Middlebury’s Bach Festival kicks off this Friday

MIDDLEBURY — The third annual Middlebury Bach Festival will take place at Middlebury College Friday-Sunday, April 26-28, featuring guest conductor Martin Pearlman, conductor of Boston Baroque. Pearlman joins Middlebury College students, affiliate artists and faculty and professional musicians from Vermont and greater New England for this popular festival celebrating the music and influence of Johann Sebastian Bach. Three days of musical events will bring the college and town of Middlebury together, modeled after the way the famous organist/composer worked in Leipzig over 275 years ago.
The festival is organized by Jeffrey Buettner, assistant professor of music and director of choral activities, and Jessica Allen, singer, voice teacher and director of music at the Congregational Church of Middlebury. “Johann Sebastian Bach brought together diverse musical styles, sacred and secular genres, and musicians from church, town and university, and this was the inspiration for our festival,” says Buettner. “Bach’s music is appealing, emotionally and intellectually.
Guest conductor Martin Pearlman is a leading interpreter of baroque and classical music on period and modern instruments. He is the founder, music director and conductor of the orchestra and chorus of Boston Baroque, now widely regarded as “some of the finest American interpreters of music of this era” (Fanfare). He leads Boston Baroque in an annual subscription concert series in greater Boston, tours in the U.S. and Europe, and to date has produced 19 major recordings with Telarc. The recordings are heard by millions in thirty countries worldwide, and have received three Grammy nominations.
The festival opens Friday evening, April 26, with a concert by the Middlebury College Choir and Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Buettner. The program includes Christoph Willibald Gluck’s opera “Orfeoed Euridice,” and selections of choral music inspired by the myth of the ancient Greek musician and poet Orpheus. The concert will take place at 8 p.m. in the Concert Hall of Middlebury College’s Mahaney Center for the Arts; admission is free.
On Saturday, April 27, the festival continues with three interest sessions in the Mahaney Center for the Arts Concert Hall. The first, “Daring Virtuosity in Bach’s Concerto in D Minor,” will be given by Middlebury College Affiliate Artist and harpsichordist Cynthia Huard at 10 a.m. The next session, “Performing Bach’s Magnificat,” will be offered by Pearlman at 11 a.m. After a break for the festival lunch in the lower lobby, participants can return to the Concert Hall for the third interest session, “A Day in the Life of a Countertenor,” offered by countertenor Martin Near of the professional vocal ensemble Blue Heron, starting at 1:30 p.m. All of the interest sessions are free and open to the public.
Classical guitarist Eric Despard continues the activities on Saturday evening with an informal performance called “Bach Unplugged,” from 6-7:30 p.m. at 51 Main at the Bridge in downtown Middlebury. In an encore of his presentation from last year’s festival, Despard will perform music by Bach and other composers as listeners enjoy food and drink available at this popular nightspot. Admission is free.
Saturday’s schedule culminates in the grand Festival Concert at 8  p.m. in Middlebury College’s beautiful Mead Memorial Chapel. The concert opens with the Orchestral Suite in D Major, featuring Bach’s famous “Air”; the other movements are vigorous dances. Next, Cynthia Huard will play the tremendously energetic and virtuosic Harpsichord Concerto in D Minor. The final work of the program will be the “Magnificat.” This piece, one of Bach’s major choral-orchestral works, will feature the Middlebury College Choir with student and guest instrumentalists, and five professional soloists.
Sopranos Carol Christensen and Susanne Peck are both Middlebury College affiliate artists. Countertenor Martin Near, tenor Adam Hall, and bass Erik Kroncke are all professional singers who perform regularly with opera companies across the country (Hall and Kroncke performed in the opera Company of Middlebury’s “Madama Butterfly” last fall at Town Hall Theater). Tickets for the Saturday Festival Concert are $12 regular admission; $10 for Middlebury College faculty, staff, and affiliates with an ID; and free for Middlebury College students showing their student ID.
On Sunday, April 28, area congregations will respond to the spirit of the festival by including works by Bach in their services. Participating organizations include the Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Congregational Church of Middlebury UCC, Memorial Baptist Church, St. Stephen’s on the Green, and United Methodist Church of Middlebury.
All events in the Middlebury Bach Festival, with the exception of the Saturday 8 p.m. concert, are free and open to the public.
The Mahaney Center for the Arts is located at 72 Porter Field Road in Middlebury, just off Route 30 south. Free parking is available. For the Saturday night concert at Mead Chapel, free parking is available along Old Chapel Road, Route 125/College Street, and Hillcrest Road, with handicap-accessible parking reserved on Hepburn Road. For tickets or information, call (802) 443-MIDD (6433) or go to http://go.middlebury.edu/arts.

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