Chicago’s 2021 Bach Week Festival will arrive as a virtual two-concert series of free-to-view webcasts May 16 and 21 featuring instrumental and vocal music of the festival’s namesake, German Baroque composer Johann Sebastian Bach, plus a work by Bach contemporary Georg Philipp Telemann, in prerecorded and livestreamed performances.
Bach works will include a selection of chorales and chorale preludes for organ, an organ toccata, a harpsichord concerto, and a Brandenburg Concerto.
Internationally recognized young violist Matthew Lipman will make his Bach Week Festival debut as soloist in Telemann’s landmark Viola Concerto.
“We’re going Bach to basics in our first festival since the onset of the COVID-19 situation,” Richard Webster, Bach Week’s longtime music director, says. “The focus is squarely on J. S. Bach and a satisfying swath of his music.
“That said, we’ve also included the immensely enjoyable viola concerto by Bach’s friend and professional rival, Telemann,” Webster says. “It’s a work that guest soloist Matthew Lipman has performed to great acclaim with New York’s Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.”
Additional information about the webcasts can be found on the Evanston, Illinois-based festival’s website, bachweek.org.
The 2021 Bach Week Festival will be the 48th annual edition of what the Chicago Tribune has called “one of the most welcome rites of spring in Chicago area music.”
Bach Chorales and Organ Preludes
Bach harmonized more than 300 chorales for four-part choir, based on Lutheran hymn tunes. He also wrote some 200 chorale preludes for solo organ, based on the same melodies.
Chicago’s North Park University Chamber Singers and the Bach Week Festival Chorus, conducted by Julia Davids, North Park professor of music and director of choral activities, will sing six of those chorales in a prerecorded presentation streaming at 3 p.m. on Sunday, May 16.
During the webcast, each chorale will be followed by a prerecorded performance of the corresponding organ prelude, played on the organ at Boston’s historic Trinity Church.
Sharing keyboard duties are Bach Week’s Webster, music director and organist at Trinity Church, and his colleague Colin Lynch, the church’s associate director of music and organist.
Webster played organ (and harpsichord) at Evanston’s first Bach Week in 1974, which he helped organize while a senior at Northwestern University’s music school.
The chorales are “Komm, Gott Schöpfer, heiliger Geist” (Come, God, Creator, Holy Ghost), BWV 370; “Herr Gott, nun schleuss den Himmel auf” (Lord God, now open wide Thy heaven), BWV unknown; “Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme” (Awake, calls the voice to us), BWV 140; “Christ, unser Herr, zum Jordan kam” (Christ our Lord came to the Jordan), BWV 280; “Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ” (I call to you, Lord Jesus Christ), BWV 177; and “Valet will ich dir geben” (I want to bid you farewell), BWV 415.
The companion organ preludes are BWV 667, BWV 617, BWV 645, BWV 684, BWV 639, and BWV 735.
Webster says the organ selections present “a variety of styles, textures, and contrapuntal approaches, with a plethora of color opportunities, each one different from the others.”
Vibrant Violas, Organ, and Harpsichord
The festival will offer Bach’s organ Toccata in F Major, BWV 540; Telemann’s Concerto in G Major for Viola and Orchestra, TGWV51:G9; and Bach’s Concerto for Harpsichord and Orchestra in D Minor, BWV 1052; and Brandenburg Concerto No. 6 in B-flat Major, BWV 1051, at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, May 21, in livestream performances from Nichols Concert Hall in Evanston.
Webster will open the concert with the Toccata, one of Bach’s more familiar organ works, played on the hall’s fully restored, 1914 E. M. Skinner pipe organ. Webster describes the piece as “a rollicking triple-meter dance” that projects “a relentless harmonic kaleidoscope.”
Telemann’s Viola Concerto in G Major, believed to be the first concerto written for that instrument, is among the most popular of the prolific composer’s concertos. Musicologist Hellmuth Christian Wolff wrote that the four-movement piece, which alternates slow and fast movements, shows “the stamp of Telemann’s personal artistry” and “his understanding of the instrument in question and its tonal character.”
Lipman, the soloist, has been praised by The New York Times for his “rich tone and elegant phrasing.” Named the 2019 Artist-in-Residence for the American Viola Society, the Chicago native is the recipient of a prestigious 2015 Avery Fisher Career Grant. He performs regularly with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and at major music festivals such as Marlboro, Ravinia, and Music@Menlo.
Chicago’s versatile keyboard virtuoso David Schrader, a Bach Week favorite, will solo in Bach’s very first harpsichord concerto, considered one of his finest concertos for any instrument. According to Bach scholar Richard D. P. Jones, the work “conveys a sense of huge elemental power.”
Schrader has appeared with the Chicago, Colorado, Dallas, and San Francisco Symphonies; as soloist at four national conventions of the American Guild of Organists; and at a host of prestigious festivals.
In addition to the soloists, the viola and harpsichord concertos will include a string quintet of two violins, viola, cello, and double bass.
Lipman and rising young Chicago violist Beatrice Chen play starring roles in the concert’s finale, Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 6, notable for the prominence of violas and total absence of violins.
The concerto opens in lively and dramatic fashion, with the violists seeming to pursue each other in a follow-the-leader manner as each plays the melody. In the intimate slow movement, the sounds of the violas have been likened to human voices.
Chen, the concerto’s second violist, studies at the Curtis Institute of Music. A first-prize winner in a host of competitions, she has been heard on National Public Radio and Chicago’s WFMT and was featured on the 2020 HearNOW Gala of the Philadelphia Orchestra.
Bach Week Festival and Supporters
The Bach Week Festival is a collaboration between Bach Week and North Park University’s School of Music, Art, and Theatre.
The Bach Week Festival acknowledges support from The Illinois Arts Council Agency, The MacArthur Funds for Arts and Culture at The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation, The Howard and Ursula Dubin Foundation, The Elizabeth F. Cheney Foundation, and Bob and Margaret McCamant.
Founded in Evanston in 1974, the 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.