Boulder Bach Festival Week— a new offering of the Boulder Bach Festival — kicked off on Thursday with “Contemporaneous Concertos,” a collaborative performance that featured artists from the U.S. and Europe delivering works by Corelli, Telemann, Handel and J.S. Bach.
Fans of classical music can look forward to more dramatic performances honoring the legacy of Bach, his contemporaries and modern composers through the four-day event that wraps on Sunday.
“We have a totally awesome group of stellar musicians,” said Zachary Carrettin, violinist and music director of Boulder Bach Festival. “The engagement, collaborative spirit, inquisitiveness and the desire to deliver these musical artworks in convincing ways that rely on intuition and personal authenticity — as much as on knowledge and personal experience — are already making festival week a powerful, inspiring learning experience.”
For more than four decades, Boulder Bach Festival has provided a rotating selection of performances and events. Launched in the 1980s as a weekend of performances to celebrate Bach’s March birthday, the event has expanded to offer year-round events.
When the pandemic hit, organizers pivoted to virtual offerings. In-person performances returned in December and February. Now, festival week has provided even greater synergy and excitement amongst organizers and participants.
“I cannot remember such a perfect chemistry of musical artists working together,” Carrettin said. “When one of the musicians shared rehearsal video with a colleague in a top European baroque orchestra, the response was, ‘How is it possible that this is happening in Boulder, Colorado?’”
The beloved event showcases international top-tier talent and maestros of the Front Range.
The festival week’s venue, First Congregation Church on Pine Street, adds to the magic of the music-making.
“As each artist arrived last week and entered the church, again and again I heard glowing comments about the architecture and the acoustic properties,” said Carrettin, reflecting on the visiting musicians’ reactions during rehearsals. “The tiered semi-circle stage combined with hardwood flooring result in a warm sound that is rich in overtones.”
The sound within the sanctuary is also top notch.
“The clarity is also attractive,” Carrettin said. “Instrumental and vocal balances are natural, and the counterpoint between the musicians can be cognized from any seat in the house.”
“Another attractive aspect of this historic church is that we’re utilizing the intimate chapel for subscriber events, and we’re offering the audience the opportunity to walk through a multi-room exhibit about the Bach Festival’s history, curated by local artist Heidi Ames Pann,” Carrettin said.
Pann, a Lyons-based creative, has crafted an engaging display that includes memorabilia from productions, images of artists and noteworthy aspects of Boulder Bach Festival’s mission, vision and transformation over the years.
“More recent processes, such as pandemic pivoting, are included as part of the overview,” said Mina Gajić, pianist and Boulder Bach Festival’s artistic and executive director. “Photographs, text panels and program book covers adorn the walls of the Heritage Room and Standish Room at FCC, and a one-hour video of BBF performances will run prior to each concert in the small chapel, just down the hall from the sanctuary.”
Returning to Boulder Bach Festival is mezzo-soprano Claire McCahan, winner of the 2020 World of Bach Competition. Friday, the Boulder-based opera singer will perform in “Voices of the Chamber” with violist and former CU professor Paul Miller, alongside a number of musicians from outside Colorado.
McCahan will be belting out a somber piece by Johann Christoph Bach.
“The Lamento itself is dark, but it evokes a type of darkness that I see as ubiquitous to the human experience,” McCahan said. “I think we all have moments of regret, or of heaviness that feels overwhelming. There is also so much darkness in the world as a whole right now, that I sometimes wonder where its end may be. Acknowledging this darkness and our communal connection to it is, in a sense, how we begin to move forward.”
After much time away from the stage due to the pandemic, McCahan is excited to once again join her fellow creators.
“When I perform, I am electrified,” McCahan said. “Music is the form of expression that makes sense to me. It is the synthesis of my experiences and what makes me feel at home. I enjoy being wrapped up in a story or emotion and momentarily forgetting where I am. I hope to be able to offer that sense of wonder and enjoyment for others and to bring people together through music.”
The programming of “Next Generations,” happening at 4 p.m. Saturday, is built around Gajić’s treasured piano. The ornate instrument will be transported from her home in Boulder to First Congregation’s stage for the show.
“I traveled the world looking for a piano suited to my artistic interests, and I found it in Amsterdam,” Gajić said. “It crossed the Atlantic in an 800-pound custom-made case. This spectacular Erard grand piano was built in 1895. All the parts are original and the distinct hammer construction — layers of leather and felt— offers captivating tone colors. I chose this piano, in part, due to its flexibility in that it is a perfect instrument for Bach, Mozart, Romantic, Impressionist, post-Impressionist and contemporary music.
The performance offers music composed by renegade Clara Schumann, one of the most influential pianists and composers of the Romantic era. A child prodigy, she was one of the first pianists to perform from memory.
“Clara Schumann would fit right in as a 21st century musician in Boulder were she alive today,” Gajić said. “She was a devoted teacher, eventually a single mother supporting her family, an entrepreneur, composer, touring soloist and she spent hours daily writing letters and hiking.”
Critically-acclaimed Dutch soprano Josefien Stoppelenburg will sing works by Schumann. Attendees can look forward to a tune about a deadly siren who tempts sailors with her song and exquisite beauty.
“The piano I’m playing was built during Clara Schumann’s lifetime,” Gajić said. “There is something magical and mystical about playing her music on this piano with Josefien (Stoppelenburg) singing.”
In addition to providing attendees riveting musical performances and a peek into BBF’s evolution, organizers are also dedicated to offering educational aspects to enrich the experience. Subscribers to all four concerts are invited to attend four lectures and two masterclasses, plus an artist meet-and-greet.
“The lectures will be presented by an audience favorite at BBF, Dr. Paul Miller,” Carrettin said. “Paul plays viola d’amore, violin, viola and is an internationally recognized scholar of contemporary music and ancient music. I met him when he was on the faculty at CU Boulder, and he now teaches at Duquesne University. Paul has an infectious wit and charm, and his insights are inspired. He’s also performing in all four concerts.”
Festival week will close with “The Intimacy of J.S. Bach” featuring New York-based cello soloist and Art of Duo winner Coleman Itzkoff and others.
To learn more visit boulderbachfestival.org.