Bach Festival

February 24th, 2011


Kevin Piccini

Kevin Piccini

The Shenandoah Valley Bach Festival is a week-long summer music festival at EMU devoted to promoting an appreciation and understanding of the music of Bach and a featured composer, country, era or people. In 2011, its 19th year, the festival will be held June 12-19 and will focus on Mozart in addition to Bach.

Three featured concerts, six daily noon chamber music concerts, open rehearsals, and a Sunday Leipzig service infuse the Valley with an unequaled musical richness. Special programs augment the festival’s offerings: youth programs, Road Scholar Program (previously “Elderhostel/ Exploritas”), and the Virginia Baroque Performance Academy.

The festival orchestra includes fine professional instrumentalists from all over the country who travel to Harrisonburg each June for one week of intense rehearsals and vibrant performances. The festival choir allows community vocalists, both amateurs and professionals, to be volunteer singers of the most celebrated works of the orchestral-choral repertoire. The quality of the choir is first-rate and represents a blending of singers involved in a variety of local choral programs.

The Virginia Commission for the Arts has named the festival a “jewel in Harrisonburg’s crown.”

Susan Black

Susan Black

Kevin Piccini, oboist for the Shenandoah Bach Festival since 2005, has studied at the Eastman School of Music, went to Yale for graduate training, played professionally in the decades since and teaches at the Navy School of Music in Virginia Beach. “The best part [about the Bach Festival] is the people who are here,” he says. “Ken Nafziger is a fantastic musician and person. I think he brings out the best in us.”

Violinist Susan Black lives in Charlottesville, Virginia, and has about 40 violin students, one of whom joined her in the Bach Festival ensemble in 2010. She has played the summer circuit for decades. The Bellingham Festival of Music, the Eastern Music Festival, the Wintergreen Summer Music Festival. But she says the musicians at the Bach festival seem to have a particularly tight bond, forged over the traditional Wednesday night pizza party and other socializing shoehorned in around the frenzied rehearsal schedule.

A performance of Bach’s B-Minor Mass at Park View Mennonite Church stands out as one of her most precious Bach Festival memories. She recalls it as a spectacular performance, profoundly and indescribably beautiful, a moment in time, a timeless moment of lingering overtones – “something that will always be with me.”

Douglas Kehlenbrink

Douglas Kehlenbrink

Douglas Kehlenbrink had a decent excuse the only year he and his bassoon were absent from the Bach Festival. He was in London with a group from James Madison University, where he taught on the music faculty for more than 20 years. Other than that one excused absence, he’s been to every Bach Festival since the inaugural event in 1993.

Nafziger as a director? Ambitious, says Kehlenbrink. That’s one reason EMU’s festival attracts so many good musicians. Every year, in addition to the obligatory J.S. Bach performances – a Brandenburg Concerto or two, or the B-Minor Mass, or one of the passion oratorios – there comes some sort of programmatic twist. In ’98, the Latin American compositions “gave us all a run for our money,” says Kehlenbrink, who now is arts chair at Episcopal High School in Alexandria, Virginia.

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