Bach and Beyond Festival concludes
This 23rd season of the Bach and Beyond Festival came to its matinee conclusion on Sunday at the historic 1891 Fredonia Opera House. Artistic Director Grant Cooper curated a wonderful concert that featured music of Matthew Jackfert (b. 1988) and Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992), in addition to pieces composed by Baroque masters Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) and Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750).
Vivaldi’s Oboe Concerto in A Minor, RV 461, first on the program, provided a lovely link to Saturday evening’s rendition of The Four Seasons. Cheryl Bishkoff’s solo performance was quite captivating, supported by Vivaldi’s quintessential rhythmic motoring from the International Baroque Soloists under Cooper’s direction. Her sound filled the hall with an edgy, ornamented resonance.
The audience was then treated to the stunning tone of David Rose and his viola, as he performed-from memory-Bach’s 30-minute Partita, BWV 1004. Rose’s warm and unassuming stage presence was completely disarming, leaving the audience to experience the expressive power of Bach’s music without pretense. This five-movement partita ended with a chaconne, adhering to the established pre-intermission programming of this year’s festival. This solo performance was magical, and the audience insisted that Rose return to the stage twice to receive a heart-felt acknowledgment.
The musicians assembled after intermission to focus on works of a more contemporary nature. Being someone who has devoted a significant amount of time and energy studying contemporary music, particularly music created after 1945, I must admit that this was the moment of the festival that I was most excited to experience.
Post-intermission activities began with a world premiere, the product of collaboration between Cooper and Jackfert. The Three Seasons of Chautauqua County was a humorous take on this “natural” cycle of events that unfolds annually in our region. Its three movements (i.e., Winter, Construction, and Fall) were an amusing amalgamation of absolute music, Baroque-esque in spirit. The Argentinian-flavored dance melodies, present throughout, seemed an excellent precursor to the final composition.
Piazzolla’s Las Cuatro Estaciones Portenas (The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires) concluded the festival, with Charles Morey as featured violin soloist. Morey gave a compelling, technical, and energized performance, which showcased his superb dexterity. Piazzolla’s postmodern musical style kept the audience on the edge of their seats, as extremes of playing technique and activity were juxtaposed with more familiar passages, quoted directly from Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons. This winding labyrinth of styles beautifully set the stage for a surprising conclusion, which left the audience tickled and audibly chuckling.
I have enjoyed my participation at this, my first, Bach and Beyond Festival. The musical performances were a testament to the creative and artistic wealth hidden in plain sight, right here in our region of the globe.
It was clear that the music for this festival was carefully selected and programmed, yielding a lovely musical flow from moment to moment and concert to concert. If I were to offer one piece of criticism, it would be related to the diversity of composers represented. I would love to have heard music from more (well, any) women composers, for example. Given the increased awareness and historical research being conducted into composers who’ve been “conveniently” left out of the Western Musical Canon, I feel it important to capitalize on every opportunity to showcase as many diverse perspectives of musical thinking as possible, within every concert that is curated. This would seem to fall in line with what Grant Cooper has already established during the festival, stretching the boundaries of what it means to be beyond Bach.
Andrew Martin Smith is a composer, clarinetist, and adjunct instructor of music at the State University of New York at Fredonia, where he teaches courses in music theory and composition.