The joy of hearing a full day of the dazzling music of Johann Sebastian Bach awaits all at “Boston Bach Birthday 330” on Saturday, March 21st. Held at the First Lutheran Church of Boston, this birthday observance opens at 9:00 with a children’s event followed by ten concerts of the master’s works before concluding at 6:30. The performers include internationally renowned artists and four students from distinguished schools of music. The day of tribute to Bach continues at Emmanuel Church with Emmanuel Music’s 8:00 pm performance of the St. John Passion.
In homage to the universality of Bach’s music, admission to BBB330 is free, and all are invited to attend. The schedule, complete with repertoire, is found [here]. Contributions are greatly appreciated to help defray expenses and may be made either at the door or online. Reservations for noontime sustenance in the form of a German lunch, prime balcony seating, and contributions may be made [here].
Boston Bach Birthday began in 2009 (BBB324) as a collaboration of the American Guild of Organists, Boston Chapter, and the First Lutheran Church. Two organists, Joyce Painter Rice and Bálint Karosi, who is Music Director at First Lutheran, have been the primary planners. Now in its seventh consecutive year, the collaboration has continued and the celebration has expanded. In 2013, all the concerts were webcast live on WCRB online; Emmanuel Music and other musical groups have become helping partners.
Much of the credit for the continuing success of BBB goes to the members of First Lutheran and its pastor, the Rev. Ingo Dutzmann. Their multi-faceted support is a gift. “Bach appreciation” runs high in this congregation, and it’s far more than a nod to Bach as a devout Lutheran and serious student of Martin Luther’s writings.
The guest of honor at BBB330 will be Arvid Gast, the titular organist at St. Jakobi church in Lübeck, a famous church with two organs dating from the 1600s. During a typical year over 100 concerts are given on these instruments by visiting organists from all over the world, students from the conservatory, and church staff. Every three years, Professor Gast convenes the jury for the International Dieterich Buxtehude Organ Competition, which he founded in 2007. Professor Gast also is Director of the Church Music Institute at Lübeck’s Musikhochschule. From 1993-2004, prior to going to Lübeck, he was Professor of Organ Performance at the Hochschule für Musik und Theater “Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy” and University Organist in Leipzig. For BBB330 he will improvise a hymn accompaniment at 10:50 a.m. and present the closing recital, at 5:30 p.m.
Bálint Karosi, composer, organist, and First Lutheran’s Music Director, also has a Leipzig connection. In 2008 he was First Prize winner of the XVI International J S Bach Competition in Leipzig. A composer with widening recognition for his works, he has received several commissions from his native Budapest. The Boston Modern Orchestra Project’s recent premiere performance of his Existentia—In Memory of Sándor Weöres was reviewed by BMInt [here]. A central figure for Boston Bach Birthday 330 and a person of enormous talent, Karosi will conduct Cantata 214 in the morning, play The Art of Fugue for his organ recital at 2:25 p.m., and improvise a hymn accompaniment at 4:20 p.m.
Peep the Piper, the 9:00 a.m. children’s event, is a multimedia creation of the innovative Swiss organist-composer Guy Bovet. (BMInt followers also recently read of another of Bovet’s compositions in the review of Cameron Carpenter’s organ master-class [here]. Written in 1976, Peep has timeless elements of a good story about a lost, little organ pipe and appeals to people of all ages. For its fourth appearance at Boston Bach Birthday, Jonathan Wessler will be the organist and John Robinson the narrator. The two are Assistant Organist and Music Director at St. Paul’s Church and Choir School, in Harvard Square. After the performance, children will be invited upstairs to the organ loft for a close-up look at the organ.
The superb instrumentalists and harpsichordist performing solo concerts for BBB330 are: Kate Arndt, violin (NEC), at 10:25 a.m.; Dylan Sauerwald harpsichord, and Héloïse Degrugillier, flute, at 1:35 p.m.; Héloïse Degrugillier, Emily O’Brien, and Roy Sansom, in a trio of recorders, “Three Part Fugue”, at 3:35 p.m.; and Allison Drenkow, cello (NEC), at 3:50 p.m.
At 11:10 a.m. the First Lutheran choir, soloists and period orchestra, conducted by Mr. Karosi, will be heard in Cantata BWV 214, Tönet, Ihr Pauken! Erschallet, Trompeten! Bach reworked parts of this secular cantata for his Christmas Oratorio. Brian McCreath, host of “The Bach Hour” on WCRB Classical Music/99.5, will introduce the cantata prior to the performance. Current plans are that WCRB also will broadcast the performance live.
Bach’s fame during his lifetime was primarily as an organist; BBB330 celebrates that with organ recitals from Yevgenia Semeina-Maroyan (St. Petersburg, Russia/Arlington Street Church, Boston) at 9:45 a.m.; Stephan Griffin (Boston University) at 12:45 p.m.; and Katelyn Emerson (Oberlin College and Conservatory of Music) at 4:35 p.m (in addition to those of Karosi and Gast).
Your writer believes that the First Lutheran Church building itself enhances the experience of a prolonged concert. Built in 1954-1957, the building is a performance venue for numerous musical groups. The architect was Pietro Belluschi, who was 55 at the time of this project and Dean of the MIT School of Architecture and Planning. The straightforward building is, proportioned like a shoebox turned on its narrow side—ideal for a concert hall. The surfaces are hard, with no carpet or upholstery. The front and rear walls of brick are finished with modern-yet-intricate, vertical woodwork. The elegant organ presides from the rear balcony. On the right side, the rear balcony extends to a narrow side balcony that runs most of the length of the building which often is used for multiple choirs. Belluschi, at age 70 was the architect for Alice Tully Hall, NYC, and at age 82 he was one of the jury of eight who selected the design for the Vietnam War Memorial Wall, Washington, DC. Mention of the Wall brings us back to First Lutheran, where the two side walls are perhaps the buildings most distinctive features. The left wall is of solid, handsome brick and the right wall is mostly large rectangular latticework surrounding differing shades of amber glass. Beyond this glass is the ample, square outdoor courtyard, which is another great feature of this building. The visual aspects of the church interior change subtly throughout the day as light filters through the glass. Each stage of daylight, especially the late afternoon, is beautiful to behold. The building is an inner sanctum yet ever changing through the filtered wall of light. The music of Bach becomes a personal, evolving inner sanctum whether one is playing or listening. Boston Bach Birthday is held in the perfect venue.
In numerous locations across the world, from Bach’s own St. Thomas Church in Leipzig all the way to St. Paul’s Cathedral, Wellington, New Zealand, concerts of Bach’s music are held on March 21. Boston too is a distinguished destination on this day. Come and enjoy BBB330.