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After 25 years, Bach festival continues to grow

This year’s Bach & Beyond Baroque Music Festival concluded with a matinee program that continued the previous evening’s exploration of concerti at the historic 1891 Fredonia Opera House.

The afternoon’s musical offerings began with a beautiful performance of “Concerto Grosso, Op. 6, No. 1” written by Arcangelo Corelli (1653-1713). The Italian composer’s four-movement work was nothing short of magical in the capable hands of Maestro Grant Cooper and the International Baroque Soloists, with featured musicians Aika Ito (violin), Jennifer Wood (violin), and Elizabeth Simkin (cello). The second and fourth movements were particularly mesmerizing.

The “Cello Concerto in A Minor” by Antonio Vivaldi (edited by Walter Kolneder) was performed next, featuring cellist Jolyon Pegis, who needed no introduction to dedicated concertgoers. This was Pegis’s second time being featured as a soloist at this year’s festival.

The performance was enjoyable, in spite of several moments during the first movement in which the cello was partially obscured by the accompanying musical texture. While Pegis’s performance of the Vivaldi was strong, I felt that his interpretation of the concerto by Johann Christian Bach given on opening night was far more captivating; the Bach really allow Pegis to highlight his best qualities as a solo performer.

Following intermission, the concert came to a close with a performance of Ernest Bloch’s “Concerto Grosso No. 1.” Bloch (1880-1959), a neo-classical Swiss-born American composer, completed his first concerto grosso in 1925; it was scored for string orchestra with piano obbligato. Alan Giambattista’s adept performance of the indispensable piano layer was a jewel atop the most expressive work on the festival’s program. The International Baroque Soloists brought an energy to the performance of this four-movement composition that was, in this reviewer’s opinion, unparalleled when compared with previous works. It seemed a fitting culmination, in spite of the anachronistic characteristics Bloch infused within this older musical form: a form perhaps utilized in name only.

One final observation should be made with regard to the programming of this year’s festival. In this second decade of the 21st century, I still feel compelled to point out that the lack of diverse musical perspectives (compositionally speaking) seems to be a glaring omission, especially for a festival that focuses on so much music “beyond” Bach and, in some cases, beyond tradition itself (I’m thinking in particular about the daring interpretation of Handel’s “Messiah” in 2019). Sofia Gubaidulina (who frequently quotes Bach in her works), Ellen Taaffe Zwilich or Rebecca Clarke (whose music showcases strong neo-classical voices), and Bach contemporaries (or predecessors) Barbara Strozzi, Francesca Caccini, and Isabella Leonarda are just a handful of composers whose exploration and presentation might serve to enrich the vibrant tapestry of music this festival is already known for exploring, as it looks to voyage beyond its 25th year.

Andrew Martin Smith is a composer, clarinetist, General Manager of the Society of Composers, Inc., and Senior Adjunct Lecturer of Music at the State University of New York at Fredonia, where he teaches courses in music theory and composition, in addition to his role as Instructor of Music Theory and Composition at Interlochen Arts Camp in Interlochen, Mich.

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