By Daniel Hathaway
“Tradition and innovation in the same moment: it’s like Bach.” That’s just one line from an ode to Johann Sebastian Bach that introduces the 83rd Baldwin Wallace Bach Festival to visitors on its website, but it sums up the character of this weekend’s Festival under its new management.
“We’re moving on,” Dirk Garner said in a phone conversation from his studio in Berea, where he serves as Gigax Chair for Choral Studies at the Baldwin Wallace University Conservatory of Music, and now as artistic director of the BW Bach Festival
, the oldest collegiate Bach festival in the country. “The fun part — and the hard part — of this position is maintaining the tradition of the beloved Bach Festival, and at the same time trying to do new things.”
For years, the Festival has centered itself around a performance of one of Bach’s major choral works. The St. John and St. Matthew Passions, the Christmas Oratorio and the Mass in b minor rotate on a four-year cycle, guaranteeing that every BW singer has the opportunity to participate in one of those landmark works during a college career. In keeping with that tradition, Dirk Garner will lead his University and Motet Choirs and the Bach Festival Orchestra in the B-minor Mass on Saturday evening, April 18 at 7:00 pm in Gamble Auditorium.
Otherwise, new winds are blowing in Berea. One of Garner’s innovations is Bach Haus, which operates outside the Festival schedule in an attempt to involve more people in Bach’s music in new ways. The first edition, held last October in Fynette Kulas Music Hall — the Conservatory’s recently repurposed church sanctuary — brought the BW Beatles, BW Music Theatre and the Front Porch Bluegrass Band together for a fusion event in a coffeehouse setting.
“It sold out immediately, weeks ahead of time. My wife played Bach on the piano and we served coffee and vegan pastries provided by a BW alum. The event was so exciting,” Garner said. “We held another one in February and had the same experience. This is part of our plan to expand our programming — to do more than just Bach’s music and to do it in a variety of ways, not simply as concerts. Next year, we’ll move Bach Haus off campus into other non-traditional venues.”
Read the rest of the preview at ClevelandClassical.com.