The Carmel Bach Festival returns at full speed – Monterey Herald

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The Carmel Bach Festival celebrates its 85th season with the full international ensemble for the first time in three years.

Last fall, the organization carried out a lean, COVID-compliant festival with reduced staffing and shortened programs led by Maestro Paul Goodwin in the final season of his tenure as artistic director of the ensemble. The return of live music last year, after the long months of the pandemic, delighted patrons and musicians despite the attenuated programs.

This summer, the Festival’s world-class musicians gather from around the world and the United States for another unique season, this time with three internationally acclaimed guest conductors, one of whom will be chosen as Carmel Bach’s new artistic director. While health and safety protocols remain in place, the Festival presents the full musical experience of orchestra, choir and vocal soloists during concerts at the Sunset Theatre, Carmel Mission and other venues in Carmel and the Monterey Peninsula. Guests can enjoy other familiar Festival touchstones, including the Chamber Music Series, outdoor brass tower music, masterclasses, pre-concert talks, family concert and the showcase of young artists.

Andrew Megill with the full professional choir will perform during the Carmel Bach Festival. (Courtesy picture)

While these traditional programs return to the Festival schedule, this season will be unlike any other in the organization’s 8 1/2 decades. No audience in the past has heard the ensemble led by three different guest conductors in two weeks as a centerpiece of musical creation. Dinis Sousa, Grete Pedersen and Nicholas McGegan will each conduct the Thursday and Saturday concerts, showcasing their skills in choral and instrumental repertoire. The Festival’s longtime Associate Conductor, Andrew Megill, conducts repeat programs on Sundays and Wednesdays. Concertmaster Peter Hanson conducts the repetitive concerts on Mondays. Edwin Huizinga with William Coulter of Fire & Grace presents the Friday rehearsals. That makes a whopping 10 main gigs for the Festival this summer.

Megill, the revered senior member of the Festival’s artistic direction team, prepared the professional choir and choir for the guest conductor concerts as well as his own choral programs, Bach’s St. John Passion and his popular Carmel Concert Assignment. .

“These three conductors are incredibly exciting collaborators to work with,” he says. “And they are very different from each other, each from a different country and a different age group. Each of them has repertoire specialties, but all of them are spectacular musicians and conductors. It’s wonderful to work with them.

Sousa’s Thursday program, which opens the 2022 Festival, focuses on instrumental works by Baroque masters Handel, Bach and Henry Purcell. On Saturday, Sousa conducts Brahms’ monumental choral masterpiece, “A German Requiem.” He worked in close collaboration with the British Sir John Eliot Gardiner, an eminent Bach specialist and major figure in early music.

Sousa, of Portuguese origin, is also the founder and artistic director of Orquestra XXI, an award-winning ensemble that brings together the best young Portuguese musicians.

From Norway comes Grete Pedersen, an award-winning conductor whom Megill describes as a profound artist, colleague and one of the most interesting and penetrating choral minds in the world.

She does a huge range of repertoire extremely well. His choir of Norwegian soloists is one of the few ensembles in the world around which I sometimes organize my holidays to go and listen to a performance because I find them so inspiring.

Pedersen has been musical director of the Norwegian Soloists Choir since 1990 and a pioneer in her work that takes folk music into new contexts. She has conducted oratorios and choral symphonic works by JS Bach, Haydn, Bruckner, Bernstein and Luciano Berio with major Norwegian and international orchestras.

Its Saturday choral program is centered mainly on the music of Bach. It includes Cantata 29, which Megill calls an incredibly joyful cantata about gratitude and thanksgiving. Among Bach’s works on the program is the motet BWV 225 which is a virtuoso centerpiece for the chorale.

“We are very excited to do this. It really shows the vast emotional and technical range of the choir,” he says, allowing them to spread their wings and show what they can do. This is an opportunity for the public to hear the depth and splendor of this magnificent chorale.

Pedersen showcases his prowess as a performer of Norwegian folk music in a piece for double chorale and strings, which will be interpolated into a Bach cantata.

Pedersen’s Thursday instrumental concert includes a series of works from the 16th to 20th centuries culminating in Beethoven’s 7th Symphony.

And just up the street in the San Francisco Bay Area comes world-renowned Baroque scholar Nicholas McGegan, who will be familiar to many music fans in our area.

“One of the things we all look forward to internally is that Nic is one of the funniest collaborators in the world,” Megill says. “He’s funny, he’s cheerful and incredibly energetic, like the energizing bunny. The orchestra and choir are guaranteed to have a great time when they work with Nic. He’s a wonderful artist and he brings a lot of insight and talent.

McGegan was Music Director of the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and Chorale in San Francisco for 34 years, and Artistic Director and Conductor of the Göttingen Handel Festival in Germany for 20 years. As a guest conductor, he has performed with major orchestras around the world. His prolific discography includes over 100 releases spanning five decades, with two Philharmonia Baroque Grammy nominees.

For his Thursday and Saturday programs, McGegan will lead the ensemble in symphonies by Haydn and Schubert, Bach orchestration by Anton Webern and Bach’s Easter Oratorio accompanied by a suite by Jean-Philippe Rameau.

Festival Executive Director Steve Friedlander explains that the process for selecting a conductor is very structured. “The search committee is made up of members of the board of directors, patrons, musicians from the choir and the orchestra, and I from the administrative staff. It is therefore a representative sample of the people who run and support the Festival and of the people who make music in the festival.

Led by board member John Young, the committee expects to decide next month on the new artistic director to meet the preparation deadlines for the 2023 season.

For repetitive concerts, Megill will lead the ensemble in the St. John Passion, Bach’s Sunday masterpiece this season. Concertmaster Peter Hanson presents a program of intimate musical conversations on Monday evenings comprising six works featuring multiple soloists culminating in Pachelbel’s famous Canon in D Major.

“Think of this program as an evening of brilliant soloists exchanging melodic ideas in extended dialogue,” he says. The centerpiece of the program is Bach’s magnificent Concerto for Two Violins.

Megill conducts the Festival Choir on Wednesday evenings at the Carmel Mission Basilica in Cathedral Echoes, a journey through 500 years of great British sacred choral music.

On Fridays, Huizinga and Coulter return with special guest artists from their musical family, continuing their tradition of hugely popular sold-out concerts with a program titled Pangea: One World.

Joining the ensemble this summer are returning vocal soloists, soprano Clara Rottsolk, mezzo-soprano Meg Bragle, tenor Thomas Cooley and bass-baritone Dashon Burton.

Patrons will enjoy the comprehensive chamber music series featuring Festival musicians in a wide range of recitals at various locations. The Baroque and Classical Academy directed by Huizinga is launched this year. Four exceptional string musicians will participate in a series of free public masterclasses, receive private lessons and coaching in chamber music, and be featured in a Showcase concert.

Michael Beattie returns as director of the long-running Virginia Best Adams Masterclass, a training program for young professional singers.

Megill says, “It feels like such a relief, like breathing after not being able to breathe after a few years. And like coming home, being able to make music with people we deeply adore, admire and respect. I hope audiences can hear that this year. I think all the things that made the Festival such a special place are reinforced this year. It’s as if we were flooded with joy this year!

For tickets and more information, visit BachFestival.org or call 831-624-1521. The 85th season of this longest running music festival in California runs Thursday through July 30.

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