‘Bachtoberfest’ concerts are all about Bach, not beer

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Violinist Elizabeth Blumenstock teaches at the Juilliard School in New York and is concertmaster of the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra of San Francisco.
David Tayler

Boulder’s ever-adventurous Bach Festival embarks on a new season of exploration, with concerts in Boulder Oct. 12 and Longmont Oct. 14.

Boulder Bach Festival music director Zachary Carretin explains, “We spent recent years talking about Bach as our compass, and that gives us liberty to explore in any direction, across time, across cultures. So exploration is certainly a theme (this year), and presenting music the festival has never presented before.”

Not that Bach has been forgotten. “Every program does connect to the music of J.S. Bach,” he says, “sometimes in more direct ways, sometimes with six degrees of separation.”

Kevin McGowan
Keyboardist Christoher Holman will perform at this year’s Boulder Bach Festival.

That description applies to the opening program, which features chamber works with and without voice by Bach and composers associated with him: Vivaldi, Handel, Telemann, his student Johann Gottlieb Goldberg and his son Johann Christian Bach, known as “The London Bach.” Featured performers are Carretin and Elizabeth Blumenstock on violin; cellist Guy Fishman; keyboardist Christopher Holman; and soprano Josefien Stoppelenburg.

Michelle Maloy Dillon
Boulder Bach Festival music director Zachary Carretin

“The idea of this program is that there’s a lot of great music surrounding Johann Sebastian Bach, his students, his contemporaries, musicians he admired,” Carretin says. “This [concert] is the perfect opportunity at the start of the season to bring out a buffet of offerings that all point back to J.S. Bach — either influenced by him, or influences on him.”

The music will be performed on historical instruments, but Carretin stresses that this is not an inflexible choice. “It’s very important to me that we, as a Bach festival, don’t subscribe to a dogma,” he says. “One dogma would be period instruments, one would be modern instruments. One would be large performing forces versus small performing forces. Authentic acoustic spaces versus more contemporary spaces.

“Manuscripts, first editions and period instruments have been part of my life for 30 years, but so have modern instruments. So the diversity of stylistic approaches [to performance] is not an antidote to dogma, but rather it’s a lifestyle choice.”

In fact, Carretin says the performance style of any concert emerges from a collaborative process among all the performers. “The acoustic environment we’re in, the musicians and the instruments they’re playing on, their idiosyncrasies and distinctions all combine into the most effective interpretation we can give,” he says.

In the case of “Bachtoberfest,” Carretin is collaborating with some of the best early-music performers around. His fellow violinist Blumenstock teaches at the Juilliard School in New York and is concertmaster of the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra of San Francisco.

“She had such an impact on me, and the groups she played with, that I gave up my job with the Bergen (Norway) Philharmonic and moved to Berkeley,” he says. “She’s considered by many to be the most expressive Baroque violinist in the world today.”

Jan Folsom
Guy Fishman is principal cellist of the Handel-Haydn Society in Boston, the oldest continuously performing arts organization in the country.

Fishman is principal cellist of the Handel-Haydn Society in Boston, the oldest continuously performing arts organization in the country. A versatile performer who uses only gut strings, Fishman also plays in the Colorado Music Festival Orchestra in the summer.

Currently doing research at the Schola Cantorum in Basel, Switzerland, Holman was organist for the Bach Society, Houston. “He’s an extraordinary scholar, historian, keyboardist and singer,” Carretin says. “Having him work with us will be a great delight.”

Having appeared with BBF several times in the past, Stoppelenburg will be featured in arias by Vivaldi, Bach and Handel. She will particularly shine in the final work on the program, an aria by Handel that was only rediscovered in 2001.

“Josefien and I chose this work, first of all because she adores it,” Carretin says. “And second because it gives our audience the chance to hear virtuoso Baroque singing, where the singer has the facility and variety of articulation that you find in a great instrumentalist.”

Josefien Stoppelenburg will be featured in arias by Vivaldi, Bach and Handel during the Boulder Bach Fest.

Other noteworthy pieces on the program include a trio sonata by Goldberg, which was once thought to be the work of J.S. Bach himself, and a piece listed in the program as a Keyboard Concerto in G major by J.C. Bach, “arranged by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.”

This piece came about when Mozart was 9 years old and visiting London, where Bach was living, on a multi-year tour with his family. As a lesson in how to compose concertos, the young Mozart took some of Bach’s keyboard sonatas and added orchestral parts. “That borrowing from one another was common in the 18th century,” Carretin notes.

Looking over the program, and the variety of performance styles included in the coming season, Carretin says “these options are what keep audiences talking. So for me, it’s important that each program has new surprises.”

Surprises like newly discovered music by Handel, and a Mozart concerto that is not really by Mozart.

On the Bill: “Bachtoberfest,” Boulder Bach Festival. 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 12, Seventh-Day Adventist Church, 345 Mapleton Ave., Boulder. 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 14, Stewart Auditorium, 400 Quail Road, Longmont. Tickets: 720-507-5052, boulderbachfestival.org/tickets