There is a lot of early music going on this week, with the City of Chicago’s first-ever Early Music Festival, which also includes ticketed performances by “partner” venues as well as free performances by the Department of Cultural Affairs across city venues. Along with all of those events, the weekend of the end of that new festival brings with it the beginning of another early music event that already has a long history, the 37th annual Bach Week.
This year’s festival includes three concerts that will be exclusively devoted to the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, with the exception of the Chicago premiere of the “Baroque Suite” for Brass, Timpani and Orchestra, composed by Richard Webster (the festival’s music director since 1975), and which is Webster’s own homage to the music of Bach.
That piece is included in tonight’s opening concert of the festival, entitled “Organ and Brass Spectacular,” which will spotlight the internationally known E.M. Skinner organ that was built in St. Luke’s Church in Evanston and which will include video screens on the keyboards and pedals, usually invisible to most audience members. In addition to the Webster work, piece to be heard include transcriptions of two movements from the “Christmas Oratorio,” BWV 248; the Toccata, Adagio, and Fugue in C Major for organ, BWV 564; excerpts from “The Art of Fugue” transcribed for brass; seven chorale preludes from the “Orgelbüchlein” and the choral prelude “Vor deinen Thron tret’ ich hiermit,” BWV 668, which will be performed in memory of organist, composer and teacher Paul Manz (1919-2009) and choral conductor and composer Richard Proulx (1937-2010), both of whom had deep connections to Chicago’s sacred music community. The concert’s finale will be an audience sing-along to a brass and organ arrangement of the Bach chorale on “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.” Performers include trumpeters Kevin Hartman and Channing Philbrick, French horn player Daniel Gingrich, timpanist Eric Millstein and organist Richard Webster.
Sunday’s concert will include the Violin Concerto, BWV 1042, with soloist Desirée Ruhstrat; the “Brandenburg” Concerto No. 1, BWV 1047 and Cantata No. 147, “Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben,” with soprano Patrice Michaels, mezzo-soprano Emily Lodine, tenor William Watson, bass Douglas Anderson and the Bach Week Festival Orchestra and Chorus. That cantata contains one of the best-known of all Bach pieces, “Jésu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.”
The festival finale takes place next Friday and includes the Overture No. 2 for Flute and Orchestra, BWV 1067, with soloist Anita Rieder, the Concerto for Violin, Oboe, and Orchestra, BWV 1060, with violinist Mathias Tacke and oboist Judith Kulb, and the original version of the “Magnificat,” BWV 243, with its original four Christmas movements, with soprano Amy Conn, mezzo-soprano Nina Heebink, tenor William Watson, bass Douglas Anderson and the Bach Week Festival Orchestra and Chorus. (Dennis Polkow)
April 23, 7:30pm. St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, 939 Hinman, Evanston; April 25, 7:30pm and April 30, 7:30pm, Nichols Concert Hall, 1490 Chicago Avenue, Evanston; (800)595-4849. $20-$35.
Dennis Polkow is an award-winning veteran journalist, critic, author, broadcaster and educator. He made his stage debut at age five, was a child art prodigy and began playing keyboards in clubs at the age of fourteen. He holds degrees in music theory, composition, religious studies and philosophy from DePaul University in Chicago. Polkow spent his early years performing and recording in rock and jazz bands while concertizing as a classical pianist, organist and harpsichordist and composing, arranging and producing for other artists. As a scholar, Polkow has published and lectured extensively and taught at several colleges and universities in various departments. As an actor, narrator and consultant, Polkow has been involved with numerous films, plays, broadcasts and documentaries. As a journalist, Polkow helped co-create the experiential Chicago Musicale and Spotlight, the award-winning tabloid arts and entertainment section of the Press Publications chain of newspapers, which he later edited. He also created and ran the nationally recognized journalism program at Oakton College and was faculty advisor to its award-winning student newspaper; many former students went on to major media careers, including Channel Awesome’s the Nostalgia Critic. Polkow’s research, interviews, features, reviews and commentaries have appeared across national and international media and he has corresponded from the Middle East, Asia and Africa for the Chicago Tribune. Contact: email@example.com