BACHFEST LEIPZIG 2005
Having experienced a very satisfying festival last year, I returned to Leipzig to join the Bachfest Leipzig 2005 with high expectation. The theme this year was ‘Bach and the Future’, a very broad umbrella under which many different ideas were accommodated. From the published programme I noticed that there were some distinct focuses on such ideas as exploring how much influence Bach’s music had to the later generations and how this trend may continue in the future, and who can be the next generation of star performers and what musicologists find, as symbolised in the première of Johann Christian Bach’s opera Temistocle produced by Francisco Miguel Negrin.
Several concerts were truly memorable. The top of my list was Windsbacher Knabenchor conducted by Karl-Friedrich Beringer on 30 April (the 2nd day of the festival). In the Thomaskirche they sung BWV 172, 124, 227 and 137. Of these BWV 227 ‘Jesu, meine Freude’ was absolutely magical and utterly convincing.
The choir was very accomplished technically, but it was not their technically accomplished singing that impressed me. It was their spirit, powerful desire to sing and communicate. Like a surge of waves, their delicately-shaped phrases followed one after another--all developed imaginatively and convincingly into a bigger architecture, by which I was completely overwhelmed. The Deutsche Kammer-Virtuosen Berlin played their role exceptionally well, covering occasional rough edges of the choir.
The second on my list was John Eliot Gardiner’s St Matthew Passion on 4 May, again in the Thomaskirche. This was a well-prepared but at the same time highly-charged performance from this year’s recipient of the Bach Medal. Sir John Eliot’s power of imagination was most clearly felt through his tactful shaping of individual movements (especially the chorales sung by the Monteverdi Choir). The manner in which he created the drama of Christ’s Passion from movement 45b onwards was particularly impressive. The performance also had several side issues about professionalism, in both good and bad senses. There were many soloists in the performance who contributed fully to this heart-felt performance by adding individual colours and characters; but unfortunately there were a few who were unable to fulfil their tasks, as their lack of technical competence was crudely and often embarrassingly exposed. It seemed to be saying how difficult it was to stage a totally convincing and coherent performance of Bach’s Passions. This made me think how Bach managed 278 years ago when he had to settle with much less competent performers in the same acoustic space (albeit it had been modified many times since) ...
My third was the closing concert of the Bachfest in the Thomaskirche on 8 May, Herbert Blomstedt’s B-Minor Mass, which was reported to be his last concert as the Music Director of the Gewandhaus Orchestra. His emotionally-charged leadership was evident from the outset, pulling and kneading his orchestra and choir. In this way he succeeded in capturing the yearning mood of the opening ‘Kyrie’. The contrast of speeds was another that Blomstedt made tactful use that day to bind the whole work together.
There were altogether 87 concerts during the ten-day period of the Bachfest of which 48 are the paying concerts and 39 free; so it was impossible to go to all of them. Among the rest of the concerts that I was able to attend, there were some concerts that were worth mentioning (in the chronological order): Arvo Pärt's Johannes-Passion performed serenely by the Hilliard Ensemble and the Concerto Vocale; the exciting chamber music programme featuring the fortepiano (Christine Schornsheim) and harpsichord (Raphael Alpermann) with Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin; the delightful and convincing rendering of the Art of Fugue performed by the string quartet plus harpsichord by Musica Antiqua Köln led by Reinhard Goebel; Bach’s orchestral works (BWV 1048, 1044 and 1050) plus the works of Stravinski and Webern sensitively and often powerfully performed by Münchener Kammerorchester led by Christoph Poppen; a promising tenor Seung-Hee Park with Ensemble Musica Glorifica singing BWV 445, 458, 452 plus the works of Schütz, Purcell, etc.; Ryo Terakado’s stunning virtuoso playing of the works of Bach and Biber with Kaori Uemura (viol) and Shalev Ad-El (harpsichord).
Along the theme of this year’s Bachfest, the most symbolic I thought was Michael Maul’s research seminar on ‘Von staubigen Kirchturmböden und dunklen Rathauskellern -- Auf der Suche nach neuen Bach-Dokumenten’ (From dusty church tower loft and dark city hall cellars: on the search for new Bach documents), which took place on 2nd May in the Bach-Archiv's Sommersaal. As you can see from the photos, it was fully packed with people interested in the latest scholarship, which I thought was very encouraging. No one knew at this point that Maul was to discover the Soprano Aria (BWV 1127) in Weimar two weeks later.
This year, I also participated in the Bachfest as performer in one of the free concerts in the Sommersaal on 6 May at 3 pm, playing BWV 1024, 1020, Anh. III 174 and 1019a with Hajime Teranishi (Baroque Violin) as well as the unique variants of BWV 870/1 and 886/2 transmitted in the hand of W. F. Bach on the harpsichord (for which more information is found from this link). It was a programme designed to offer a small contribution to the theme of this year’s Bachfest by revisiting the much debated issue of authenticity. To our disappointment, however, there were hardly any audience, let alone TV interviews by MDR and NHK that were said to have been arranged! (The explanation from the organiser was that it was mistakenly advertised in the local newspaper for 8pm [when we were at Angela Hewitt’s piano recital in the Gewandhaus]. The only evidence of this ‘execuse’ was a big bunch of the concert programme delivered to us at 11 pm!)
There were also other organisational hiccups this year. The change of the published programme was the most annoying of all, which not only threw off the audience’s expectation but angered some people who came all the way from abroad to hear specific works. I am under the impression that nearly one third of the concert programmes were altered. Angela Hewitt was the case in point: she apparently substituted the pieces from the Well-Tempered Clavier II with Capriccio, and in the programme on the day, BWV 993 (‘Capriccio in honorem Johann Christoph Bachii’) was listed. But to our amazement, she in fact played BWV 992 (‘Capriccio sopra la lontananza del fratello dilettissimo’) with a short announcement that she noticed that the error in the programme! The harpsichord recital by Pierre Hantaï was another. He was meant to play the Goldberg Variations alone, but he started his recital (at 22:30 on 5 May in the Altes Rathaus) with the pieces by William Byrd. So I went home at the interval (at 23:00) with disappointment. It was a shame that the organiser were unable to ensure what was being promised with the audience. The Bachfest 2006 must be organised better.
Having said what has to be said, I am happy overall with the Bachfest 2005. It offered an exciting package for many different groups of music lovers: tourists by an increased number of organ tours this year travelling to Naumburg, Merseburg, Rötha, Freiberg, and Wechselburg as well as the church services that offered some insights into how they were like in Bach's time; Jazz enthusiasts by Stephan König Trio; Opera goers by the première of J. C. Bach’s Temistocle; theatre fans by Gunter Fischer’s ‘Well-Tempered Bach’. I am looking forward to return to Leipzig on 27 May 2006 to participate in Bachfest Leipzig 2006 with the theme ‘From Bach to Mozart’.
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