The Province: Early Music Vancouver’s back to Bach headlines classical music blitz

March 28, 2017

Vancouver Bach Festival 2017

August 1–11 | Assorted venues

Tickets and info: earlymusic.bc.ca

Now is the time for classical music presenters to announce big plans. Next season the Vancouver Symphony will mount two landmarks of the British repertoire: Elgar’s oratorio The Dream of Gerontius and an opera-in-concert presentation of Britten’s Peter Grimes. Vancouver Opera plans a blockbuster Turandot and an operatic version of The Overcoat. And the Vancouver Recital Society promises return visits by Sir András Schiff and Yuja Wang.

Early Music Vancouver weighed in this week with a double announcement: Its plans for next season plus the lineup for its Second Vancouver Bach Festival in the first two weeks of August. There’s plenty of time to anticipate the 2017-18 return of soprano Amanda Forsythe (Sept. 29) and a performance of Monteverdi’s Orfeo (Oct. 29), but summer is, in concert terms, just around the corner.

“I thought it important to acknowledge that 2017 is the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation,” says EMV’s Matthew White, who has curated the festival. “The changes brought about by Luther’s teachings had a profound effect not only on the music of J.S. Bach, but on the whole history of western classical music.”

The festival kicks off with Montreal-based cellist Matt Haimovitz, who played Vancouver at the beginning of his career and has since become known for innovative thinking outside the music box. Which is exactly what we get from his festival program: Bach’s incomparable cello suites prefaced by new “overtures” written by such composers as Philip Glass and David Sanford. Haimovitz performs it all in two shows (Aug. 1, at 6 and 9 p.m.), at downtown’s Christ Church Cathedral.

Closing the festival will be a grand endeavour, a performance of the St. John Passion in EMV style by the sort of forces Bach himself would have used: the Pacific Baroque Orchestra, the Vancouver Cantata Singers, eight soloists, and tenor Thomas Hobbs, in the crucial role of Evangelist/Narrator (Aug. 11, 7:30 p.m.) at the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts.

White notes that the 2017 festival offers another healthy serving of Bach, culminating in a performance of his St. John Passion, but he’s chosen a good deal of other music besides.

“I thought it would be worthwhile to showcase some of the ways in which Luther’s thinking initiated musical and expressive transformations in other artists and traditions before and after the great J.S. Bach.”

The “before” programs include Conversions: Mendelssohn, Moscheles and Bach (Aug. 4, 1 p.m.) and Music from Reformation England (Aug. 2, 7:30 p.m.). There’s music by other Baroque-era figures, including Virtuosic Cantatas by Handel (Aug. 4, 7:30 p.m.); Latin American Baroque (Aug. 10, 7:30 p.m.); and, looking forward to the 19th century, a program of lieder by Schumann and Brahms (Aug. 2, 1 p.m.). All are at the Cathedral.

A particular White enthusiasm is Johann Schein’s 1623 The Fountains of Israel (Aug. 8, 7:30 p.m.): “An exquisite and moving collection of madrigals written on biblical texts from the Lutheran bible. It was a revelation to me when I first heard it. Though relatively unknown, it is a seminally important work in German musical history that was the foundation for the uniquely German relationship between text and music that reached its zenith with the Bach Passions.”

He adds, “We are really lucky to have one of Europe’s greatest ensembles specializing in this repertoire, Gli Angeli Genève, coming for this performance. They are an ensemble of soloists founded by baritone Stephan MacLeod and based in Switzerland. They are regular guests on stages all over the world and were most recently the ensemble in resident at the 2016 Utrecht Early Music Festival.”

By: DAVID GORDON DUKE

Read at: The Province

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