Thursday, July 12, 2007
Seventy-three years ago in the bohemian hamlet of Carmel-by-the-Sea, the industrious and freespirited matersfamilias of high arts and culture, Dene Denny and Hazel Watrous, noticed a need, and created something exquisite to fill it. Quickly, the complex interlocking themes of Johannes Sebastian Bach’s passionately mathematical music filled a Carmel auditorium for three days, and the Carmel Bach Festival was born. It has since developed a national reputation, and is one of the major music events of the West Coast.
This year, in celebration of the Bach Festival’s 70th season (there was a three-year hiatus during World War II) more than 200 musicians and about 30,000 attendees take over the Sunset Center and other venues throughout the County for over 100 events and 50 performances over a span of 23 days.
From the beginning, the Festival has been unique.
“Bach and early music were rarely performed,” at least not in the ways the composers intended, says Jesse Reed, the Festival’s executive director. “The high trumpet parts, the harpsichord and other early instruments require specialists to play them, and such musicians and instruments just weren’t commonly available.”
Not only the instrumentation, but the size and makeup of the orchestras had strayed from the composer’s original intentions.
“Some of the first Beethoven symphonies were originally done in drawing rooms, with one player per part,” Reed says. In concert halls, in effect, audiences were not hearing the real music of these composers.
From the earliest years, the Festival presented the works of Bach and other early composers as they would have been performed in their time, rather than in a modern interpretation. For audiences, Reed says, this is often a revelation, “as if centuries of varnish had been stripped away to reveal the color and clarity and the definition.”
Rachel Evans, associate principal 2nd violin, has returned to perform in the festival for nine years. She credits the collaboration between Maestro Bruno Weil, the Bach Fest’s music director and conductor, and Elizabeth Wallfisch, the Festival’s concertmaster, for making the musical experience “profound.”
“This festival really stands out,” Evans says. “Libby [Wallfisch] has an extraordinary way of bringing people together and making them comfortable, and Bruno makes each piece come freshly to life.
“For example, he was talking about the humor of Beethoven that is never revealed, and the rhetoric of the humor, the clues that his contemporaries would have understood that have been lost to modern audiences. He makes something that you only sense into something concrete. On these occasions, I know that I have just learned something profound that will be with me all my life.”
When the orchestra deeply understands and shares these musical ideas, Evans says, “the audience hears it. It’s just there, the real idea behind the piece is brought to life. The audience doesn’t have to know it, but even if they don’t know it, they will still feel it.”
This melding of intellectual understanding and emotional connectivity brings audiences a rich experience—definitely not a visit to the music museum. Dedicated to Bach, his influences and his legacy, the Festival performances have spanned the Renaissance to the modern. “The Bach Festival is a hybrid,” says Reed. “Players perform on original instruments, with gut strings and light classical bows, but modern instruments are also included—with a lot of attention to the balance.”
The balance extends to the modern works that show that Bach’s profound influence lives on. Although she is a specialist in early music and plays a baroque violin, Evans appreciates the way that the Bach Festival brings in modern music “I’m very excited to have the opportunity to perform Arvo Pårt’s Collage on the Name BACH—he is one of the greatest 20th century composers, and over the years works by Schoenberg, Prokofiev, Frank Martin, Reger. It’s an extraordinary experience.”