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Canadian soloist returns to Bach Festival for repeat performance of ‘Elijah’

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A popular oratorio from the early days of the 22-year-old Shenandoah Valley Bach Festival at Eastern Mennonite University will return this summer. The 2014 festival, held June 8-15, will feature Felix Mendelssohn’s Elijah, performed by an orchestra, choir and four soloists.

One of the soloists, Canadian bass Daniel Lichti, sang in the first performance of Elijah at the Bach festival in 1995. This year’s Elijah is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, June 14, in Lehman Auditorium.

The oratorio about the Old Testament prophet will be conducted by Ken J. Nafziger, a long-time EMU music professor who helped establish the Shenandoah Valley Bach Festival in 1992.

The festival honors the music of prolific 18th-century German composer Johann Sebastian Bach, as well as works by other composers.

Among them this year is Mendelssohn, another German composer who worked a century after Bach. He wrote Elijah for the 1846 Birmingham Music Festival in England, where it premiered to an enthusiastic audience and glowing reviews.

Lichti, singing the title role in Elijah, has established himself as one of Canada’s finest bass-baritones, performing with many of North America’s major orchestras and choirs. He appears regularly at festivals and performs oratorio and opera internationally.

This year, he is celebrating 40 years of professional performing with concerts in Canada, the United States and Europe. His debut was in an opera in 1974 at the Stratford Festival in Ontario. Lichti is a voice professor at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario. During a recent sabbatical from his teaching, he performed Franz Schubert’s epic Winterreise in Paris, Vienna and Lyon.

The Bach Festival celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2012.

The Bach Festival celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2012.

The other soloists for Elijah this year at EMU are soprano Sharla Nafziger (no relation to Ken J. Nafziger), who performs throughout her native Canada and the United States; mezzo-soprano Barbara Rearick, a performer who teaches voice at Princeton University; and tenor Kenneth Gayle, the producing director for an innovative musical non-profit organization in Houston.

While the orchestra is made up of professionals invited to the festival, the choir is composed of volunteers from near and far. (Anyone interested in singing in this year’s choir should contact Cindy Mathews at mathewsl@emu.edu.)

The 2014 festival begins on Sunday, June 8, at 3 p.m., with organist Marvin Mills performing Bach’s “Prelude and Fugue in A Minor.” That afternoon’s concert will also feature music by composers like Handel, Rameau, Telemann, Zelenka and Bach’s son, C.P.E. Bach.

“In our 20th season, we unveiled a new tag line – ‘Bach is just the beginning’ – as a way of understanding more completely what this Bach festival is all about,” said Ken J. Nafziger.

From June 9-14, the festival includes daily noon chamber music concerts at First Presbyterian Church on Court Square in Harrisonburg. No tickets are required, but donations are requested at the door. A complete schedule is available on the festival website.

The noon concert on Monday, June 9, will feature the faculty of the annual Virginia Baroque Performance Academy, which is part of the Bach festival. The academy, held June 8-14, offers solo master classes and ensemble coaching by internationally acclaimed artists Arthur Haas, harpsichord; Martha McGaughey, viola da gamba; and Linda Quan, baroque violin.

A second major concert on Friday, June 13, at 7:30 p.m. will feature the festival orchestra performing two of Bach’s cantatas and music by Maurice Ravel. Emma Resmini, an acclaimed 14-year-old flutist from Fairfax, Va., will also play a concerto by Jacques Ibert.

Yet another component to the festival is the Road Scholar Program, which offers classes throughout the United States. From June 11 to 15, participants will enjoy the history and culture of the Shenandoah Valley while attending the festival’s concerts and interacting with the musicians, conductor and musical scholars. More information is available from the program’s website.

On Sunday, June 15, at 10 a.m., Nafziger will lead the annual Leipzig service, inspired by the worship services at Bach’s church in Germany. He will be joined by the festival orchestra and choir as well as the featured vocal soloists and organist Marvin Mills. The homily will be delivered by Lara Steinel, music director at a progressive Jewish congregation – Kol Ami – in Kansas City, Mo.

The final event of the festival is a Father’s Day brunch in EMU’s Northlawn dining hall. Reservations must be made by June 1.

Advance tickets to the Shenandoah Valley Bach Festival are available at the EMU box office – 540-432-4582 or-emu.edu/box-office. They will also be available at the door at slightly higher prices.

For more details, visit emu.edu/bach.  

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