which generally repeats itself each week--actually begins Friday night, with a couple of comic operas by Tellemann (a contemporary of Bach) at the Sunset Theater at 8pm.
The first, "La Bourse" ("The Stock Market") is one Martha Stewart might want to organize a dinner party around. It''s about stock market scams during the 18th century, such as the "South Sea Bubble," which was run by group of British investors, known as the South Sea Trading Company. After bailing out the English government in 1711 to the tune of nine million pounds, the financiers received exclusive trading rights granted by the British government to the ports of Chile and Peru, where investors imagined piles of gold in South America. The South Sea Trading Company sold its shares in the trading rights to other investors with the promise that they had unfettered access to the burgeoning ports. In reality, governing Spain was only allowing one ship in and out a year.
Friday''s other comic opera is "Pimpinone," the story of a befuddled wealthy older business magnate who succumbs to the charms of a femme fatale. In an unusual move, it will be performed in English.
The Festival continues through August 10.