Bach In Action
music education in the schools still lacks. here’s how the Carmel Bach Festival plans to help – and keep its tradition fresh and relevant for years to come
Thursday, July 12, 2012
The opening Saturday performance of last year’s Bach Festival, inside the acoustic chapel ribcage of the Sunset Center, served as introduction to the festival’s new music director and conductor, Paul Goodwin, and his concertmaster, Peter Hanson. The program ranged from a suite of sinfonias by Johann Sebastian Bach to Franz Josef Haydn’s The Seasons, but the most telling moment came in the middle of the program. George Frideric Handel’s “Zadok the Priest,” a grandiose piece of music that marshalled the full orchestra and chorale and chorus – a village of people on the stage – absolutely blasted the hall with sheer musical power.
Written for the coronation of George II in 1727, it’s been used for the crowning of every king of England since. But considering the delight and excitement incited by the festival’s new artistic leadership, and the conducting dexterity of Goodwin at that very moment, the music’s refrain of “And all the people rejoiced!” celebrated the coronation of a different type of royalty.
It’s a year later and Paul Goodwin is reclined on a sofa in the “conductor’s room” in the lower depths of Sunset Center. He’s dressed comfortably in a Bach Fest fleece top – he wears Doc Martens with this three-quarter-length jacket while conducting because they are comfortable, too – and talks quickly but eloquently. He just arrived from halfway around the world the night before.
“I was in Barcelona two days ago,” says Goodwin, a 55-year-old native of Kingston-upon-Thames, Surrey, England. “I was conducting a choir of 500 in a Brahms requiem. Lyon the week before that with the national orchestra. A couple of weeks before that I was in Minnesota with the Symphony Chamber Orchestra. I’m in Austria and Germany quite a lot.”
Later, he meets up with concertmaster Hanson, also a Brit who travels the world under the aegis of early and classical music, at the modest Bach Festival office next to the Sunset Center parking lot. They walk up to the plaza outside the performance hall, talking shop, catching up and sharing jokes. And then the two men who hold the reigns on one of the nation’s most prestigious music events walk up Ninth Avenue in search of coffee.
Last year, Hanson came to the Bach Festival, recruited by longtime collaborator Goodwin, straight off a 12-week tour with Peter Gabriel and an orchestra that he likened to Steve Reich or Philip Glass. This year he again came from a gig with Peter Gabriel (and the New Blood Orchestra), this time at the Hop Farm Festival in Kent, England, alongside George Clinton, Bob Dylan, My Morning Jacket, Ray Davies, Richard Ashcroft of the Verve, Suede and Damien Rice. Although both men are experts in early, baroque and classical music, they are on good terms with the spirit of popular music.
“We were the top… how is it called… we were the headliners,” Hanson says. He and his ensemble, Eroica, also played Cecilienhof Palace in Germany, site of the 1945 Potsdam Conference of Harry S. Truman, Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin after Germany’s surrender in World War II.
“I’m very pleased to be back,” Hanson says. “I can comfortably arrange the [program] to suit me and the festival. It’s a strong program that will appeal to many people.”
“My first impression last year,” Goodwin says, “was that you saw everyone waving to each other [at Sunset Center], like a family. It was a warm, lovely atmosphere.”
Their preferences and tastes will, over time, shape the Carmel Bach Festival, and as 24-year festival dramaturge and lecturer David Gordon puts it: “The institution is the people.”
And as Goodwin and Hanson enter their second year, alongside the leadership of the festival’s brand-new Executive Director Debbie Chinn, the trio seeks to bring more people and newer audiences into this grand institution than ever before.
The opening concert of the 75th Carmel Bach Festival is less than two weeks away and Associate Conductor and Chorale Director Andrew Megill is rehearsing, for the first time, the festival’s chorale group of about 28 singers who’ve flown in from across the country. They occupy a performance space beneath the chapel of All Saints Episcopal Church – one of seven festival venues – and they’ve just finished singing part of Bach’s Mass in B Minor, ending on a warm, glorious note.
After a break, Megill reintroduces the festival’s General Manager Elizabeth Pasquinelli, one of the small crew who work year-round to make the two weeks of music happen, and she introduces them, for the first time, to Chinn.
“I’ve been at the job 10 weeks,” Chinn tells them. “My bio is pretty dense with theater but I’ll never forget singing with the choir in grade school and high school, the sense of belonging, of ensemble. I remember how wonderful it was growing up around music… I’m looking forward to being with you and being a part of artistry.”
She told Megill that she would love to stay for their rehearsal of Bach’s G Minor Mass, but after her address, Pasquinelli ushers her on to the next thing – the certificate of appreciation she and festival board president David Nee, whose 4-year term is up, are scheduled to receive from the city of Carmel. She is on the move and has been since she touched down at Carmel Bach Fest.
Chinn studied piano early on, but a field hockey injury to her finger altered her trajectory away from professional musicianship. She chose theater instead and has built an impressive career in it, moving up through the American Conservatory Theatre to the board of Theatre Communications Group, from a panel reviewer for the National Endowment for the Arts to managing director of CENTERSTAGE. She’s also guided music organizations like the San Francisco Symphony and Philadelphia Orchestra, but says a theater experience most mirrors her vision at the Bach Festival: While managing director of California Shakespeare Theater she managed a $2 million budget, about the same as Bach Fest, and a program which can struggle to attract young audiences.
“Many people are afraid of Shakespeare and don’t understand it,” she says. “Bach can be the same way. There is so much tradition [at Bach Fest] and I respect, revere and honor it, but we can’t be anchored to it. At Cal Shakes, we had a saying: ‘We have to be nimble and bold and brave.’”
Reflecting the long-range ambition of previous executive director Camille Kolles, Chinn says she wants to make the Bach Festival more inclusive, accessible, affordable and youthful. She says she doesn’t want to reveal too much strategy, but points to her track record as evidence of what can be done, including doubling the Cal Shakes budget, guiding a capital campaign and revving up youthful enthusiasm.
“John Moscone, the artistic director, and I really worked to get younger people into Shakespeare,” she says. “I think my successes at Cal Shakes can be replicated at Bach. I don’t think audiences want to come back to the same thing year after year. Shakespeare audiences tend to be in their 60s and 70s, and very academic. But Cal Shakes is more 40s, and ethnically diverse. You get them a little bit at a time.”
So the question Chinn now faces is just that: How do you get “them” a little bit at a time, particularly given the fact the festival is presenting music that some find daunting, while fighting for audience attention among myriad offerings not only on the Peninsula, but on computer and television screens too?
The Carmel Bach Festival began life in 1935. If you do the math, that doesn’t quite square with a 75th birthday this year, but it lost some years due to blackouts during World War II. It was the idea of musician Dene Denny and painter and architect Hazel Watrous (she designed 36 homes in Carmel), entrepreneurs who came from prominent families and who settled in Carmel together in 1925. They entertained with “recitals, lectures and soirees,” according to Bach Festival literature, in their home called Harmony House – the Carmel Music Society also sprung from these, and survives today – and they formalized the musical gatherings into a three-day summer Bach festival in 1935.
It’s gone through many permutations over the years – most recently scaling back from a three-week festival into a more manageable and hopefully more recession-proof two weeks – but has only seen four music director/conductors: Gastone Usigli from 1938-1956; Sandor Salgo, who took the baton for 36 years; Bruno Weil from 1991-2010, and finally Paul Goodwin’s entry last year.
The format has remained steady, too. In this year’s festival, under the banner of “Spheres of Influence,” each day is anchored by a big main concert at Sunset Center, which is then repeated in week two. The main concerts open Saturday with the full orchestra, chorale, chorus and soloists performing Bach’s massive masterpiece, the Mass in B Minor, a majestic work of religious reverence. Sunday’s “The Power of Music, Old and New” finds a more gentle tone with two works by Handel, a new commissioned piece by composer Curt Cacioppo and Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D Major, known as the achingly pretty wedding favorite “Air on the G String.”
Concertmaster Peter Hanson’s Monday program, “Peter Hanson Goes Italian,” for which he also conducts, corrals composers including Corelli, Vivaldi, Bach and Astor Piazzolla, who was majorly influenced by Bach. David Gordon, festival dramaturge and lecturer and a Bach Fest mainstay for 24 seasons, believes the Tuesday main concerts should be favorites for both neophytes and veterans of the Bach Festival. Titled “Inside the Music: 75 Years of the Carmel Bach Festival,” it is a retrospective of the different music and composers of the life of the festival; Gordon narrates a multimedia show, with anecdotes and stories, accompanied by historical photos.
“It’s a great set-up for newbies to the festival, but the old-timers never feel talked down to,” Gordon says. (Read an interview with Gordon on next page.)
On Wednesdays, Andrew Megill conducts “Cathedral of Angels,” music from Latin America and Mexico that further illustrates the universality of Bach’s “Spheres of Influence.”
“There’s been a tendency to put classical music behind glass like a museum piece,” he says. “This is a wonderful opportunity to – with Latin American music – burst stereotypes. It takes the seriousness and artistry and combines it with the passion and rhythmic drive of folk music. The music of Latin America came from African, native, Cuban and aboriginal music. It’s visceral and direct. Like rock and jazz. Bach’s music is imprinted with dance.”
Thursday’s main concerts, “Baroque to Bluegrass,” push Bach’s reach further out to waters that embrace bluegrass and Bulgarian folk music, while Friday’s main concerts focus on “Music of Dance,” including pieces from Stravinsky’s neo-classical favorite Pulcinella, and one of the only American period-style takes on Brahms’s Symphony No. 2.
Goodwin says that the artistic leaders assembled – including Megill, Hanson, Gordon, chamber series director Allen Whear, principal keyboard Andrew Arthur, master-class director Michael Beattie, youth chorus conductor/director John Koza and Tower music director Suzanne Mudge – are “creative programmers in their own right.”
“There’s something for everybody,” Goodwin says.
That statement carries weight at the Carmel Bach Festival. The main evening concerts are supplemented with daytime chamber concerts and recitals at outlying venues like Pebble Beach’s Church in the Forest, with its soaring glass windows looking out to forest and sky; Carmel’s All Saints’ Episcopal Church, just a block away from the Sunset Center; Monterey’s historic San Carlos Cathedral Church and even the tiny but mightily high-tech Wave Street Studios. At these spots are a planned medley of superb and smaller performances: a sung program including Twelve Poems of Emily Dickinson by Aaron Copland; an afternoon of the Festival Youth Orchestra with piccolo; Virginia Best Adams Master Class of baroque masterpieces; baroque pieces on the organ, dueling mandolins and romantic strings; and works by Schubert, Haydn and Mozart, performed by festival musicians, singers and soloists who’ve flown in from across the world.
This year the Carmel Mission is undergoing roof renovations, so it won’t be host to any of the Bach Festival stuff, which is a shame for the loss of its irreplaceable sense of hallowed atmosphere and history. But the festival is relocating concerts that would have played at the mission, bringing them to Sunset Center and compensating with technology in the form of the LARES sound enhancement system, which some musicians and purists are against, but Goodwin is eager to explore.
“I’m working with the sound technician to rejuvenate the whole sound world,” he says, “to create a very resonant, cathedral-like sound. This hall [Sunset Center] was redesigned with assisted acoustics in mind. It has to accommodate lectures, pop concerts, be multi-functional. My preference is to perform in one of the great 17th century concert halls, but that’s not always possible. With the LARES, you shouldn’t know it’s there because it is very sophisticated.”
There are a bounty of free “Music and Ideas” events. This is where the outreach component of the Bach Festival shows itself.
“There are numerous schools that no longer have music,” Chinn says. “We’re in the second generation that didn’t have music in schools. That’s a tragedy. But I’m a woman on a mission.”
As part of that mission, contained in Music and Ideas, composer and violinist John Wineglass, who’s performed with Aretha Franklin and Whitney Houston, will deliver a presentation on “Bach in Hollywood Films.” Composer Curt Cacioppo will talk about how he reaches wider audiences with his music, and Todd Samra will talk to a panel of festival singers about “The Art of Being a Singer in the 21st Century.” Before each main concert are free lectures by Gordon, who may have the longest institutional memory of the festival’s artistic leadership. The visits by festival musicians to the young kids of the Youth Orchestra of Salinas (YOSAL) and the two community concerts outside of Carmel (only two thus far, though outreach happens elsewhere, less publicly), at Oldemeyer Center in Seaside and Salinas High School, take members of the festival’s professional ensemble out into the community that Chinn says is most lacking classical music culture.
“I’m not a proponent of ‘If you build it, they will come,’” Chinn says of outreach. “I find that obsolete and arrogant. I think we go out into the community.”
Goodwin adds: “We have to get young people if we’re going to move forward and have an audience.” There was a meeting back in May during which plans for 2013 were discussed, and this month there is a meeting about 2014 and 2015. The Carmel Bach Festival’s critical ear for music and culture is fortified by a strong vision that, after it looks back, looks ahead. Always ahead.
THE 75TH CARMEL BACH FESTIVAL takes place July 14-28, at Carmel and surrounding communities. Events range from free to $128. 624-1521, www.bachfestival.org