Concertgoers Pack Out 18th Annual Bach Festival

The near-capacity crowds that filled Lehman Auditorium were treated to the soaring harmonies that filled the air at the 18th annual Shenandoah Valley Bach Festival.

EMU Bach Festival featuring John McCutcheon
Versatile musician John McCutcheon combines his artistry with that of the Bach Festival orchestra at a June 13 concert that opened this year’s Shenandoah Valley Bach Festival. (Photo by Mike Eberly) More photos from the Bach Festival

The festival featured the glorious music of prolific German composer Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) and other composers in three major festival concerts in EMU’s Lehman Auditorium and daily noon chamber music programs held in the sanctuary of Asbury United Methodist Church, downtown Harrisonburg.

The rich and diverse program unfolded under the baton of EMU music professor Dr. Kenneth Nafziger, artistic director and conductor of the weeklong event.

John McCutcheon

The Bach Festival opened Sunday afternoon, June 13, with an unlikely – at first blush – blend of Baroque and folk – Bach’s “Brandenburg Concertos” and the music of noted musician/composer John McCutcheon.

McCutcheon performed nine songs, six of them with the Festival Orchestra. The set featured two songs with peace themes – “Forgive Us” and McCutcheon’s signature song, “Christmas in the Trenches.”

Music inspired by peace

“Forgive Us” was inspired by the Amish school murders in Nickel Mines, Pa., while “Christmas in the Trenches” tells the story of the Christmas truce between British and German soldiers during World War I.

EMU Bach Festival 2010
Violists Diane Phoenix-Neal and Karen Johnson of the Bach Festival Orchestra in a rigorous rehearsal session. (Photo by Jim Bishop) More photos from the Bach Festival

Other selections included children’s songs, hammered dulcimer instrumentals and a closing medley that McCutcheon described as a “classical version of ‘Dueling Banjos.'” In it, McCutcheon on fiddle traded passages with the orchestra’s string section.

McCutcheon told the audience that he was interested in classical music when he was growing up in Wisconsin. However, there was “absolutely no support” in his environment for pursuing that musical direction, so he went into folk music.

Folk music is “the source of all music,” McCutcheon said, citing the work of such composers as Vaughn Williams, Bartok and Copland.

Other composers honored

In addition to the music of Bach, this year’s festival presented works of several composers for whom 2010 is an anniversary year:

  • Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, the second child of Johann Sebastian and Maria Barbara Bach
  • Polish composer Fryderyk Chopin
  • German composer Robert Schumann
  • Austro-German composer Gustav Mahler
  • American composer Samuel Barber
  • Argentinian native Osvaldo Golijov

Guest soloists, noontime concerts, and more

Guest soloists for the festival concerts included:

EMU Bach Festival noontime concerts
Bach Festival musicians perform a selection by Franz Joseph Haydn at a noon concert held at Asbury United Methodist Church, downtown Harrisonburg. (Photo by Jim Bishop) More photos from the Bach Festival

The sanctuary at Asbury United Methodist Church was filled each day Monday through Saturday as Festival musicians performed chamber music programs.

An Exploritas (Elderhostel) group of 40 persons attended this year’s festival. Along with attending the many programs, they sat in on rehearsal sessions and heard talks by festival musicians; some explored the scenic and historic Shenandoah Valley.

The festival concluded Sunday morning, June 20, with the popular Leipzig Service, a re-creation of an 18th century worship service at St. Thomas Lutheran Church in Leipzig, Germany, where Bach was cantor and composer. The festival choir and orchestra played Bach’s Cantata #39, “Brich dem Hungrigen den Brot.”

Patrons say festival ‘highlight of their summer’

“What makes the Bach Festival so unique and successful is the combination of different ingredients – the variety of musical styles represented; the great selection of music by composers from different eras and countries; the unusual pairing of Bach’s music with folk music; the use of orchestral and choral music, chamber music, and organ music; wonderful featured artists and fine orchestral players from around the country; world-renown early music specialists performing and leading a workshop; involvement of student musicians; an Exploritas program; and the sense of returning annually to a special group of friends to enjoy beautiful music together,” said Mary Kay Adams, festival coordinator and orchestra member.

“We hear many comments from attendees who say that the Festival is the highlight of their summer, and that they look forward to it all year long,” Adams added. “We love to hear audience reactions like this.”

2011 festival dates

Next year’s program, June 12-19, 2011, will feature “Bach and Mozart.”