BACH WEEK FESTIVAL To Take Final Bow With 50th Anniversary Season

The 50th anniversary season, running from April 26 to May 5, 2024, will conclude with J. S. Bach's final sacred masterpiece, the Mass in B Minor.

By: Mar. 01, 2024
BACH WEEK FESTIVAL To Take Final Bow With 50th Anniversary Season
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The Evanston-based Bach Week Festival has announced that its 50th anniversary season, April 26 to May 5, 2024, will be its last.

"It's truly been a half-century labor of love," Richard Webster, the festival's longtime music director, says. "And we'll conclude this amazing journey with J. S. Bach's final sacred masterpiece, the incomparable Mass in B Minor, amid joy and gratitude for all who have been part of Bach Week.

"For many years now," he says, "festival responsibilities have been shouldered by a very small, highly dedicated group of generous and hardworking board members and other volunteers. They've been the backbone of the organization, some since the festival's debut in 1974.

"As Bach Week approaches its golden anniversary season, many in our core group are approaching their own golden years," Webster says.

"They feel, as do I, that it's the right time for Bach Week to bid adieu, and on a high note."

He says, "The festival is in fine form for this, our 51st annual edition. Over the past couple years, we've seen attendance and donations recover to pre-pandemic levels, and we've attracted a stellar lineup of Chicago-area artists again this year, many of whom are like family."

Webster, a nationally prominent church musician, has been the festival's music director and conductor since 1975.

He performed in and helped organize Evanston's first Bach Week, May 5­-12,1974, during his senior year at Northwestern University's School of Music, under his mentor, festival founder Karel Paukert. The latter was associate professor of organ and church music at NU and organist and choirmaster at St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Evanston, the festival's first home.

Shortly after launching Bach Week, Paukert moved to the Cleveland, Ohio, area, where he has enjoyed a long and distinguished music career that continues to this day. He is expected to attend Bach Week's final concert May 5 at St. Luke's featuring Bach's B-Minor Mass.

Always something new

A festival hallmark, Webster says, has been programming designed to surprise as well as delight Baroque music lovers, with J. S. Bach as the artistic touchstone. "Each spring, something new blossoms at Bach Week."

The festival's 2024 valedictory season will open April 26 in Evanston with internationally renowned concert and recording artist Sergei Babayan's eclectic new solo-piano recital program to which he's added four works of J. S. Bach expressly for this performance.

A Candlelight Concert later that evening will feature a made-for-Bach Week program of Italian Baroque works for soprano and harpsichord.

On April 28, the festival will stage a free period-instrument chamber music concert in Chicago, its third in as many seasons, with a new program of Baroque vocal and instrumental works.

Bach Week will conclude its historic run May 5 in Evanston with its namesake composer's Mass in B Minor, BWV 232, considered by many the greatest work in Western Classical music and the capstone of the composer's career.

Webster says the B-Minor mass will be a "fantastic festival finale, a spectacular send-off."

The 2024 festival continues a tradition of presenting concerts performed at the highest professional level, in intimate and moderate-size venues for a close-up audience experience, and at modest ticket prices. Admission is free to the festival's April 28 period-instrument chamber concert in Chicago.

Pianist Sergei Babayan opens festival April 26 with imaginative new recital program

Sergei Babayan, the celebrated Armenian American pianist praised by The New York Times for his "consummate technique and insight," will open Bach Week's 50th anniversary festival with the world premiere of an inventive new recital program 7:30 p.m. Friday, April 26, at Nichols Concert Hall in Evanston.

The core program, which Babayan will perform in England and Germany later this year, comprises nearly 30 pieces spanning from the late Classical and Romantic periods to the late 20th century, many transcribed for piano, and representing 17 composers hailing from his native Armenia, Austria, France, Germany, Hungary, Russia, Spain, and the United States.

Babayan's Bach Week performance features a special twist: As a golden anniversary tribute to the festival, he'll bookend the program with music of J. S. Bach.

He'll open the recital with Bach's Prelude and Fugue in C Major, BWV 846; in C Minor, BWV 847; in C-sharp Major, BWV 848; and in C-sharp Minor, BWV 849. He'll close with the "Aria" from Bach's Goldberg Variations, BWV 988.

In between, concertgoers will hear Franz Schubert's "Aufenthalt," S. 560, No. 3; "Auf dem Wasser zu singen," S. 558 No. 2; "Die Stadt," S. 558 No. 11; "Gretchen am Spinnrade," S. 558 No. 8; "Ständchen von Shakespeare," S. 558, No. 8; and "Erlkönig," S. 558, No. 4; Robert Schumann's "Liebeslied" ("Widmung"), S. 566; Franz Liszt's "Hymne de la nuit" S. 173a/1, and "Romance" in E Minor S. 169, "O pourquoi donc"; Sergei Rachmaninoff's "Where beauty dwells" and "Melody" from Twelve Songs, Op. 21, and "Dream" from Six Songs, Op. 38; and Fritz Kreisler's "Liebesleid."

Following an intermission, Babayan will play Frederic Mompou's "Canción" Nos. 6, 7, and 8 from "Cançons i Danses"; Komitas's "Chinar es"; Harold Arlen's "Over the Rainbow"; Leonid Desyatnikov's "Red arrowwood, green leaves" from "Songs of Bukovina"; Jesús Guridi's "La carrasquilla" from "Danzas viejas"; Paul Hindemith's "Einleitung und Lied" from "Klaviermusik," Op. 37, Pt. 2, "Reihe kleiner Stücke"; Komitas's "Berceuse" and "Semplice" from "Seven Songs"; Georges Bizet's "L'aurore" from "Chants du Rhin"; and Stephen Reynolds' "Chanson d'automne" from "Two Poems in Homage to Fauré."

Also: Francis Poulenc's Improvisation No. 15 in C Minor ("Hommage à Edith Piaf"), FP 176; Gabriel Fauré's "Au bord de l'eau", Op. 8, No. 1; Poulenc's "Les chemins de l'amour"; Charles Trenet's "En avril à Paris"; and George Gershwin's "Oh lady, be good!"

ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award-winning author and critic Joseph Horowitz hailed Babayan as one of the "Great Pianists of the Present" in his Arts Journal review of Babayan's November 2, 2023, recital at Carnegie Hall's Zankel Hall.

"Babayan in recital is an integrated whole," Horowitz wrote. "He is one with the piano; the instrument is part of him. ... His musical intelligence is probing and informative. He is fearlessly improvisatory. ... In fact, every one of Babayan's readings at Zankel bristled with surprises. Nothing was predictable, save the mastery of his pianism."

A Bach Week favorite, Babayan, who is based in New York, is an exclusive Deutsche Grammophon recording artist. His album "Rachmaninoff" was hailed by the international press as a groundbreaking recording and received numerous awards including BBC Recording of the Month. His first album for the label, "Prokofiev for Two," was a duo partnership with Martha Argerich and features Babayan's own transcriptions for two pianos of movements from Sergei Prokofiev's "Romeo and Juliet" and other works.

"When Sergei plays Bach on the piano, his range of expression is equal to the range of expression in all of Bach's music," Bach Week's Webster says. "The sounds he gets out of the piano are sounds I've never heard before in Bach's keyboard works. And he does it in the most convincing way."

Babayan's recital is sponsored by the Howard S. Dubin Family Foundation.

Italian Baroque arias by candlelight April 26

Concertgoers can experience a program of "Italian Delights" along with complimentary champagne and fine chocolates when local luminaries, Dutch soprano Josefien Stoppelenburg and harpsichordist Stephen Alltop, headline the festival's Candlelight Concert at 10 p.m. on Friday, April 26, in the lobby of Nichols Concert Hall.

The artists have assembled a 45-minute program, expressly for Bach Week, spotlighting Italian vocal styles from the 17th and 18th centuries.

They'll perform George Frideric Handel's "Se pieta" from his opera "Giulio Cesare" in G minor, HWV 432; Isabella Leonarda's "Surge ó faelix anima"; Claudio Monteverdi's "Exulta Filia Sion;" and Antonio Vivaldi's "In furore iustissimae irae," RV 636.

Alltop says "the melancholy mood of Handel's gorgeous aria contrasts with the notable agility of the Monteverdi."

Leonarda's piece exemplifies the high quality of sacred music written by Italian nuns in the early Baroque period.

Vivaldi's cantata "is full of the vocal fireworks that are a specialty for Josefien," Alltop says.

Free period-instrument concert celebrates "Music Among Friends" April 28 in Chicago

A group of friends who happen to be among Chicago's - and the nation's - finest period-instrument musicians will play works by Baroque composers connected by mutual admiration and friendship at a chamber concert titled "Music Among Friends" at 3 p.m. Sunday, April 28, at All Saints' Episcopal Church, 4550 N. Hermitage Avenue, Chicago. Admission is free, but seating is limited.

The ensemble, organized by Bach Week principal harpsichordist and organist Jason J. Moy, consists of soprano Hannah De Priest, Baroque violinist Shelby Yasmin, Baroque cellist Ana Kim, and Moy on harpsichord.

The program, curated by Moy, comprises Antonio Vivaldi's cantata "Lungi dal vago volto," RV 680; J. S. Bach's Sonata No. 1 in B minor for Violin and Harpsichord, BWV 1014; Georg Philipp Telemann's Trio Sonata in F major for Violin, Cello, and Continuo, TWV 42:F1; Johann Georg Pisendel's Sonata in D Major for Violin and Continuo; and two songs from George Frideric Handel's "Neun Deutsche Arien": "Süsse Stille, sanfte Quelle," HWV 205, and "Singe Seele, Gott zum Preise," HWV 206.

Bach and Telemann were close friends and colleagues, as were Telemann and Handel. Pisendel was a violin superstar of his day. Telemann and Vivaldi knew Pisendel and dedicated works to him. Bach also admired Pisendel and may have written his Violin Sonatas for him, Moy says.

Moy says Vivaldi's "colorful and dramatic cantata" for solo violin, soprano, and continuo (cello and harpsichord) underscores connections between Vivaldi, Pisendel, and Bach and showcases soprano De Priest's "considerable talents and vocal pyrotechnics."

De Priest's recent opera credits include her Kennedy Center debut, European debut at the Innsbruck Early Music Festival, and multiple productions with the Boston Early Music Festival, Chicago's Haymarket Opera Company, and Cleveland early-music ensemble Les Délices.

Yasmin has made solo appearances with Voices of Music, Philharmonia Baroque Chamber Players, and New York Baroque Incorporated. Winner of the Juilliard School's Historical Performance Concerto Competition, she is currently artist-in-residence at the Church of St. John the Evangelist in San Francisco. Yasmin, who is based in New York, will travel to Chicago for the Bach Week concert.

Kim, who performs on period and modern instruments, is assistant principal cellist of the Lyric Opera Orchestra of Chicago and has played with San Francisco's Philharmonia Baroque, and New York's Teatro Nuovo and Trinity Baroque Orchestra.

Moy is artistic director of early music ensemble Ars Musica Chicago, serves as artist-faculty at Roosevelt University's Chicago College of Performing Arts, and is the inaugural recipient of the Monsignor Kenneth J. Velo Endowed Distinguished Professorship at DePaul University School of Music.

The free chamber concert is funded through a generous donation from Margaret and Bob McCamant.

Bach's Monumental Mass in B Minor May 5

The Bach Week Festival will conclude its 50th anniversary and final season with a performance of J. S. Bach's Mass in B Minor, BWV 232, at 4 p.m. on Sunday, May 5, at St. Luke's Episcopal Church, 939 Hinman Avenue, Evanston.

Bach's B-Minor Mass has been hailed as a cathedral of sound, a myriad of musical miracles, and a crowning achievement of Western music.

The Mass was never intended as part of a worship service; it's too lengthy for that purpose. Rather, it's a treasury of many of Bach's greatest musical ideas.

Soloists will be Josefien Stoppelenburg, soprano; Lindsay Metzger, soprano; Susan Platts, contralto; Tyler Lee, tenor; and David Govertsen, bass. Richard Webster conducts the North Park University Chamber Singers and Bach Week Festival Orchestra and Chorus.

Stoppelenburg has performed throughout the US, Europe, Asia, and South America as a Baroque music and oratorio specialist and as a concert singer. The Dutch soprano's engagements include, among many others, performances in Houston with Harmonia Stellarum and Ars Lyrica, at the Boston Early Music Festival with the Newberry Consort, and at the Arizona Bach Festival, Indianapolis Early Music Festival, and the St. Louis Bach Festival.

Metzger has been lauded for "her easy stage manner and refined voice" (Chicago Classical Review) and "luxuriously toned mezzo" (Opera News). A graduate of the Lyric Opera of Chicago's Ryan Opera Center, she has sung with Chicago's Haymarket Opera, Austin Opera, Dallas Opera, and other organizations.

A British-born Canadian mezzo-soprano, Platts' recent opera highlights include "Die Walküre" with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, Mozart's Die Zauberflöte at the Royal Opera House, John Adams' "Nixon in China" with the BBC Symphony, as well as Britten's "Albert Herring" (Pacific Opera, Vancouver Opera), Erda in Wagner's "Das Rheingold "(Pacific Opera), and Bernstein's "A Quiet Place" (Montreal Symphony Orchestra).

Lee has soloed with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra under conductor Marin Alsop and sung with Pittsburgh Opera Theater. In 2018, he became the youngest full-time regular chorister with the Lyric Opera of Chicago Chorus.

Govertsen appeared in the role of producer La Roche opposite Renée Fleming and Anne Sophie von Otter in Richard Strauss's "Capriccio" at the Lyric Opera. He appeared as Arkel in Claude Debussy's "Pelléas et Mélisande" with the Chicago Symphony under Esa-Pekka Salonen and as a soloist in James MacMillan's "Quickening" with the Grant Park Orchestra.

The performance is dedicated to the memory of longtime Evanston resident Mary Mumbrue, an avid supporter of Bach Week from its inception in 1974, when she sang in the choir, until her death last November while serving as co-chair of the festival board.

Tickets and Information

Single tickets to the April 26 and May 5 Evanston mainstage concerts at Nichols Concert Hall and St. Luke's Episcopal Church, respectively, are $50 for VIP seating. General admission is $35 for adults, $25 seniors, and $15 students with ID.

All tickets for the April 26 "Candlelight Concert" in the Nichols Hall lobby are $25.

Admission is free to the April 28 concert at All Saints' Church in Chicago's Ravenswood neighborhood.

Tickets and information are available at, by phone 847-269-9050, and by emailing the festival at Mail orders can be sent to Bach Week Festival, 1555 Sherman Avenue, Suite 312, Evanston, Illinois 60201.

Bach Week Festival

A musical rite of spring on Chicago's North Shore since 1974, Bach Week is one of the Midwest's premiere Baroque music festivals. The event enlists musicians from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Lyric Opera of Chicago Orchestra, and other top-tier ensembles, along with some of the Chicago area's finest instrumental and vocal soloists and distinguished guest artists from out of town.