Festival’s silver anniversary season mixes the old and the new

Audience favorites from the Shenandoah Valley Bach Festival’s infancy will share billing with works not previously heard – including a film score by a scion of one of Hollywood’s royal families – when the festival stages its 25th season June 11-18 at Eastern Mennonite University.

From the beginning, says Kenneth Nafziger, SVBF’s conductor, artistic director, and co-founder, the intention has been to make each festival so different from those which preceded it that no one could ever say, “been there, done that.”

“Bach is the constant,” Nafziger says, “but the material around him is always changing.”

This year’s festival will feature, on its opening night, such crowd-pleasing fare as Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto in G major, No. 4; and his Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D major (source of the famous “Air on the G String”); as well as, to close the second festival concert on Friday the 16th, the Symphony No. 8 in B minor (“Unfinished”) of Franz Schubert.

Opening the second concert, SVBF concertmaster Joan Griffing will team with violist Diane Phoenix-Neal and cellist Beth Vanderborgh on the Sinfonia Concertante in A major of Carl Phillipp Stamitz, a near-contemporary of Bach.

The fourth Brandenburg Concerto, which has been played several times previously at the SVBF, will this year exhibit an early music texture consistent with what Bach’s own musicians may have produced, thanks to the use of recorders in place of the usual flutes.

Recorder players Nancy Garlick and David McGown will be joined by violin soloist David McCormick, a Baroque specialist and founder of the Charlottesville-based ensemble Three Notch’d Road.

McCormick, who will  appear for the first time on the SVBF stage, is also the festival’s newly appointed executive director. He says SVBF is characterized by a “wonderful sense of community” in which not only the performers share, but also music-lovers from all over the Eastern seaboard and beyond.

“As someone who lives and breathes the music of Bach’s period, I’m thrilled to be part of this festival,” McCormick says.

In keeping with the festival’s “Bach is just the beginning” credo, it will also serve as a platform, the second and third festival concerts, for several recent works by Los Angeles-based composer and violinist Maria Newman.

In addition to a pair of string concerti, Newman, daughter of nine-time Academy Award-winning composer/conductor Alfred Newman, will bring to EMU’s Lehman Auditorium one of the more than one-dozen scores she has written for vintage silent films. At the third festival concert, on Saturday the 17th, the 1914 Mary Pickford feature “Cinderella” will be screened with live accompaniment from the festival orchestra.

An additional highlight on Saturday night will be its excursion into Cuban music. Nafziger, a frequent participant in cultural exchanges with Cuba, will lead the orchestra in La bella cubana, by José Silvestre White, and Volver atras, by SVBF violinist Eleonel Molina.

One of the festival’s other defining characteristics – its eagerness to promote the development of young musicians – will be showcased in a work on the opening-night program, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Concerto for Flute, Harp, and Orchestra in C major. The teenage soloists are Emma Resmini of Fairfax Station, Va., on flute, and harpist Morgan Short, of Roanoke, Va.

Despite their youth, Resmini and Short both have ties to the festival which extend back several summers.

Among the other soloists returning for this year’s SVBF are violist Scott Hosfeld, clarinetist Leslie Nicholas, and bass-baritone Daniel Lichti.

The festival concludes on Sunday, June 18, with a non-sectarian service of worship such as might have been conducted during Bach’s heyday as a church musician in Leipzig, Germany. It will feature the Magnificat in D major – yet another piece brought back from the festival’s first year. In addition to Lichti, soloists include sopranos Veronica Chapman-Smith and Heidi Kurtz, countertenor Joel Ross, and tenor Brian Thorsett. Marvin Mills will be the organist.

The homilist for the Leipzig service will be Isaac Villegas, pastor of Chapel Hill Mennonite Fellowship in North Carolina.

For more information about the festival, including details on the series of free concerts offered weekdays at noon at First Presbyterian Church in downtown Harrisonburg, go to www.svbachfestival.org.