In his 23rd year as artistic director and conductor of the Shenandoah Valley Bach Festival, Kenneth J. Nafziger just laughs when asked if he is most looking forward to conducting any one particular piece.
“That’s like asking me to pick my favorite child,” says Nafziger, who relishes the years-long process that goes into the programming, repertoire and selection and invitation of featured artists. “Each year, the music changes and that means the festival stays new and exciting in different ways for different audiences. Every year, some will say, ‘This is the best one ever,’ and that freshness is exciting.”
The week-long event will be June 14-21 on the Eastern Mennonite University campus, where both Nafziger and executive director Mary Kay Adams are senior members of the music faculty.
The festival, which draws an estimated 4,000 people, is named in honor of Johann Sebastian Bach, a German composer born in 1685, but showcases an ever-changing repertoire of classical music from different eras.
“The festival tagline is ‘Bach is just the beginning,’” Adams said, “and the diversity within our concerts truly reflects that.”
Three concerts and more
The June 14 opening concert showcases five instrumental concertos, all composed by Bach.
Concert 2 features works by Haydn, including Symphony No. 31 in D Major (Hornsignal), Concerto No. 4 in D Major for Harpsichord with Joseph Gascho ‘95, Te Deum with the Festival Choir, and Symphony No. 102 in B-flat major.
Concert 3 features music by African-American composers Aldophus Hailstork, William Grant Still and Edmund Thornton Jenkins, including a rare performance of Charlestonia, one of the first compositions in which American black music themes are mixed with the European concert tradition. A suite from George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, set in the black community of Charleston, concludes the theme. Soprano Veronica Chapman-Smith and baritone John Fulton are the soloists, joined by the choir.
A Leipzig service, honoring Bach’s service as a church musician, brings the festival to a conclusion on Sunday, June 21. The service includes organ music, hymn singing, a cantata and other music for choir, soloists and orchestra, with a homily by David Evans. A Father’s Day brunch is offered afterwards.
Additional featured artists include Phillip Chase Hawkins, trumpet; Mary Kay Adams, flute; Sandra Gerster, oboe; Ralph Allen and Joan Griffing, violin; Diane Phoenix-Neal, viola; Marvin Mills, organ; Mark Rimple, countertenor; and Joel Ross, tenor.
Smaller ensembles and a more informal style are offered through the week at the noon chamber music concerts at First Presbyterian Church. No tickets are required; a $5 donation is suggested.
Musicians enjoy fellowship, hospitality
The Festival Orchestra includes professional musicians from around the country, many of whom return year after year. One bass trombonist annually drives from Florida and stays with the same local host, Nafziger said. “There’s not a huge call for bass trombonists, so he plays in two or three pieces, but stays for the whole week… The fellowship and hospitality here are an important part of why the festival is so successful.”
When musicians want to take a festival season off, they usually ask for “a leave of absence,” Nafziger said. “We don’t have that, but what they mean is, ‘Save my seat so I can come back the next time.’”
Another source of energy is limited rehearsal time, Nafziger says. Musicians arrive and rehearse during the first weekend of the festival, achieving a high standard of quality in a short period of time.
“It’s rewarding to me every year how much work you can do if you clear everything away in your life but what you love doing,” he said. “It’s an exhilarating and exhausting 10 days.”
While professional musicians perform with the Festival Orchestra, the Festival Choir, a volunteer ensemble, allows both professional and amateur vocalists to perform celebrated works. Musicians also come into Harrisonburg for the Virginia Baroque Performance Academy, a five-day concurrent workshop with masterclasses and coaching sessions in harpsichord, violin, viola da gamba, recorder, lute, and vocal performance.
Three-concert ticket packages cost $65 for adults; $55 for seniors ages 65 and older, and $15 for youth ages 22 and younger.
Advance single tickets cost $27 for adults; $22 for seniors and $5 for youth; tickets cost $2 more at the door.
Tickets for groups of 12 or larger cost $22 for adults; $17 for seniors and $5 for youth.
Donations collected for Leipzig and noon chamber music series.
Tickets may be purchased at the door, online or by calling 432-4582.
Schedule of Events
- Concert 1: 3 p.m. June 14 at the Lehman Auditorium on EMU campus.
- Concert 2: 7:30 p.m. June 19 at the Lehman Auditorium.
- Concert 3: 7:30 p.m. June 20 at the Lehman Auditorium.
- Noon Chamber Music Series: 12 p.m. June 15-20 at the First Presbyterian Church in Harrisonburg.
- Leipzig Service: 10 a.m. June 21 at the Lehman Auditorium.
- Father’s Day Brunch following the Leipzig service June 21 in the Northlawn Dining Hall. Make reservations online by June 15.