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Bach Festival Marks 20 Years with Grammy Winner Eugene Friesen

Shenandoah Valley Bach Festival

Over 300 years may have passed since Johann Sebastian Bach swept a stage in Germany, but the Shenandoah Valley Bach Festival will stir its strings and winds for the 20th year in Harrisonburg on June 10-17.

Executive Director Mary Kay Adams calls the annual festival “an enhancement of the cultural fabric of our community.”

The event gives local musicians an opportunity to share their talents in their own hometown, said Kenneth J. Nafziger, artistic director and conductor.

Nafgizer, who founded the festival, said he and fellow musicians are grateful to be able to immerse themselves in their passion.

`The payoff [will come] when we start rehearsing next week,” he said, “and you realize that, for 10 days straight, you have no time, no energy to do anything but what you most love doing, which is making music.”

For Adams, who is also a flautist, performing alongside outstanding musicians and meeting a variety of talented personnel makes organizing an event of this magnitude worthwhile.

To her, the festival brings a sense of imagination to the Valley; “an opportunity to feed the souls of the residents,” she said.

Premiere Performance

According to Adams, the festival reaches “way beyond Bach,” incorporating works from various eras, composers and styles. “The repertoire is diverse and exciting,” she said. View the week-long schedule of concerts.

After 20 years, the organizers and musicians aren’t resting on their laurels; Nafziger said the challenge to keep programming fresh means no one can claim, “after attending one year, `Oh, I’ve done that.’ ”

The festival’s reputation for excellence means it sets its own bar. “Everybody’s expectations keep going up,” said Nafziger. “So, in order to keep pace with those, it takes increased and different kinds of work.”

Grammy award-winning artist Eugene Friesen

Grammy award-winning artist Eugene Friesen is featured in this year's Bach Festival concert schedule.

Solo Performer Eugene Friesen

This year, the Bach Festival welcomes four-time Grammy award winning artist Eugene Friesen.

He will present two solo performances: the family-oriented “CelloMan” show at noon on June 16 at Asbury United Methodist Church, and the world premiere performance of “Glory” at 7:30 p.m. in Eastern Mennonite University’s Lehman Auditorium.

In choosing prose to set to music, Friesen said poet Jean Janzen’s work rose to the profound gravity and emotional qualities of Bach.

The festival gives Friesen, who teaches at the Berklee College of Music, a chance to connect with his classical roots.

“The thing that really runs deepest in my heart is the music from my childhood … sacred and classical music,” he said.

But, with “CelloMan,” he hopes to break the sullen stereotypes associated with his instrument: highlighting jazz, bluegrass and swing styles to express its versatility.

“My goal with “CelloMan” is that [listeners] leave feeling like they have a friend that plays the cello,” he said.

No one excluded

Tradition endures in the festival’s annual musical forces, including orchestra, chamber choir, chamber and organ music, and a German Leipzig service.

If curious community members are still unsure whether Bach will be their cup of “kaffee,” attending a pay-what-you-will noon recital or open rehearsal means they don’t have to “go Baroque” in the process.

Nafziger said the event seeks to include everyone in the community and that “a summer festival is a good way to put your toe in the water.”

For more information or to purchase tickets, visit www.emu.edu/bach or call 432-4582.

Courtesy Daily News Record, May 31, 2012

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