Harpsicordists Richard Webster and Jason Moy and other Bach Week musicians performing in 2011.                                     Photo by Burlingham Productions

Evanston’s 40th annual Bach Week Festival will present its signature blend of solo, concerto, orchestral, and choral performances April 19 and 21 and in Chicago May 5, the festival’s first foray into the Windy City.

Presiding over the proceedings will be Richard Webster, who helped organize and played harpsichord and organ in Evanston’s inaugural Bach Week in May 1974 at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church while a senior at Northwestern University’s music school. Mr. Webster, now music director at Boston’s historic Trinity Church, has served as festival music director since 1975.

Audiences will hear some J.S. Bach works performed as never before at the festival — on piano rather than harpsichord.

“At age 40, this is a music festival that still finds fresh ways to think inside the Bach,” Mr. Webster says.

Bach Week’s founder was Mr. Webster’s mentor, Karel Paukert, an organ professor at NU and organist and choirmaster at St. Luke’s. When Paukert left for Cleveland shortly after the first festival, Mr. Webster stepped into his music-director roles at Bach Week and at the church, where he remained until 2003.

A native of Nashville, Tenn., Mr. Webster recalls arriving in Evanston in 1970 as an NU music freshman. “I fell in love with it. Evanston is just about the ideal community. I thought, this is the place for me.”

‘Piano Will Be Forte’ at Festival

The sound of the “modern” piano, or pianoforte, has almost never been heard at Bach Week, harpsichord being the norm for musical and practical purposes. The last and only other time festival-goers heard piano was at a concert in the 1970s, Mr. Webster recalls.

“At this year’s festival, piano will be forte,” Mr. Webster says. “It will be a powerful presence in two of the main concerts.”

Bach Week’s opening concert at 7:30 p.m. on April 19 and a concert at 3 p.m. on April 21 will feature world-renowned guest pianist Sergei Babayan, of the Cleveland Institute of Music, who has made the music of Bach one of his specialties.

At both concerts, Mr. Babayan will perform on the Hamburg Steinway grand piano at Nichols Concert Hall at the Music Institute of Chicago, 1490 Chicago Ave.

On April 19, the audience will hear Babayan and an ensemble of string players perform Bach’s Concerto No. 1 in D Minor, BWV 1052; and Concerto No. 5 in F Minor, BWV 1056. Neither has been heard at the festival on piano.

Variety being a hallmark of the festival, the concert includes Bach’s cantata “Himmelskönig, sei willkommen” (King of Heaven, Welcome), BWV 182, for soloists, chorus, and orchestra.

French Delicacies Under Candlelight

Harpsichordist Jason Moy has prepared a French-flavored tribute to J.S. Bach for an intimate “Candlelight Concert” at 10 p.m. on April 19 in the Nichols Hall lobby.

Titled “Bach, Couperin, and the German ‘Art de Toucher le Clavacin,’” the 45-minute concert will explore the connection between J.S. Bach and the French harpsichord tradition.

“As if that’s not sweet enough, concertgoers will also be treated to complimentary Belgian chocolates and French sparkling wine,” Mr. Webster says.

Babayan Plays ‘Goldberg Variations’

On April 21, pianist Sergei Babayan will play Bach’s monumental “Goldberg Variations,” BWV 988, plus music by Franz Liszt and Olivier Messiaen, at a festival concert co-sponsored with the Music Institute of Chicago. The concert celebrates Bach Week’s 40th season, the 10th anniversary of Nichols Concert Hall, and the City of Evanston’s 150th birthday.

The “Goldberg Variations” have been heard only once before at Bach Week, about a dozen years ago, in a harpsichord performance, Mr. Webster says.

Debut at North Park University

Bach Week will present its first-ever concert in the city of Chicago at 2:30 p.m. on May 5, at North Park University’s Anderson Chapel, 4149 N. Spaulding Ave.

The concert, which features solo turns by musicians from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra — principal trumpet Christopher Martin and cellist Katinka Kleijn — is a partnership between Bach Week and North Park’s School of Music. 

The finale will be Bach’s Magnificat in D, BWV 243, a 12-movement work for vocal soloists, chorus, and orchestra.  The North Park University Chamber Singers will perform with the festival chorus.

Ticket Information is available at www.bachweek.org or by calling 800-595-4849.