The Carmel Bach Festival returns this month to make good on promises of recent years: to be more accessible and inclusive; to present the most vital music they can; to deliver this bounty to more people. And they are putting their money where their promises are.
Executive Director Debbie Chinn, one year into her job, has canvassed the county and beyond to introduce herself, but in quick succession to re-introduce this evolving Bach Festival and its new gospel: This treasure should be shared.
“Study Bach,” Johannes Brahms said. “There you will find everything.”
This year’s program focuses on French composers. It can stretch out like that because, as Brahms stated, all proceeding music emanates from Bach. So expect to hear Berlioz, Saint-Saens, Fauré and Bizet among the Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Vivaldi and Musgrave.
The festival is offering more affordable tickets – at last – and they are sweet deals. Active or retired military and students with valid ID can contact the box office (624-1521) to purchase $20 tickets to “any performance” (barring the Best of the Fest), while families with kids 5 and up can buy as many as six tickets at $15 each. Folks 22-45 can buy tickets for $30. There is a Pick 5 deal in which anyone can bundle five of the concerts for $100. Some of these concerts (the program repeats itself in week two), range $29 to $85, so these tickets pay off.
The festival runs July 13-27, but that’s preceded by a week of free open rehearsals, vocal classes and lectures July 6-12. The first is a free open rehearsal 10am this Saturday (but come at 9:30am for a talk by festival dramaturge David Gordon) at Sunset Center, where conductor Paul Goodwin and his orchestra practice pieces by Faure, Bach and excerpts from Bizet’s Carmen. These get jam packed; go and you’ll know why.
On Sunday, July 7, at 4pm, the Young Musicians Showcase at Church of the Wayfarer, led by Gordon – you’ll see his name prominently as this is his 25th festival year – corrals middle and high school audition winners in Baroque pieces. On July 8, watch and hear as associate conductor Andrew Megill and Gordon (see?) coach the Virginia Best Adams vocal master class open sessions, which offer a peek at the fine tunings of festival soloist singers. More pre-fest intrigue follows, like Emmy-winning musician John Wineglass’s “Bach to Modern Music and Hip-Hop” on July 11.
One of Chinn’s crusades this year was to establish the Ambassadors team, influential and connected younger people that can advocate for the festival, and lend it some of their fun and cool aura (although big, burly, friendly violinist Edwin Huizinga had enough to spare a couple years ago when he got into the highly secretive Red Hot Chili Peppers gig at Henry Miller Memorial Library).
“Our musicians are hilarious,” Chinn says, “but you wouldn’t know that from their formal clothes. So after certain performances there will be ‘hot spots’ where you can talk to them, hang out. They’ll be in their street clothes.”
As they were in 2011 on the Sunset Center stage when conductor Goodwin had musicians and singers in street clothes for Bach’s Passion of Christ.
Inside the festival, 20 – and 30-somethings are running visible and engaging programs, and new fellowships have brought even younger CSUMB students into the fold. So there’s an upwelling of youthful energy (and social media and word of mouth, they hope).
The festival is deputizing their own musicians to invite people who’ve never been before because, as Chinn puts it, “We are eager to broaden our reach to all constituencies who are not currently reflected in our audiences.”
They’re deepening their relationships to Rancho Cielo and YOSAL in Salinas, and Oldemeyer Center in Seaside. The festival is six months into a residency at Rancho, and are working with Ken James, son of Ewalker James, to maintain a post-festival presence at Oldemeyer Center.
Each of the daily main concerts is preceded by a talk with Gordon that is always free. And the festival website contains a “glossary of musical terms” page to further build a bridge between the music and the people.
And good for them for all this effort at sharing the riches of Bach and company. Everyone touts music’s universality, its harmony, its transcendence – Bach above others – so it seemed an embarrassing human foible that the composition of the festival audience didn’t seem to reflect those ideals. Like that saying about the most segregated hour in America being during church service on Sunday. Elderly and monied festival goers, who have sustained Carmel Bach over its 76 years, have even commented on the “sea of white hair” they sit among, knowing it doesn’t bode well for the longevity of their beloved tradition.
“When you come to the festival,” Chinn says, “you’ll see a younger demographic. After the festival, you won’t have this sudden drop.” She plunges her hand down as she says it. Then she lifts her hands higher, as if they were floating up on a rising tide. “You’ll see more of a continuous presence.”
Her energy mirrors that of Goodwin. And Chinn looks like a conductor of sorts, adding color and energy to the bigger score of the Carmel Bach Festival.
THE CARMEL BACH FESTIVAL pre-festival events run July 6-11 in Carmel. Tickets at Carmel Bach Festival offices, Cottage 16, Sunset Center, Tenth and Mission, Carmel. 624-1521, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.bachfestival.org