Of course, the poster child for the Durango Bach Festival is none other than the Baroque composer himself. A stylized four-part graphic illuminates the festival’s website and brochures. A huge banner, suspended from the ceiling of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, welcomes music lovers to every one of the concerts this week beginning with two free student presentations Sunday.
All of this visual hoopla is the handiwork of the festival impresario C. Scott Hagler. He started this spring celebration 12 years ago, and it’s going strong with the popular Bach’s Lunch noontime recital-plus-lunch programs, two big formal concerts on Wednesday and Saturday nights, plus the wonderful students-of-Bach introduction on Sunday. It is the one free offering, although a suggested donation for the student recital is $5.
All next week, Hagler and company will celebrate the 334th birthday of Johann Sebastian Bach. Conveniently, the actual birthdate is a bit fluid. If you look up Bach, you’ll find two possible dates that bracket the Spring Equinox. Old-style dating lists Bach’s birth as March 21, 1685. New-style shifts the date forward to March 31. This year’s festival starts a bit early, and the big finale concert featuring the Bach Festival Orchestra on March 23 will serve as this year’s official birthday celebration.
After the Sunday opening, from Monday through Friday, enjoy the daily Bach’s Lunch recitals. A variety of musicians will unfurl the great composer’s work one sumptuous work at a time. If you check the website, you can find the details. I’m particularly looking forward to the first program because six of my favorite musicians will perform. Bach’s Trio Sonata in G Major will be performed by flutist Kathryn Shaffer, violinist Lauren Avery Heuser and pianist Kristen Chen. Cellist Melanie Ellison will perform the Prelude from Bach’s suite No. 6 in D Major, and to close the recital, flutist Rochelle Mann with Hagler on harpsichord will perform the flute Sonata in E-flat major.
It’s been a while since we’ve heard from Ellison. I’m particularly delighted to see her name on the roster. I last heard her perform when she was a soloist with the San Juan Youth Symphony: Bartok’s “Kol Nidre.”
In a recent email, she wrote: “For the first time since repetitive stress injury took me out nine years ago, I will be playing at the Bach Festival. I am thrilled that my arms are healed at last. This is a piece that has been a long-time goal of mine to play there.”
At noon Thursday, you can hear The Trumpet Geezers, founded and directed by Mick Hesse. Soprano Gemma Kavanagh is on the same program with Hesse and Hagler supporting her in two works from Cantata 51.
The Festival Finale on Saturday night looks like a dream concert. The orchestra will be joined by several soloists including harpsichordist Marilyn Garst, violinist Lauren Avery Heuser, oboist Rebecca Ray, and making his Durango debut as a counter-tenor, Thomas Heuser singing excerpts from Bach’s Cantata 54: Widerstehe doch der Sünde.
A reception will follow. Great music, good food, old and new friends.
Judith Reynolds is an arts journalist and member of the American Theatre Critics Association.