Shenandoah Valley Bach Festival announces artistic director transition

Summer 2022 will mark the retirement of Ken Nafziger as artistic director and conductor of the Shenandoah Valley Bach Festival. Nafziger founded the festival 30 years ago.

He will be succeeded in his role as artistic director by Eastern Mennonite University professor and music program director David Berry. Berry is an accomplished pianist who has performed in the festival since 2017 and brings artistic leadership experience from EMU as well as other organizations. A part of Berry’s role as artistic director will be to lead the search for the conductor of the festival for the 2023 summer festival.

“The Bach Festival is grateful to Ken for his many years of vision and inspiration,” said Amanda Gookin, executive director. “He is one of the most special leaders I know and it has been a deeply meaningful experience working together. I look forward to celebrating Ken to the fullest in our 30th season. I am absolutely thrilled the artistic leadership will pass on to David Berry whose artistic excellence and innovative voice will carry forth the legacy of the Shenandoah Valley Bach Festival.” 

Nafziger expressed support for Berry in his new role and the festival’s strong future. “With David in place as the new artistic director, the festival is in a good place for its development. He is a well-known musical presence here in the Shenandoah Valley, and an active supporter of and performer in the Shenandoah Valley Bach Festival. David has all the right qualifications, imagination, enthusiasm, a field of wide musical acquaintances who can grace this festival, all the right stuff for a position like this. I stand ready to be of support and assistance as he finds his way and leads this festival with competence in the years ahead.”

Nafziger will contribute his final time as the artistic director and conductor for the 30th anniversary celebration June 12-19, 2022, on the campus of Eastern Mennonite University and in area venues in Harrisonburg. 

Audience members can expect “world-class performances,” Gookin said, with works by Johannes Brahms, Florence Price, contemporary composer Leo Brouwer, and the great B Minor Mass by Johann Sebastian Bach among others. 

The celebration will be poignant for Nafziger, who has long said the furious pace of the summer festival was one of his favorite times of every year.

“The Bach Festival at 30 is a myriad of wonderful memories: the community that came to be around the festival, working intensely with local musicians and many from farther away, so many great musical moments, soloists from near and far, appreciative audiences, and the fatigue of doing nothing but what one would most like to do for ten days every June,” he said. “To everyone who listened, who played, who sang, who supported, who encouraged, you are owed many and heartfelt thanks.”

Berry, who has participated in the festival since joining the faculty of EMU, praised Nafziger and festival leadership. 

“It is my absolute honor to join the Shenandoah Valley Bach Festival as its next artistic director,” Berry said. “Ken and the leadership of the festival have done a wonderful job of creating a truly unique and beautiful festival. As we celebrate the 30th anniversary and legacy of the festival this year, I am excited to begin the work of looking toward the future and exploring the possibilities of what the next chapter may hold.”

Learn more about David Berry on the SVBF website.

Berry maintains a rigorous schedule of teaching, performing, adjudication and artistic direction, including as the coordinator of chamber music and member of the artistic planning committee for the Gateways Music Festival. The festival is hosted by Berry’s undergraduate alma mater Eastman School of Music and celebrates the contributions of musicians of African descent to classical music, and features over 120 players from major American orchestras and university faculties. Berry earned his master’s and Doctor of Musical Arts degree from The Juilliard School. 

Nafziger, a professor emeritus of music at EMU, plans to continue other musical involvements, including as music director of the chamber choir Winchester Musica Viva in Winchester, Virginia. He has a long history of working with many of Cuba’s premier orchestra and choral ensembles, including guest conducting appearances, teaching master classes, and participating with musical colleagues in a number of joint projects. Nafziger’s work in church music is widely known across many denominations. He has edited or assisted in editing three hymnals, producing correlated teaching materials and recordings for those hymnals, and co-wrote a book on the significance of singing among Mennonites. He is a frequent guest conductor, workshop leader, and clinician across the United States and Canada.

Nafziger was honored in 2015 with the Circle of Excellence in the Arts Award for sustained contributions in the arts and his creative and superior accomplishments that have improved the cultural vitality of the Shenandoah Valley. The award is given by the Forbes Center for the Performing Arts, the Arts Council of the Valley, and the College of Visual and Performing Arts at James Madison University.


Read a profile of Ken Nafziger on his retirement from EMU.

Read more about this 2015 awards presentation.