“Great music. Great musicians. Nourishment for the soul.” Artistic director and conductor Kenneth J. Nafziger made these promises to the audience at the start of the 19th annual Shenandoah Valley Bach Festival.
In keeping with Nafziger’s comments, the June 12-19 festival at Eastern Mennonite University featured works by Bach and Mozart, energetic vocal and instrumental performances and a closing Leipzig worship service with a homily by Margaret Foth.
The opening concert included Bach’s “Concerto in C Minor for Violin, Oboe and Strings” and Mozart’s “Sinfonia Concertante for Oboe, Clarinet, Bassoon, Horn and Orchestra.” But performances of works by Chopin, Rachmaninov and Haydn provided some of the liveliest moments.
Filling in at the last minute for another musician, pianist Naoko Takao of Miami offered rousing solo performances of Chopin’s “Barcarolle in F-sharp Major, Op. 60” and three short works by Rachmaninov. And cellist Paige Riggs of Pittsburgh received sustained applause for her performance of Haydn’s “Concerto in C Major for Cello and Orchestra.”
Vocal music played a prominent role in the June 17 and 18 evening concerts. The Saturday program featured Mozart’s challenging “Missa in C Minor” and the second act from his “Marriage of Figaro,” while the Friday concert included Bach’s “Cantata No. 49, Ich geh und suche mit Verlangen” and Gian Carlo Menotti’s humorous operetta, “The Telephone,” with soloist Sharla Nafziger, soprano, and Thomas Jones, baritone.
Also during the week, festival musicians offered solo and chamber group performances at free noon concerts Monday through Saturday. The standing-room-only events were held in the beautiful sanctuary of Asbury United Methodist Church in downtown Harrisonburg and underwritten by local businesses and individual “friends of Bach.”
Again this year, the hands of time were pushed backward as EMU’s Lehman Auditorium was transformed into St. Thomas Lutheran Church in 18th century Leipzig, Germany, where Bach was cantor and composed a cantata for each Sunday’s service.
According to the program notes, the city of Leipzig’s town fathers “reluctantly accepted Bach as their third choice because no one of better qualifications was available” and for nearly 27 years “had at their service the greatest church musician and quite possibly the greatest musician the world has ever known.”
The well-attended Leipzig service featured Bach’s “Cantata 172,” with the festival choir and orchestra and soloists Christine Fairfield, soprano; Carrie Stevens, alto; Daniel Buchanan, tenor and Thomas Jones, bass and Marvin Mills, organist.
Mills, organist at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Kensington, Md., played Mozart’s “Church Sonata No. 15 in C Major for Organ and Strings” as the prelude to the service.
Former radio speaker Margaret Foth of Harrisonburg, who works with EMU’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding (CJP) program, gave the homily on the theme, “How is it that we hear, each of us, in our own language?”
Foth shared stories of students from around the world who came to study and learn peacebuilding skills in the CJP program at EMU and returned to their home countries transformed themselves.
“The language of peacebuilding is courageous and risk taking; it’s breaking down prejudices with new friendships; it is listening deeply,” Foth said. “The language of peacebuilding may open the depth of our pain to the possibility of healing and transformation.
“The language of peacebuilding is invitational – ‘all are welcome’ – and the Holy Spirit is healing,” Foth said. “Today we celebrate the Spirit of God moving in our world, so that each may hear in our own place, the sounds of peace.”
For Douglas Kehlenbrink of Alexandria, Va., principal bassoonist in the festival orchestra, coming back to Harrisonburg to participate in the Bach Festival is “a pilgrimage, a spiritual journey.
“There’s a spiritual center here in this place,” said Kehlenbrink, who has played in 18 of the 19 festivals. “The noon chamber music programs are a highlight for me, plus I love the music of Bach and Mozart.”
Lisa Mast of Bridgewater, Va., a member of the Bach Festival board, felt “honored” to sing soprano in the festival choir and have opportunity to work with Ken Nafziger. Mast, a 2005 EMU alumna, is choral director at Ft. Defiance (VA) High School.
“It’s amazing how a diverse group of people can come together, rehearse music of this caliber and then sing together publicly in this unique setting,” Mast said. “It was a joy to be part of it.”
Next year’s program, to be held June 10-17, 2012, will mark the 20th anniversary of the Shenandoah Valley Bach Festival and will feature a commissioned work by guest cellist and composer Eugene Friesen. Friesen, a faculty member faculty of the Berklee College of Music in Boston, Mass., who lives in Vermont, was a featured performer at the 2008 festival.