Every year since 2009, the First Lutheran Church of Boston has presented the Boston Bach Birthday, a day-long celebration of the Johann Sebastian Bach and his music. On Saturday March 23rd, beginning at 8am and continuing through the end of the 5pm Vespers, we recognize his 334th with solo and chamber performances by organists, instrumentalists, and one singer. Apart from the German lunch and balcony seating ($15 and $20 respectively at the door), admission is free (though donations are gratefully accepted). While some listeners stay for the whole day, and others attend one or two events, all invariably experience musical and spiritual satisfaction.
This year’s slate features First Lutheran’s world-class Baroque organ, built by Richards, Fowkes & Co. in 2000. The only organ in the Boston area built uncompromisingly in the North German Baroque style, it renders the music of Bach and Baroque composers with the sounds they themselves heard. Organists and organ aficionados come to Boston from all corners of the globe to experience what is known colloquially as “Boston’s Bach Organ,” and last year it was the centerpiece of the Boston Bach International Organ Competition (BBIOC). This year four programs will feature the organ: Lorraine Mihaliak (8am), Robert August (11am), Bálint Karosi (1:15pm, along with soprano Audrey Fernandez-Fraser) and Dutch organist Adriaan Hoek (3:15pm), who won the inaugural BBIOC this past year.
The annual children’s event (10am) will feature renowned silent film accompanist Peter Krasinski playing “BACH and the BALLOONATIC!” Along with the Toccata from BWV 564, Krasinski will improvise to a classic Buster Keaton short silent film as well as an animation about Martin Luther and a Davey and Goliath episode. As usual, all will be invited to the balcony to come view the organ up close after the presentation and to try pressing a few keys or pedals if they like.
Instrumental concerts also play an important role in event. This year violinist Nelli Jabotinsky (9am) will play solo music by Bach and Corelli, and guitarist Aaron Larget-Caplan (2:15pm) will present a program of Bach works arranged for guitar. At 1:10pm, young violinists Sabrina Lang and Linnea Timko will play a movement of Bach’s “Double” violin concerto. Oboist Michael Ochoa (4:40pm) will provide the prelude to Vespers.
As has become tradition at these bashes, an authentic German lunch will be served at 12pm in the church undercroft for patrons who wish to take part. The menu varies, but typical fare includes sauerbraten, roast pork, sausages, sauerkraut, Spätzle, salad, giant pretzels, and torte (beer perhaps in a future year). Tickets ($15) are available at the door or HERE.
As is fitting for a celebration of the quintessential Lutheran church musician, the day comes to a close with a Lutheran Vespers service modeled after those Bach himself led at St. Thomas Church in Leipzig in the 1730s and 1740s. This year’s 5pm Vespers service features as its centerpiece Bach’s brilliant motet Jesu meine Freude, BWV 227, as well as Matthias Weckmann’s Magnificat 2i toni for the organ, with alternating chant provided by the choir. The Reverend Benjamin Ball (St. Paul Lutheran Church, Hamel IL) will preach on the Biblical texts of the motet (from St. Paul’s epistle to the Romans, chapter 8.
The Boston Bach Birthday is sponsored by First Lutheran Church and the Boston chapter of the American Guild of Organists. Details and a flyer are HERE.
8:00am—LORRAINE MIHALIAK, organ
In dir ist Freude, BWV 615—J.S. Bach
Fantasia & fugue in c, BWV 537—J.S. Bach
Sonate II, op. 65: 2. Allegro maestoso vivace—Fuga—Felix Mendelssohn (1809–1847)
Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ, BWV 639—J.S. Bach
Toccata, adagio, & fugue, BWV 564—J.S. Bach
9:00am—NELLI JABOTINSKY, violin, with Jonathan Wessler, harpsichord
Sonata in g, BWV 1001—J.S. Bach
Sonata in F, op. 5, no. 4—Arcangelo Corelli (1653–1713)
Sonata in e, BWV 1023—J.S. Bach
10:00am—BACH and the BALLOONATIC! Peter Krasinski, organ
Along with the Toccata from BWV 564, Peter Krasinski, organist, improvises to a classic Buster Keaton short silent film as well as an animation about Martin Luther and a Davey and Goliath episode!
At the conclusion, children and their families are invited to visit the balcony to see the organ up close.
11:00am—ROBERT AUGUST, organ
Prelude & fugue in b, BWW 544—J.S. Bach
Six fugues on the name of Bach, op. 60: 1. Langsam—Robert Schumann (1810–1856)
Bach’s Memento: 3. Aria—J.S. Bach, arr. Charles-Marie Widor (1844–1937)
Prelude & fugue in A, BWV 536—J.S. Bach
Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ, BWV Anh. 73—J.S. Bach, arr. Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714–1788)
Fugue in a-flat, WoO 8—Johannes Brahms (1833–1897)
Prelude & fugue in a, BWV 543—J.S. Bach
12pm—GERMAN LUNCH (tickets $15)
1:10pm—SABRINA LANG & LINNEA TIMKO, violin with Jonathan Wessler, harpsichord
Concerto for two violins in d, BWV 1040 (“Double”): 1. Vivace—J.S. Bach
1:15pm—BÁLINT KAROSI, organ, with Audrey Fernandez-Fraser, soprano
Prelude & fugue in G, BWV 550—J.S. Bach
Capriccio on the Departure of a Deeply Beloved Brother, BWV 992—J.S. Bach
Schmücke dich, O liebe Seele, BWV 654—J.S. Bach
Movements from Schmücke dich, O liebe Seele, BWV 180—J.S. Bach
Chorale partita on “Meinen Jesum laß ich nicht”—Johann Gottfried Walther (1684–1748)
Movements from Meinen Jesum laß ich nicht, BWV 124—J.S. Bach
Prelude & fugue in G (2017)—Bálint Karosi (b. 1979)
2:15pm—AARON LARGET-CAPLAN, guitar
Prelude & fugue in a, BWV 539—J.S. Bach
Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit, BWV 106—J.S. Bach
Chromatic fantasy & fugue, BWV 903—J.S. Bach
from The Well-Tempered Clavier I—J.S. Bach
21. Prelude, BWV 860
1. Prelude, BWV 846
5. Prelude, BWV 850
8. Prelude, BWV 853
15. Prelude, BWV 866
Prelude, fugue, & allegro, BWV 998—J.S. Bach
3:15pm—ADRIAAN HOEK, organ—Music from Clavier-Übung III (J.S. Bach)
Praeludium pro organo pleno, BWV 552/1
Kyrie, Gott Vater in Ewigkeit, BWV 669
Christe, aller Welt Trost, BWV 670
Kyrie, Gott Heiliger Geist, BWV 671
Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr, BWV 676
Dies sind die Heiligen Zehn Gebot, BWV 678
Wir glauben all an einen Gott, BWV 680
Vater unser im Himmelreich, BWV 682
Christ, unser Herr, zum Jordan kam, BWV 684
Aus tiefer Not schrei ich zu dir, BWV 686
Jesus Christus, unser Heiland, BWV 688
Fuga a 5 con pedale pro organo pleno, BWV 552/2
4:40pm—PRELUDE TO VESPERS—Michael Ochoa, oboe, with Jonathan Wessler, harpsichord
Sonata in g, BWV 1030b—J.S. Bach
Sonata in B-flat, TWV 41:B6—Georg Philipp Telemann (1681–1767)
Hymn: From Depths of Woe I Cry to Thee
Motet: Jesu, meine Freude, BWV 227—J.S. Bach
Magnificat 2i toni—Matthias Weckmann
Jesu, meine Freude, BWV 1105—J.S. Bach
Hymn: Jesus, Priceless Treasure
Fugue in C, BWV 547/2—J.S. Bach