Arts & Culture Blog
Maestro Paul Goodwin Talks About the 75th Carmel Bach Festival
July 12, 2012
Last Saturday, Paul Goodwin conducted one of the popular and free open rehearsals of the Carmel Bach Festival with the orchestra and chorale and choir singers at Sunset Center, accompanied by a few hundred onlookers. Everyone was dressed weekend casual and Goodwin, who was micced for sound, spoke plainly to the audience in between giving direction to his musicians and consulting with Director of the Chorale and Chorus Andrew Megill and sound engineers. They were rehearsing Bach's Mass in B Minor.
"There's 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 bars of this trumpet going bada-be-da-baba-be-da-bada-be-da," he says, seemingly talking to both singers and musicians and the audience at the same time. "It has nothing to do with anything else. It's absolutely genius."
He starts the orchestra on rehearsing a measure of an instrumental passage, then he stops them. He has the string bass player repeat the deep opening notes, which sets the rhythm of the movement.
"That's that engine," Goodwin tells the audience, "that holds it together."
From the center of the lip of the stage, Goodwin turns from his musicians and singers and asks something about the sound of Sunset Center's house technician Erin Barlowe, who is standing in the back, behind the audience members.
"No, I brought it down!" Barlowe yells back. He is not micced.
"You brought it down," Goodwin confirms, then talks to the audience again. "So you're in a small church. I promise you for the performance you'll be in a big church."
"Paul's made some intelligent choices," Barlowe says. "He's got a really good ear."
So does Megill, who stalks the aisles of the hall while Goodwin conducts the musicians and singers through parts of the Mass, which is to be the opener for the 75th iteration of the festival. He moves along, then listens, moves along, then listens.
"I'm listening to the choir," Megill says. "The sound of the different parts of the choir, speech, diction, shape."
Later, Megill—who has a dog named Sebastian, named after J.S. Bach—walks down the aisle to the stage towards Goodwin, accompanied by Barlowe, and the three men consult about the sound. This open rehearsal was very much centered around the sound, but it was also a display of the openness and accessibility that the artistic leaders of the festival have touted will be a hallmark in years to come.
Days after that Saturday open rehearsal, right after a Tuesday tech rehearsal of Mozart's The Magic Flute, Goodwin expounded on more of the ideas and goals swirling through and around the Carmel Bach Festival.
"My view of [Bach's] B Minor, as with many things, is not at all traditional," he said. "I'm looking at the fact that the B Minor was never performed in its entirety because it was too long. Every movement comes from a different stage in his life, it's a culmination. Because of that, you have to approach every piece as if it was something separate. Then you weave it together into a larger architecture. For me, a kaleidoscope of universal architecture."
The accessibility of the open rehearsals, it turns out, is deliberate.
"I always wanted to make music accessible to the public," he says. "The mechanism, the personality of the players, their skills, deconstruction and reconstruction of the music, the art of what a conductor does, all of which enhances the enjoyment of the performance more. It's a win-win situation. Hopefully, people love it so much they bring their friends for the concerts. I don't like the 'them' and 'us' approach, the distance between performer and audience."
Goodwin says that in the days before the start of the festival, he's feeling "very positive and slightly apprehensive" because there is much to do in the way of staging, the variety of programs, details and energy.
"It's a big task for everyone. I have a wonderful set of singers and players and they're throwing themselves into everything at a very high standard. You list the 101 things you want to get through and tick off the boxes, if you will, getting the positioning of everyone right, how the acoustic shell works."
He comes with a high level of musical pedigree. Goodwin was a world authority on early oboe and a principal oboist with London Classical Players before he launched his conducting career in 1996, wherein he began collaborating with world-class artists like Joshua Bell and Kiri Te Kanawa and conducting for many acclaimed symphonies. His accomplishments are myriad. That, coupled with lessons from last year's Bach Festival and his exuberant conducting style, add up to a rich experience he brings to this season's programs.
"[In concert], the conductor takes on a performance role. Hopefully you are the driving force, you enable the performers to reach new heights of skill and emotion [which] goes over the head of conductor to the audience. You have a high percentage in your mind of what's going on, the microcosm and macrocosm. All sorts of unpredictable things can happen, like dominoes. You're in charge of how that goes, trying to energize everyone, being spontaneous about the music making, reacting to what's going on behind you [in the audience]. It's an enormous privilege to be part of that."
His indulgence with the audience is mirrored in his free thinking about music, in particular regarding the lines—or his dismissal of such—between early, classical, contemporary, folk and pop music.
"I don't have any lines at all," he says. "I know people have purist views about things, but it's all music. Some people like it, some people don't. Particularly with Bach, he's a composer that most pop, jazz and folk musicians know and have respect for, and the great ones are influenced by. [Bach] is a fundament of music for all centuries. I'm not worried about stepping over the lines. I'm interested in how music works.”
One way that manifests itself in the festival is his commission of a new work by composer Curt Capiocco, whom Goodwin says has written for big orchestras, has a deep knowledge of baroque (Goodwin pronounces it, in his British accent, like “Barack”), and knows jazz. And it’s Goodwin's embrace of new music that might offer clues as to how he might color the festival in years to come.
“At the moment, in Great Britain, there's an enormous flowering of contemporary music. We've gotten over being tied to a particular style or school; they write what they feel. From Thomas Ades, Sally Beamish, there are 30 top British composers. Jonathan Dove, [who wrote] an opera called Flight. They are less refined than the rest of Europe. The other place great composers are coming out of is America.”
“I’m happy that what I did last year was the starting point,” he says. “I think everyone understands the way I work. I’m going to carry on doing what I’m doing.”
People like what Goodwin is doing. Toward the end of the open rehearsal of Bach’s Mass in B Minor on Saturday, an attendee, a woman named Inge, left the concert hall to make an appointment. She said she’s been attending the Carmel Bach Festival since 1969, and that her husband, at one time, taught German to the choir.
“I loved [former music director and conductor] Sandor Salgo because he was very romantic,” she said. “But it didn’t fit Bach because Bach is so intellectual, so comprehensive, Salgo interpreted him too romantic. Bruno [Weil] took it too far, took out the warmth. Paul brings it to the people, makes it more accessible.”
Asked why that mattered, Inge said, “You saw in the audience [back at the open rehearsal], everybody had gray hair or no hair. The young people don’t really come to these concerts. It’s important for young people to come to this. This music goes deep, almost on a cellular level.”