What do Emmanuel Music, Baldwin Wallace Conservatory, and UMass, Amherst have in common? Well, as it turns out, the music of Bach. So say a couple of participants in the UMass Amherst Bach Festival and Symposium, which begins on April 13th.
In March 2014, Amanda Stenroos, a UMass graduate student in the violin studio of Elizabeth Chang, came to a lesson wearing a t-shirt from the Bach Festival at Baldwin Wallace Conservatory. When she explained to Chang how much the venerable tradition of that festival, the oldest collegiate Bach festival in the nation, meant to her, it piqued Chang’s interest. Could this be a model for an event at UMass? A series of conversations ensued, first with Chang’s colleagues William Hite and Chris Krueger, who have devoted much of their careers to Bach’s music–both have significant and deep ties with Emmanuel Music’s renowned Sunday morning Bach cantata series as well as with Emmanuel’s founder Craig Smith. Later, Tony Thornton, director of choral studies at UMass, and musicology faculty members Ernest May and Erinn Knyt joined the conversation, and the 2015 UMass Bach Festival and Symposium was conceived. The team decided that the biennial event would be a music festival taking place concurrently with a scholarly symposium. This format, which is novel in the collegiate landscape, proved to be very successful. It included a symposium of scholars of international reputation (Richard Taruskin and Christoph Wolff among them) and a remarkable performance of the St. John Passion conducted by Julian Wachner featuring students, faculty, alumni, and guest artists in front of a sold-out audience.