Boulder Bach Festival opens season with a concert — and a little bit more

Gala event includes wine, tapas, conversation, and music in the lobby

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Robert Hill (L) and Zachary Carrettin (R) with all the instruments that will be used in the concert: a harpsichord made by Keith Hill, and all three instruments that Carrettin will play: Baroque viola in his right hand, the Cello da spalla around his neck, and the Baroque violin in his left hand.
Courtesy of Zachary Carrettin

The Boulder Bach Festival opens its 2018–19 season at the Stewart Auditorium in Longmont, Thursday, Sept. 13, with a concert, and something more.

The 7:30 p.m. concert will feature music of J.S. Bach, played by the BBF’s artistic director Zachary Carrettin on Baroque viola, the shoulder-held cello da spalla, and Baroque violin; and guest artist Robert Hill, newly appointed to the CU Boulder music faculty, on harpsichord. The “something more” starts at 6:30 p.m. in the Stewart Auditorium lobby, with wine and tapas included in the ticket price, and short performances by BBF fellowship artists.

“We wanted to have an event where our audience have tapas and wine and talk with one another, and hear some performances in the lobby,” Carrettin says. The event was included at no extra cost for season-ticket buyers, but individual tickets are $75 to help cover the cost of catering.

“This isn’t a fundraiser,” Carrettin explains. “It’s an opportunity to open our season with a social event that will be enjoyable for everybody.”

During the hour preceding the concert, there will be four short performances of pieces by Thomas Tallis, a 16th-century English composer of sacred choral music. “That [lobby] lends itself to antiphonal performance,” Carrettin says. “My idea is to alternate the vocal ensemble and the string ensemble, and you may have the string ensemble at your left and the vocal ensemble to your right.”

The following recital program of works by J.S. Bach will feature Hill performing two works for solo harpsichord, in addition to the three works that Hill and Carrettin will play together. In order, they will be Bach’s Sonata for viola da gamba and harpsichord in G major, with Carrettin playing a Baroque viola; Hill playing Bach’s Concerto Transcription for solo harpsichord after Vivaldi in C major; Carrettin alone on the Suite for unaccompanied cello in G major, played on the shoulder-held cello; Hill playing the Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue for solo harpsichord in D minor; and the Sonata for Violin and Obbligato Harpsichord in G major.

“These are all amazing works, and they are all quite distinct from one another,” Carrettin says. “I never played three different instruments in one concert, (but) I felt that as we start our season, why not challenge myself?”

The instruments in the concert are a story of their own. For the Sonata in G major, Carrettin will be using a 1780 Baroque viola that was given to him last year. “It’s a small instrument with a very intimate sound,” he says. “With harpsichord it can become an inner voice of the contrapuntal lines, part of the voices being played on the harpsichord.”

This is important because the Sonata is arranged from a trio sonata for two flutes and bass. The viola and the right hand of the harpsichord have the two original flute parts, which should be equal in the texture. In contrast, playing the sonata on a larger modern viola would turn it into a viola solo with accompaniment.

Carrettin’s second instrument, the shoulder-held cello, was almost forgotten for many years, even though it was common in the Baroque era. “There are paintings from the period that show that violinists often played bass parts on a shoulder-held instrument,” he says, adding that recent research has led to a resurrection of the instrument in period instrument performances.

Carrettin introduced his own custom-built cello da spalla to BBF audiences two years ago, and has performed on it occasionally since then. Its use for this concert is part of his wide-ranging exploration of Bach’s music. “I’m way more interested in the questions than the answers,” he says. “I’ve played this suite on electric violin, modern violin, Baroque violin, modern viola, Baroque viola, and cello da spalla.”

The harpsichord that Hill will be playing was built by his brother, Keith Hill, one of the most prominent harpsichord builders today. His instruments are unique in the way that he shapes the bottom of the soundboard, the wood piece that sits below the strings and reflects the sound upwards. He shapes the bottom of the soundboard with various thicknesses that are non-symmetrical.

This technique “creates a longer resonance” rather than the sound stopping abruptly as on most harpsichords, Carrettin says. Consequently, “his harpsichords have a more lush sound than many others.”

The new CU professor’s playing is remarkable too, he says. “To hear Robert Hill live is something I’m really excited to be able to offer our audiences. You get a resonance and clarity of counterpoint in his playing that is just phenomenal.”

In fact, Carrettin is always excited about the BBF’s programs, and this one is no exception: “Two artists, four instruments, plus wine, tapas, performances in the lobby, two great acoustic spaces,” he enthuses, ”all in one night.”

On the Bill: 38th Season Opening Gala, Boulder Bach Festival — with Robert Hill, harpsichord; Zachary Carrettin, violin, viola, and cello da spall. 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, City of Longmont Museum, Stewart Auditorium, 400 Quail Road, Longmont.

BBF Season tickets and individual concert tickets here: boulderbachfestival.org/tickets/#cc-m-product-14908932122