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Shenandoah Valley Bach Festival, June 9-16, Shows Bach – and Verdi and Britten – Live On

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The music of Johann Sebastian Bach never dies, as will be obvious to those experiencing his music at the 21st Shenandoah Valley Bach Festival. For more than two decades, the festival has celebrated the legacy of the 18th-century German composer, usually paired with the legacies of a rotating selection of other composers. This year the festival will be held June 9-16 at Eastern Mennonite University and nearby venues in Harrisonburg, Va.

This summer’s festival will include the music of 19th-century composer Giuseppe Verdi of Italy and 20th-century composer Benjamin Britten of England. Selections from their operas will heighten the drama of the festival, said Ken J. Nafziger, an EMU music professor who is the festival’s artistic director and conductor.

The festival, founded by Nafziger, will feature a diverse cast of artists this year. They include a cluster of New York musicians, a Cuban violinist, child-prodigy flutist, and many others.

Grant supports acclaimed artists

A $12,000 grant from the Rhodes and Leona Carpenter Foundation of Richmond, Va., is helping bring a number of acclaimed artists to this year’s festival.

The festival opens on Sunday, June 9, at 3 p.m., with a concert at EMU’s Lehman Auditorium that includes Bach’s well-known Brandenburg Concerto No. 3, performed by the festival orchestra. Also on the program is Japanese pianist Naoko Takao, performing Britten’s Young Apollo. Tickets are available at 540-432-4582 or emu.edu/boxoffice.  

During the following week, June 10-15, the festival offers noon chamber music concerts at Asbury United Methodist Church in downtown Harrisonburg. No tickets are required, but donations are requested at the door. The complete schedule for the noon concerts is available at emu.edu/bach/schedule/noon.

The child prodigy flutist, Emma Resmini of Fairfax Station, Va., will perform at the Wednesday-noon concert. Last summer she studied in Switzerland with legendary flutist Sir James Galloway. She is the youngest person ever accepted in the National Symphony Orchestra’s youth fellowship program and has soloed with other major symphonies.

Concerts easily accessible to all

On Monday, June 10, at 5:30 p.m. is the annual faculty recital of the Virginia Baroque Performance Academy, an event sponsored by the Bach Festival. The recital features instruments and performance styles that were typical of Bach’s era. The event, held at Asbury United Methodist Church, requires no ticket, but donations are requested.

The Baroque Academy, held June 9-15, offers solo master classes and ensemble coaching by internationally acclaimed artists Arthur Haas, harpsichord; Martha McGaughey, viola da gamba; and Linda Quan, Baroque violin. More information is available at emu.edu/bach/baroque.

Festival Concert 2 on Friday, June 14, at 7:30 p.m., will feature the festival orchestra performing Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 1 and Britten’s “Four Sea Interludes” from the opera Peter Grimes. The orchestra will be joined by the festival’s internationally known soloists who will sing eight popular arias from Verdi’s operas.

The following night, Saturday, June 15, at 7:30 p.m., the orchestra will be joined by the featured vocal soloists and the festival chorus of 88 singers from near and far. They will perform Verdi’s Requiem.

On Sunday, June 16, at 10 a.m., Nafziger will lead the annual Leipzig service that is inspired by the Lutheran services for which Bach composed and directed music when he was a church organist. Nafziger will be joined by the festival orchestra, organist Marvin Mills, the featured vocal soloists, and North Carolina pastor Isaac Villegas, who will deliver the homily. The service will include Bach’s Cantata 88. No tickets are required for the service, but donations are requested.

New: Father’s Day brunch

New this year, after the Leipzig service, is a Father’s Day buffet brunch in EMU’s Northlawn dining hall. Reservations must be made by June 1 at emu.edu/bach/brunch.

An event connected to the Bach Festival is the Road Scholar Program (formerly Elderhostel) that offers classes throughout the United States. From June 12 to 16 the participants will enjoy the history and culture of the Shenandoah Valley while attending the Bach Festival’s rehearsals, concerts, and classes with the musicians, conductor, and musical scholars. More information is available from roadscholar.org.

Mary Kay Adams, an EMU music professor who is also executive director of the Bach Festival, said the annual event brings a sense of imagination to the Valley. “It is an opportunity to feed the souls of residents,” she said.

Advance tickets for the festival are available at the EMU box office – 540-432-4582 or emu.edu/boxoffice. They will also be available at the door at slightly higher prices.

The complete program for the week is available at emu.edu/bach.

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