July 16, 2012
The year-long toil of administrative work and planning, including travel, scheduling, logistics and housing; the months-long search for a new executive director; the endless fundraising; the rehearsals and programming and historical research; it all began its two-week culmination last Saturday at the opening concert of the 75th Carmel Bach Festival.
It opened, as all the main concerts will, with a free pre-concert talk by festival dramaturge, lecturer and Adams vocal master class Director David Gordon, which was soundly attended, followed by a performance of the Tower Music festival horns. Then the audience—a converging, swirling mass of enthusiastic music lovers who bought out the event—were let into the performance hall to catch their first glimpse of the atmosphere in store.
The backdrop of the stage was projected with a light that replicated the look of an old cathedral's stained glass, a visual cue to the imminent ecclesiastical music program of Bach's Mass in B Minor. The Bach Festival's president of the board, David Nee, first greeted and welcomed the audience before introducing new executive director Debbie Chinn, who was succinct, amiable and gracious for the presence of everyone there, musicians and audience alike.
After a bit of evocative tuning by some of the strings, the festival soloists walked out, flanked by second-year music director and conductor Paul Goodwin, who's become a festival celebrity for his ebullient conducting style, deep musical knowledge and progressive programming—not to mention his infectious charm. As per his style last year, he started the music without ceremony.
And what music it was. Separated into four big sections (with an intermission in which the giddiness had already infected listeners) and based on the Catholic mass (though Bach was a Lutheran), it opened with the measured and reverential chorus—a merger of the festival's professional chorale and amateur (and local) choir—of the Kyrie, accompanied by precisely played strings. And it progressed from there into a glorious journey of the pain, redemption, yearning and salvation of the Christ mass, in duets and arias by sopranos Kendra Colton and Clara Rottsolk, countertenor Robin Blaze, tenor Thomas Cooley and baritone Alexander Dobson; in distinct and clear musical turns from various parts of the orchestra, comprised of some early natural instruments including horns and harpsichord; in virtuoso solo instrumental passages; in big, harmonious and well directed convergences of the different elements into a musical outpouring that was often sublime and uplifting, and always captivating.
The Mass was a colorful splendor, true to Bach's faith, a soaring homage to God, and a promising opener to the more than 40 musical offerings (and many nonmusical offerings) to come.
The concert earned a long, sustained standing ovation, and afterwards many people filled the upper terrace of the Sunset Center courtyard, despite a drizzle, afterwards to share in champagne (poured and doled out efficiently by the small, hardworking Bach Festival staff), mini cupcakes and words of thanks by maestro Goodwin. He was so pumped up and happy that he began his remarks on the PA system mic with a bit of beatboxing. (The man truly has musical range.) He and Chinn hung out together, jokey as siblings, relieved and joyful, like they had just aced a big test. They mingled among the crowd, graciously accepting compliments and bouncing the good will right back at all the well wishers. They earned it.