Evanston-based Bach Week Festival’s 2020 Bachanalia, its fourth annual fall fundraiser featuring pairings of classical music with wines selected for the occasion by an advanced sommelier, will take place this season as a free, prerecorded online video presentation premiering at 3 p.m. (CDT) on Sunday, October 18, via Facebook and YouTube. Links will be posted on the festival’s website, bachweek.org.
Performers will include festival favorites of international stature from the Chicago area, including string trio Black Oak Ensemble, cellist David Cunliffe, soprano Josefien Stoppelenburg with harpsichordist Stephen Alltop, plus Boston-based organist and choirmaster Richard Webster, Bach Week’s longtime music director.
Carl Grapentine, veteran WFMT Chicago radio personality and J. S. Bach aficionado, will host the program.
The event title combines the last name of German Baroque composer J. S. Bach, the festival’s namesake, and “bacchanalia,” the ancient Roman festival of entertainment and revelry named for Bacchus, Roman god of wine.
Bach Week’s wine consultant for the event, Mike Baker, an Advanced Sommelier in the Court of Master Sommeliers and lead buyer for Vin Chicago, confers with the musicians, listens to recordings, and researches the music prior to selecting wines intended to echo the flavor of the pieces to be performed.
For those who want to imbibe at home, Baker’s wine recommendations will be posted in advance on Bach Week’s website, along with a companion video in which he describes how his choices pair with the characteristics of the musical selections.
The online Bachanalia, necessitated by public health restrictions, will run approximately 45 minutes and will continue to be available for free on-demand streaming after its October 18 release.
Donations will be solicited during the virtual Bachanalia to support the spring 2021 Bach Week Festival — the 48th edition of what the Chicago Tribune has called “one of the most welcome rites of spring in Chicago area music.”
Preludes, Variations, and Arias
The music program will open with Webster playing three chorale preludes from J.S. Bach’s Orgelbüchlein (Little Organ Book) on the Richards, Fowkes & Co. pipe organ at Boston’s First Lutheran Church. The instrument, Webster notes, is a mechanical-action tracker organ, a design that harkens back to Bach’s era.
Webster will play “Der Tag, der ist so freudenreich” (The day is so full of joy), BWV 605; “Christum, wir sollen loben schon” (We should indeed praise Christ), BWV 611; and “In dir ist Freude” (In you is joy), BWV 615.
Each of these short pieces, Webster says, showcases different organ colors and techniques.
Internationally renowned Black Oak Ensemble, hailed for its “insightful, committed, masterful performances” (Classics Today), will play three movements from Bach’s Goldberg Variations, BWV 988, using Dmitry Sitkovetsky’s string trio arrangements of the solo harpsichord work. They’ll play the Aria (the set’s opening theme) and Variations 1 and 2.
Ensemble members are violinist Desirée Ruhstrat, violist Aurélien Fort Pederzoli, and cellist Cunliffe. Ruhstrat and Cunliffe are also members of the Grammy-nominated Lincoln Trio.
In addition, Cunliffe will perform, as soloist, the Sarabande and Gigue movements from Bach’s Cello Sonata No. 3 in C Major, BWV 1009.
Stoppelenburg, a Dutch soprano praised for “her creamy tone, dead-on accuracy and dramatic interpretation” (Chicago Classical Review), will sing two selections from Bach’s 1725 Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach, a collection of works Bach assembled for his second wife. She’ll sing the well-known aria “Bist du bei mir” (If you are with me), BWV 508, and Recitative and Aria from the church cantata “Ich habe genug” (I have enough), BWV 82.
She will be accompanied by Alltop, who made his Chicago Symphony Orchestra subscription concert debut as a harpsichord soloist in 2009 playing Bach with conductor Pinchas Zukerman.
The vocal selections are a nod to future Bach Week Festival programming, which will include concerts highlighting music written by or for women associated with J.S. Bach and his legacy.
In that vein, Webster will close the program with German Romantic composer and pianist Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel’s Prelude in G Major for organ, from 1829, a recessional she composed for her own wedding. Webster will perform it on the Romantic-style Skinner organ at Boston’s historic Trinity Church on Copley Square, where he serves as music director.
Fanny was the gifted sister of composer Felix Mendelssohn, who is widely credited with launching the early 19th-century Bach revival. A child prodigy, she learned piano in the Berlin Bach tradition from her mother and could play all 24 preludes from Bach’s The Well-Tempered Clavier from memory by age 14.
Bach Week’s 2021 Festival
Plans for the 2021 Bach Week Festival currently include concerts Tuesday, May 18, and Friday, May 21, at Nichols Concert Hall in Evanston.
Among featured performers will be international concert pianist Sergei Babayan, a Bach Week favorite and exclusive Deutsche Grammophon recording artist heard on critically acclaimed albums with pianists Martha Argerich and Daniil Trifonov, and most recently, a recording of Rachmaninov works for solo piano. Gramophone magazine calls Babayan “an imaginative artist” with “a reputation among connoisseurs.”
Festival details will be available at bachweek.org.
The festival is a collaboration between Bach Week and North Park University’s School of Music, Art, and Theatre.
Covid-19 restrictions during spring 2020 forced the cancellation of the Bach Week Festival for the first time since its founding in Evanston in 1974. Bachanalia 2020 is Bach Week Festival’s first online concert, making its programming available to Bach lovers globally.
Bach Week Festival is one of the Midwest’s premiere Baroque music festivals. The event enlists musicians from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Lyric Opera of Chicago Orchestra, and other top-tier ensembles, while featuring some of the Chicago area’s finest instrumental and vocal soloists and distinguished guest artists from out of town.