Thursday, July 15, 2004
Amidst the stodgy atmosphere that permeates many classical music performances, it’s easy to lose sight of what made composers like J. S. Bach popular in the first place: vibrancy and spontaneity.
In the 18th century, Bach—like jazz musicians today—lived for the opportunity to hone his improvisational chops in front of a live audience. The only real difference between then and now was that the male onlookers were sporting wigs and packing swords, escorting dates decked out in ruffled corsets and hoop skirts.
In their ongoing effort to illustrate that Bach isn’t stuffy, the Carmel Bach Festival this year presents several concerts that highlight the composer’s connection to, of all things, modern jazz.
“Jazz musicians love Bach because Bach comes from an era in which musicians improvised like mad,” says Nana Faridany, the festival’s longtime artistic administrator. “That’s the whole point. That is exactly what jazz musicians do.
“This whole stuffy classical music thing was built up in later centuries, where the piece of music was absolutely written in stone and not changed as a sort of a holy thing. Eighteenth century composers took music and made it useful for their everyday purposes,” says Faridany who is also a piano teacher, and admits that it can be pretty hard to get this message across. “It’s like talking about the founding fathers. It puts people to sleep.”
In keeping with the Festival’s tradition of pairing Bach with a modern composer, Saturday’s opening night concert (8pm) at the Sunset Center in Carmel features “Octet for Winds,” a work by Igor Stravinsky, the 20th century icon.
Stravinsky—who actually did compose some jazz—is linked to Bach in this piece through his use of “counterpoint”—playing interweaving themes that repeat throughout the piece.
“Jazz musicians get together and play themes that come in and out within a certain format, and that’s basically what the Stravinsky octet is in the musical form of Bach, but by a modern composer,” Faridany says.
Bach’s, Telemann’s and Vivaldi’s abilities to play around with themes is further explored in the “Festival Strings Night” next Thursday (8pm), also at the Sunset Center.
Working in a time before orchestras had conductors, Bach actually conducted his players while playing piano. In keeping with this tradition, the Thursday night show (each week of the festival repeats itself), features concertmistress Elizabeth Wallfisch, a spirited Aussie violinist, leading her ensemble while playing the violin.
“All that conductor stuff grew up between the 18th century and now,” Faridany says. “In the 18th century, the composer usually was sitting at the keyboard making stuff up and directing the other players. [Wallfisch] directs from a violin and has a small group of people standing around, and they sort of nod at each other in the same way that a jazz group would.”
Complimenting the 18th century feel of the concert is the fact that Wallfisch and all the others will be playing authentic baroque style violins. These instruments differ from modern violins in that their bows are shorter and are more bowed than contemporary fiddles.
“The modern violinists play a very long bow and drag the note way out to the end of the bow,” Faridany says. “The Baroque bow is shorter, more agile. You can play a lot of notes and skitter around a lot faster with a Baroque bow.”
For a complete list of scheduled performances and venues, visit www.bachfestival.org.