Bach to Bach Hits at EMU

Kenneth J. Nafziger conducts the Bach Festival orchestra, chorus and soloists during the 2005 Bach Festival. Kenneth J. Nafziger conducts the Bach Festival orchestra, chorus and soloists Lesley Andrew, Heidi Kurtz, Kenneth Gayle and Daniel Lichti in performing Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 9 in D Minor” to a full house in EMU’s Lehman Auditorium during the 2005 Bach Festival.
Photo by Jim Bishop

The 14th annual Shenandoah Valley Bach Festival at Eastern Mennonite University is going Bach to the basics, with a major focus on the broad repertoire of the prolific German composer.

The program, opens Sunday, June 11 and concludes with the popular Leipzig worship service June 18.

From Bach’s monumental “Mass in B Minor” to guest artist Jeremy Wall’s jazz-infused improvisations on the “Christmas Oratorio,” this serious and playful homage to Johann Sebastian Bach is designed to appeal to a wide audience, according to Kenneth J. Nafziger, artistic director and conductor of the festival.

“This year’s festival calls attention to Bach – to his music the way he wrote it, to his music the way others have heard it and re-written it, and to his music with the addition of Jeremy Wall’s jazz ideas,” Dr. Nafziger said. “These combinations are things Bach tried himself. Our combination of Jeremy Wall and Bach’s ‘Christmas Oratorio’ is a first of its kind event, bringing a modern musical language into a conversational relationship with the language of Bach’s Baroque musical vocabulary,” he added.

The opening concert, at 3 p.m. Sunday, June 11, in Lehman Auditorium. will feature Bach’s “Mass in B. Minor” with Sharla Nafziger, soprano; Jennifer Cooper, alto; Kenneth Gayle, tenor; and Thomas Jones, bass, and the festival chamber choir and orchestra.

Major festival concerts will be held at 7:30 p.m. Friday, June 16 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, June 17 in Lehman Auditorium. Friday’s program includes W.A. Mozart’s “Symphony No. 35 in D Major,” William Walton’s “The Wise Virgins: Suite from the ballet, after J.S. Bach” and shorter Bach pieces excerpted from lengthier compositions.

On Saturday, pianist Jeremy Wall will join with other guest performers in a jazz-infused interpretation of Bach’s “Christmas Oratorio, Parts l, 2 and 3.” A post-concert reception will follow.

Chamber music concerts with instrumentalists and vocalists from the festival will be presented noon-1 p.m. Monday through Saturday, June 12-17, at Asbury United Methodist Church, S. Main St., in Harrisonburg. Admission is free; donations are welcomed.

The festival will conclude with the annual Leipzig service at 10 a.m. June 18 in Lehman Auditorium, often cited by many attendees as the highlight of the week. The program recreates an 18th century worship service at St. Thomas Lutheran Church in Leipzig, German, where Bach was cantor and conducted a cantata for each week’s service.

The Shenandoah Valley Bach Festival is sponsored in part by the Virginia Commission for the Arts and the Arts Council of the Valley.

Bach Festival tickets are available on-line at or by calling the EMU box office at 540-432-4582.