Boulder Bach Festival: New take on a classical composer

New director Carrettin aims for diverse offerings

Zachary Carrettin
Photo by Glenn Ross

Zachary Carrettin is not a strictly-by-the-book kind of guy. The new director of Boulder Bach Festival prefers to sample it all.

“As a festival that honors Bach, we need to look at his uncles, his cousins, his sons, we need to look at his Italian influences, his French influences, his organ teachers, other organists from Germany and other parts of Europe, Flemish and Dutch,” he says. Hardly pausing for breath, he forges ahead, “also Venetian composers. And I think that vision can expand into Brahms looking backward to Bach, Mendelssohn looking backward to Bach … maybe some day we’ll be talking about Bartók!

“I believe that a festival that honors Bach is really honoring the entire tradition that came before and came after. If you ask me, the Boulder Bach Festival is a perfect platform for presenting Portuguese fado music as well as north German organ music.”

His concept of diversity doesn’t end with repertoire.

“We also want to look at diversity of the instruments, whether it’s saxophone or Baroque violin, for example,” Carrettin says. “I believe that the conversation needs to include Bach on electric violin.”

There’s no fado or electric violin this year, but there is music performed on instruments both historical and modern, and music by J.S. Bach’s North German and Venetian contemporaries, including a concert of Vivaldi concertos in February. (See the full festival schedule at

The festival gets under way at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 20, at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Boulder with a chamber concert of preludes and trio sonatas by J.S. Bach and Georg Philip Telemann (the program is repeated Saturday at First Evangelical Lutheran Church in Longmont). The program will be performed by the Boulder Bach Festival Time Travelers — Paul Miller, violin and viola d’amore; Ismael Reyes, flute; Anna Marsh, bassoon; and Charlotte Mattax Moersch, harpsichord.

Although he will not be present, Carrettin is excited to see the festival get underway. “I’m thrilled about the first program,” he says. “It’s a little bit heartbreaking for me [not to be there] because that night I’m conducting in Texas.

“The personnel involved are more important than the choice of music. Paul Miller is a Boulder favorite — he’s perhaps the best period instrument stand partner I’ve ever played with. But he’s also one of the great American scholars of the music of Karlheinz Stockhausen. That’s such an interesting combination.

“Anna Marsh is one of the country’s finest Baroque bassoonists. She plays in Europe and Canada and across the U.S. Ismael Reyes is a very fine flutist who played with the festival two years ago on modern flute. He had lessons with some of American’s leading Baroque flute players on Skype, and in the course of less than a year taught himself to play the Baroque flute as well.

“Charlotte Mattax Moersch is the head of harpsichord and organ at the University of Illinois. She is one of our really great harpsichordists. This is a meeting of some of the great scholars of the 18th-century repertoire all playing together.”

Carrettin was the festival’s concertmaster for the past two years. He took over as director in July after his predecessor, Rick Erickson, found it more and more difficult to come to Boulder because of other musical commitments.

Carrettin will be the first director who is an orchestral player, but his career includes choral singing and conducting as well.

“For about 20 years the Bach cantatas have been highly influential in my work as a musician,” he says. “Working on motets and cantatas and large masterworks is the most compelling offering that we have. The reason I’m here is to do those works.”

While he was trained on Baroque violin, Carrettin is far from dogmatic about historical instruments and performance practice.

“Rather than consider historically informed performance, or HIP, I came up with my own acronym, RAP, which is ‘real, authentic practice,’” he explains. “For me, there are three elements of 18th-century practice: that the composers played more than one instrument, they improvised and they wrote music.

“I’m very interested in the conversation about 18th-century music on modern instruments, on period instruments, with large chorus, with small vocal ensembles, with soloists playing 9-foot grand pianos, with harpsichordists and lutenists. I feel that it’s our duty to present that conversation to our public.” For the upcoming season, Carrettin has one overriding message: “Beyond everything else I hope the audience takes home a profound emotional and artistic experience that is transforming. This is the reason that we look at sculpture, watch dance and go to concerts.

“That’s what we’re here to do: to engage in an aesthetic, intellectual, spiritual and emotional conversation [with the audience]. That’s why we have the festival.”

Boulder Bach Festival gets underway with a concert at St. John´s Episcopal Church in Boulder at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 20. The same concert happens on Saturday, Sept. 21 at First Evangelical Lutheran Church in Longmont. Visit for more information.