in: News & Features

March 14, 2017

Another All-Day Bach Bash

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Richards, Fowkes organ (BMInt staff photo)

In celebration of another birthday of Johann Sebastian Bach, the First Lutheran Church of Boston hosts the ninth annual Boston Bach Birthday on Saturday, March 18, 2017. Presented jointly by First Lutheran and the Boston Chapter of the American Guild of Organists, Boston Bach Birthday 332 will feature organists, instrumentalists, vocalists, and one renowned researcher to celebrate the music of the greatest Lutheran composer. As always, all musical events are free and open to the public, and concertgoers may come and go as they please. A compendium with minute-by-minute listings is HERE.

Each year the Boston Bach Birthday prominently features First Lutheran Church’s brilliant Richards, Fowkes & Co. opus 10 pipe organ. Known as “Boston’s Bach organ,” it replicates more precisely than any other organ in the city the sounds with which Bach would have been familiar. Five of the day’s events feature this instrument, including for children, a dramatic reading of Casey at the Bat with the organ pitching. This year’s organists, John Robinson, Brink Bush, and Jonathan Wessler, as well as Jennifer Hsaio, Laura Gullett, and Khristian Erich Bauer-Rowe of Christian Lane’s Boston Organ Studio, and Christopher Holman, will interpret eight large-scale preludes, toccatas, fantasias, and fugues, as well as smaller-scale chorale preludes and free pieces.

Lest the public think that Bach’s music is restricted to the organ alone, the day’s program also features several instrumentalists. Harpsichordist Bálint Karosi will team up with Bach researcher Christoph Wolff in a combination recital/dialogue on some of Bach’s harpsichord works. Karosi will later join violinist Kate Arndt in the Violin Sonata in B- Minor with obbligato harpsichord. Flautist Gergely Ittzés of Budapest offers three intriguing solo partitas: one by Bach, one composed in 2003 by Anthony Newman in the Bach style, and a compilation of Bach violin sonata movements transcribed by Ittzés for flute. And Baritone Ethan Sagin intones three solo cantatas by Bach and his contemporaries, including Telemann’s “Kanarievogel-Kantate,” a tragicomedy wherein the soloist mourns the death of his artistic canary.

The festivities close with a complete Vespers service modeled after those Bach might have held in the 1730s. Carolyn Balkovetz and a period orchestra will give Bach’s cantata for Oculi (the third Sunday in Lent), Widerstehe doch der Sünde, BWV 54. The service also includes the First Lutheran Church Choir singing a Psalm-motet by Andreas Hammerschmidt and a stunning, string-accompanied Magnificat by Heinrich Schütz. Congregational chorales and the organ Prelude & Fugue in E Minor (Wedge) will complete the Vespers.

FLC will host an echt German lunch beginning at noon in the FLC undercroft. Tickets at $15 are here. More on the event is here.

6 Comments [leave a civil comment (others will be removed) and please disclose relevant affiliations]

  1. Bach actually hated the organ because of its limitations. I would have wished to hear this program played upon the magnificent organ in Boston Symphony Hall, originally built be the great G.Donald Harrison who built the Mormon Tabernacle Organ,Riverside Church in NY,,and many other masterpieces,,rather than on an instrument built to duplicate the limitations and sounds in the low wind pressure,mechanical action and unsteady wind issues of his day in which in frustration,,he would throw his wigs at it yelling his frustration at the best it could do. Anyway have a great time,,then move on(to B.S.H.!

    Comment by David Snyder — March 14, 2017 at 2:16 pm

  2. Apparently “alternative facts” (you know, the kind with no actual confirmation in the real world) are invading the music-loving world. In case anyone is wondering what Bach actually thought of the organ (or any other instrument, for that matter), I would recommend reading Peter Williams’s final book on Bach, which deals considerably with the relationship between his music and his media. And why would a composer spend much of his last years on earth writing and revising for keyboard instruments – organ and harpsichord – if he didn’t feel that the ones that then existed were an ideal medium for his genius. Speculating on what he might have thought of the Mormon Tabernacle organ or a Steinway concert grand piano is totally irrelevant anyway, since such things didn’t exist in his life or world.

    Comment by Barbara Owen — March 15, 2017 at 3:57 pm

  3. Well now! It would appear that Mr. Snyder has survived into the early decades of this new millennium in willing, vigorous ignorance of what Thüringen’s famous native wanted from the organs he played. Among these characteristics, of course, were superlative voicing of individual ranks, a sane apportionment of principal-flute-mutation-reed ranks among two or three manual divisions and a robust pedal, and individual organ builders’ realization of their instruments’ need of expressive winding.

    Though G. Donald Harrison, bless his genius, always imposed his own strong and æsthetically consistent tonal vision, he was wonderfully appreciative of other, earlier builders’ successes. It feels a little pre-pubescent – pardon there, couldn’t resist – to invoke him when the organ in question – Richard, Fowkes’ brilliantly conceived Op. 10 – continues to draw acclaim from well-informed, highly critical folks from around the world. Even gifted students, affectively inclined and possessed of good sense in registration, elicit listenable, sometimes quite moving sounds from Opus X.

    Perhaps Mr. Snyder prefers to drip battery acid, rather than to acknowledge others’ truly informed perceptions of a modest, startlingly beautifully voiced organ in its intimate acoustic. Minority opinions, naturally, are always worth a quick scan, before crumpling and tossing.

    Comment by Christopher Greenleaf — March 15, 2017 at 4:06 pm

  4. In response to Mr. Snyder’s comment – any brief journey onto the internet, or better still, a few hours spent in the library, would help you to understand that you are simply mistaken about Bach not liking the Organ. As someone who enjoys playing his music on all sorts of organs I can understand your preference for hearing Bach’s works presented in a modern voice, but there are things that simply cannot be done or heard on 20th century instruments. My colleagues above have already pointed out many of these facts. The organ at First Lutheran is one of the great jewels of many in the crown that is Boston- there are many-the Symphony Hall organ, the E.M. Skinner at Old South, the Fisk at Old West, the Gilbert/Smith at Saint Cecilia ‘s- I could go on and on. Perhaps the one fact that should be over arching in everyone’s mind regarding this wonderful event should be that it’s happening at all. The music, art and indeed world of the organ is very fragile-the last thing we need is more negativity! By the way- have you been to the event in the past? It’s rather remarkable – almost transcendent- especially if you spend the whole day there – Go! You will be welcomed.

    Comment by Peter Krasinski — March 15, 2017 at 4:45 pm

  5. In response the the above comments regarding the organs at Symphony Hall and at First Lutheran Church in Boston, I would like to point out that the narrow-minded perspectives and negativity expressed, are part of the situation in which non-organist musicians find it hard to understand the organ as a musical instrument, and thereby prefer to ignore organ music than respond to the instrument’s musical offerings. The infighting within the organ world, as expressed above, serves to turn people off from hearing the great wealth of repertoire played on the “King of Instruments”, whatever form that takes. The most frequent response I get when I invite non-organists to an organ recital is “Oh, I am not an organist”, as if you have to have an insider’s knowledge to understand what you are hearing. Is this true, in the same way, for an orchestra or choral program, to which people attend simply for the pleasure of listening? We, in the organ world, need to educate our listeners to hear organ music as music and judge for themselves what they like and don’t like, without pelting them with our negativity, and limited perspectives. Individual organs may have their strengths and weaknesses, but can we simply appreciate them for what they offer without contaminating an uninitiated listening public with our pre-conceived notions? I challenge listeners to open their ears, hear instruments afresh and appreciate a program for what it says and for what the musician expresses on whatever instrument.

    Comment by Robert Barney — March 16, 2017 at 10:35 am

  6. We are so fortunate to hear Bach all day each March at First Lutheran in Boston (299 Berkeley Street). Starting at 8 a.m. and concluding at 5 p.m. on Saturday, March 18th, people can listen to concerts of music so rich in content that passions still fly 267 years after the composer’s death. Come hear what all the fuss is about.

    Comment by Louise Mundinger — March 16, 2017 at 5:42 pm

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