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.