Ludwig van Beethoven said that his fellow German composer Johann Sebastian Bach was “the immortal god of harmony.” It has now been over two centuries since Bach’s death, but as the Shenandoah Valley Bach Festival enters its 22nd season, the music of the old master is as alive as ever.
The festival, founded by EMU music professor Kenneth J. Nafziger, has become a Valley tradition. The weeklong event begins at 3 p.m. on Sunday, June 8, in Lehman Auditorium of Eastern Mennonite University and closes one week later with The Leipzig Service, a musically oriented worship experience in Lehman. The festival allows both musicians and audiences the opportunity to explore the music of Bach, those who influenced him, and those he inspired.
Bach is just the beginning
Since 2012, the festival’s tagline has been “Bach is just the beginning.” The theme of Bach as a starting point or base for the festival’s exploration will be on display again this year as the program features pieces by Bach contemporaries like Handel, Telemann, and Vivaldi, as well as instrumental sections from an opera by Jean-Philippe Rameau and more recent pieces by Gwyneth Walker and Kyle Lane.
Mary Kay Adams, executive director of the Bach Festival and an EMU music professor, said the musical diversity of the Bach Festival makes it exciting. As an example, she cited “phenomenal featured artists” performing Mendelssohn’s Elijah, “a masterpiece in choral and orchestral literature.” That performance is set for Saturday, June 14, at 7:30 p.m. in Lehman Auditorium.
Despite the festival’s musical diversity Bach is always at the center. The performances of three Bach Cantatas, 51, 82, 180, along with several of his organ pieces, will keep the festival solidly grounded in the musician who inspired it.
In over two decades, the festival has become a gathering place for acclaimed national talents. This year’s featured performers will include prodigy flutist Emma Resmini, who at age 14 has already soloed at the Dallas, National, and Pittsburg Symphonies and on the Millennium Stage at the Kennedy Center. She has been reviewed by the New York Times, and is the youngest member of the National Symphony Orchestra’s Youth Fellowship program.
Other notable performers include Maryland-based organist Marvin Mills, who has been a featured performer at three national conventions of the American Guild of Organists; harpsichordist Arthur Haas, sought-after performer and teacher of Baroque music across the United States; and Daniel Lichti, one of Canada’s finest bass-baritones.
The festival also features more local, though no less dynamic, talent in violinist and EMU professor Joan Griffing. An extraordinary musician, Griffing has previously performed with the AIMS festival orchestra in such non-local destinations as Austria and Italy. She also completed a three-week performing tour in Taiwan and is a founding member and regular performer with Musica Harmonia, a group which seeks to promote peace and culture through music.
Tickets and information
Discounted tickets for the festival can be purchased in advance from the EMU box office (540-432-4582), or from emu.edu/box-office/. Tickets will also be available for purchase at the door at a non-discounted rate.
For those wishing to experience the festival outside of the ticketed concerts, a lunch-hour chamber music series will be held at First Presbyterian Church on June 9-14 at noon. Organizers of the Chamber music series will request donations, but tickets are not required. In addition, the annual Baroque workshop will be held from June 8-14, giving participants the opportunity to study Baroque music and dance under the instruction of several acclaimed artists. More information is here (emu.edu/bach/baroque/).
All information about the festival can be found here (emu.edu/bach/).