Before the sun rises on Saturday in Boston, an ensemble of cellists led by James David Jacobs, (who will be “daylighting” from his usual post as evening host and producer for WGBH Classical New England,) will draw their bows and begin an extraordinary day of Bach concerts at the First Lutheran Church of Boston. From 6:00 am to 6:00 pm, “Bach Around the Clock” celebrates Johann Sebastian Bach’s 328th birthday (March 21, 1685) with a new event each hour: ten concerts, a children’s program (10:00 am) and a lecture/film presentation (2:00 pm).
This marks the fifth consecutive year that the American Guild of Organists and First Lutheran have collaborated to present a marathon day of Bach. This year, the annual event has attracted the attention of WGBH Classical New England and their Managing Director of Classical Services, Benjamin Roe. Together, all three organizations have greatly expanded the celebration, so that Saturday’s program promises dazzling traditional and provocative performances by musicians from near and far. The complete downloadable program is here.
Bach Around the Clock musicians include: archguitarist Peter Blanchette; Landmarks Brass performers Dana Oakes, Kevin Owen, Robert Couture and Donald Rankin, cellists Guy Fishman, J D Jacobs and Laurence Lesser; harpist Ina Zdorovetchi; harpsichordist Richard Egarr; mezzo-soprano Emily Marvosh; organists David Arcus, Bálint Karosi, Dexter Kennedy and Jacob Street; violist Lila Brown; violinist Susanna Ogata and, from the Donald Weilerstein studio at NEC, Hannah Choi, Brian Hong, Zenas Hsu and Qianqian Li.
This musical feast will be both live and virtual: every note of Saturday’s concerts will be streamed live on WGBH Classical New England. Click here for more details. Then, on March 21, Bach’s actual birthday, selections from the performances will be broadcast on 99.5FM and the four other Classical New England stations, including 88.7 WJMF in Providence. Internet aside, however, the finest experience is to be there in person for any or all of the concerts and events.
Although Bach did not travel beyond his native Germany, he keenly was interested in the music of other composers, both of his homeland and foreign. The only non-Bach music to be played in Saturday’s concerts will be organ transcriptions by Bach of Vivaldi (two concerti), Couperin, Ernst and others. Bálint Karosi, Hungarian-born first-prize winner at the 16th International Johann Sebastian Bach Competition in Leipzig, 2008, and Minister of Music at First Lutheran, will perform these at 7:00 am.
Laurence Lesser, noted cellist and President Emeritus of the New England Conservatory, will present Suite No. 1, BWV 1007, at the 3:00 pm concert. Two years ago Lesser played all six of the Bach suites, in one evening, in an acclaimed Jordan Hall performance. His engaging interview with BMInt prior to that performance can be read here.
The strong, personal theology of Lutheranism was central for Bach, who spent his prodigious life working mostly in churches. Boston’s First Lutheran Church, with a genesis traceable directly to the institution Bach knew, does not seem a far distance from Bach’s Thomaskirche in Leipzig. However, Bach is claimed most actively by musicians and music lovers. Regardless of creed, country or circumstance, people worldwide know, play and hear his music as their individual source of inspiration.
Saturday’s performers, players of Bach in an inestimable number of performances, collectively bring an incalculable group Bach experience to Bach Around the Clock. Listener will enjoy the rare, cumulative opportunity to hear his works for a variety of instruments, played by musicians who have trained in different countries and under somewhat differing schools of thought. The performances all are presented as a music gift to the people of Boston. We only can say thank you to these musicians and to the First Lutheran Church.
Many finely-crafted instruments will be heard in Saturday’s concerts. King among them of course is the organ: a superlative Baroque-style tracker-action instrument, built for First Lutheran by Richards, Fowkes & Co., of Tennessee, and installed in 2000, with three final three reed stops added in 2010. A complete description of this organ and also recordings can be found here. Indeed, Bach’s lifetime renown for unprecedented ability as an organist—player, composer and improviser—is celebrated Saturday with four organ recitals.
Who else but Bach could write an exhilarating, complicated, virtuosic organ fugue that begins, (in movable do) with do re mi re/ do re mi re/ do re mi re/ do re mi re do? The Prelude and Fugue in D Major, BWV 532, is the concluding work in Jacob Street’s (Trinity Church Organ Scholar) 4:00 pm recital.
Listeners are advised that the final two concerts of the day have been reversed in order: Jacob Street’s recital will be at 4:00 pm and the Handel & Haydn concert will be at 5:00 pm.
Admission to Bach Around the Clock is free (donations are appreciated), and the public is invited to attend all or part of the day. The full schedule of events and pertinent information is found at BMInt Event calendar, at WGBH Classical New England [here]and, at First Lutheran’s website here. Concertgoers may also enjoy the traditional German lunch served by the church from 12 – 2pm ($15). Click here for details.
Joyce Painter Rice, an organist, recitalist, choral conductor and sometime concert organizer, has served in music capacities in a wide range of religious institutions. She is devoted to music for the organ and shares that concern through volunteering in the American Guild of Organists and at the Methuen Memorial Music Hall, home of the Great Organ.