Thursday, April 29, 2010

Mezzo to Make Bach Week Debut

Mezzo-soprano Nina Heebink's wide-ranging credits include solo roles with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in works by Delibes and Vaughan Williams and with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra in Vivaldi's "Gloria."

“The stage brightens a bit every time she walks onto it,” said the St. Paul Pioneer-Press of her North Star Opera debut in Oscar Straus’s "The Chocolate Soldier. "

She sings in the choruses of Lyric Opera of Chicago, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Music of the Baroque, and the Grant Park Music Festival.

Winner of the 2005 American Opera Society of Chicago Scholarship Competition, Heebink will be making her Bach Week Festival debut April 30 as a soloist in the Magnificat in D Major, BWV 243.

She says Bach sometimes springs surprises:
"I am a very good sight reader, but Bach is the only composer that stumps me when trying to learn a vocal line for the first time.

"You never know which way he will turn! But it's always a direction that leads to harmonic colors you could not anticipate and sound even more beautiful than one could imagine.

"I've actually never performed the Bach Magnificat, although I have had the alto aria 'Esurientes implevit bonis' in my vocal chords for a long time now. And the 'Et misericordia' duet between the alto and tenor is so haunting and beautiful -- it will be a treat to sing that with Bill Watson and to share the stage with soprano Amy Conn and baritone Douglas Anderson.

"I'm so glad that, even in the 21st century, there are organizations that pay homage to such an influential composer. Practically every composer who has come after Bach has referred back to him because of his genius at counterpoint and the way he expressed emotions through his music.

"It will be a privilege to work with music director Richard Webster, who has garnered rave reviews from my colleagues who have worked with him. And I've heard he runs the Chicago Marathon every year dressed like Bach, and I SO appreciate conductors with a sense of humor. That kind of spirit can really heighten the rehearsal process and make the performances an absolute treat.

"I'm very excited to be making my debut with Bach Week this year."

Saturday, April 24, 2010

WFMT Broadcast Will Be a Festival First

Audience members at the April 25 Bach Week Festival concert will be part of a historic event: the first-ever live broadcast from the festival, now it in its 37th season.

Radio station WFMT (98.7 FM) will be airing the concert live from Nichols Concert Hall in Evanston starting at 7:30 p.m. and streaming it simultaneously to a worldwide audience via the station's Web site,

Carl Grapentine, the station's popular morning personality, will host the broadcast.

Grapentine has been attending the festival regularly since moving to Chicago from Michigan in the late 1980s.

"It's Johann Sebastian Bach in a perfect setting in the springtime," Grapentine says. "What could be better?"

He says, "I'm really looking forward to bringing Bach Week to the WFMT airwaves. Thousands of listeners will now be able to hear Sunday's concert, and it's an honor to be hosting it"

WFMT general manager Steve Robinson, who first proposed the idea, says, "I'm just thrilled that we'll be airing a Bach Week Festival broadcast. It will not be the last."

Robinson says WFMT focuses extensively on live broadcasts "to distinguish ourselves from among the many canned classical music sources out there, be it satellite, cable, or Web-based music streams. We're bringing listeners unique performances they won't hear anywhere else.

"We're excited about Sunday night's broadcast and the wonderful concert that's in store for our listeners," Robinson said.

Works will include Bach’s Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in E Major, BWV 1042, with violin soloist Desirée Ruhstrat; Brandenburg Concerto No. 1 in F Major, BWV 1047; and Cantata No. 147, “Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben” (“Heart and Mouth and Deed and Life”), with soprano Patrice Michaels, mezzo-soprano Emily Lodine, tenor William Watson, bass Douglas Anderson, and the Bach Week Festival Chorus. The cantata is the source of the popular and beloved chorale theme, “Jésu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.”

Tickets are available at or by calling (800) 595-4849.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Violinist Mathias Tacke: Bach as a lifelong companion

Originally from Bremen, Germany, Mathias Tacke is best known to many listeners as the second violinist with the former Vermeer Quartet.

Like many other Bach Week Festival musicians, he has an astounding proficiency in diverse classical genres.

He was a member of the Ensemble Modern, which gave premieres of works by many of the 20th century's leading composers, including Frank Zappa. He has appeared on recordings for the Sony, ECM, Harmonia Mundi, Teldec, and Cedille Records labels.

Tacke, who will be soloing April 30 in a Bach Week Festival performance of Bach's Concerto in C Minor, BWV 1060, says the composer's music has been a lifelong companion:
"Bach's music has always been with me, even since childhood, and it is amazing to realize both the continuity that it provides in my musical life, as well as the constant change.

"Although this can be said about every great composer's music, Bach almost more than any other composer polarizes one's taste and yet survives any 'fashion' of interpretation. We constantly refine and change our performance practice, and at the same time we can't help but remain children of our time, formed by our contemporary (musical) environment.

"I for one use an Italian violin from the 18th century, but with a 'modern' setup, which means a longer neck, synthetic strings, high tuning, and also a modern bow, different from those used in Bach's time, although no one is really certain about the exact bow Bach used when playing the violin.

"It has not been very often that I have played the Concerto for Oboe and Violin, but I do remember the first time I played it: It was winter, and I was 14 (and quite sick with tonsillitis).

"There have been changes in my approach to performing Bach's music since my early teenage years: I use less vibrato and an overall lighter, more transparent sound, perhaps a little less 'singing' in favor of a little more 'speaking.'

"Bach 'recycled' and transcribed his own compositions, often for different purposes and instruments. This concerto was reconstructed for violin and oboe from an existing manuscript in D-minor for two harpsichords and orchestra. There are two reconstructions available, one in D-minor and the other in C-minor. I have always played the concerto in the key of D-minor, but I already know that I prefer this version in C-minor, perhaps because of its darker and somewhat more relaxed sonority, which seems to suit both solo instruments very well.

"Oboist Judy Kulb and I have already had the privilege of performing part of this concerto in Boston, on the occasion of the wedding of Bach Week Festival music director Richard Webster and Bart Dahlstrom."

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Flutist finds 'something very special' in Bach Week

A specialist on modern and historical flutes, Anita Rieder has performed with the Chicago and Milwaukee Symphony orchestras, Washington Bach Consort, Madison Early Music Festival, and many other ensembles.

She returns regularly to the Bach Week Festival for an atmosphere she finds nowhere else:
"I truly love playing in Bach Week, and I look forward to it every year! There is something very special about this group of musicians: every one is highly energized and at the peak of their form and also respectful and joyful. So the result is that we have so much fun together.

"I am soloing on April 30 in the Bach Suite No. 2 in B Minor for Flute and Strings, which I have performed for Bach Week before. I have also played it with period instruments on a wooden flute, and that is a totally different experience. One thing that is true of Bach’s music is that it can be interpreted many different ways, with different instruments, different phrasing, different tempos – and the music is meaningful each time.

"The Suite No. 2 is in the French baroque style and makes me think of courtly dances with a king and queen leading in stately procession, wearing gowns of thick brocade and tall wigs. I think today everyone enjoys listening to this music because it's simply beautiful, and we all need beauty and peace in our lives.

"It's also fun to watch the musicians work tightly together, especially in the last part, which goes dangerously fast!"

Monday, April 19, 2010

Concerto to be played on violin as old as Bach

Award-winning violinist Desirée Ruhstrat has performed internationally as guest soloist with major orchestras and as a chamber musician and recitalist. In the Chicago area, she is familiar as a member of the Lincoln Trio and head of the string department at the Music Institute of Chicago.

When she performs as soloist in J.S. Bach's Concerto BWV 1042 on Sunday, April 25, at the Bach Week Festival, she will have an appropriately historic violin:
I am so excited to be playing this wonderful masterwork, especially since I will be performing on a beautiful Amati violin, on generous loan from Bein and Fushi Fine Violins of Chicago, which dates from the same year as Bach's birth [1685].

This concerto is written in the key of E Major, which was one of Bach's favorite keys for the violin, making the concerto extremely virtuosic and brilliant.

The first movement structurally was ahead of its time, with a definite development section and a very evident recapitulation (return to the beginning). This is followed by a sublime slow movement featuring a gorgeous cello and bass obbligato. The concerto finishes off with the third movement, a joyous Rondo.

It is such an honor to be asked again to be a part of Bach Week. The caliber of musicians is so outstanding, and everyone brings such joy and enthusiasm to the festival.

Soprano Patrice Michaels on an 'Ingenious' Bach Cantata

Soprano Patrice Michaels, an international concert and recording artist described as "a formidable interpretative talent" by the New Yorker, returns to the Bach Week Festival on April 25 as a soloist in Bach's Cantata, BWV 147, "Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben" ("Heart and Mouth and Deed and Life").

She explains her enthusiasm for this work:
“The solo that I’m privileged to sing from Cantata BWV 147 reminds me in some ways of the more famous “Ich folge dir gleichfalls” from St. John Passion. The character of the piece is gratefully reflective, trusting, and full of humility. The dual solo lines alternate between violin and voice, ingeniously intertwining as the text is presented in repetition.

"The general range of this piece sits rather high for the soprano and features a lyric line punctuated by even higher notes, which Bach has set almost always on unstressed words or syllables. I'll be paying particular attention to balance both the soaring quality of those notes and the line which moves lyrically toward and away from them.

"One of the things I love about Bach cantatas and about Bach Week in Evanston is hearing the orchestra, soloists, and chorus alternate in expressing the joys and struggles of the human spirit.

"This cantata has such a wonderful alternation of assignments, I can’t wait to hear everyone’s individual and collective contributions!”

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

An organ named Lucille? 'Spectacular ' instrument to star in fest opener

Yes, there's a world-renowned organ in Evanston, Ill., that's known affectionately (among organists) as Lucille. Just don't tell bluesman B.B. King, whose guitar goes by the same name.

Organist, composer, and Bach Week Festival music director Richard Webster explains:
"For the first time since 2003, the Bach Week Festival returns to St. Luke's Church, Evanston, where the festival was founded in 1974.

"The April 23 'Organ and Brass Spectacular' concert will be just that -- spectacular. With the gothic building's gloriously reverberant acoustics, and the restored 1922 Ernest M. Skinner organ thundering away, accompanied by some of Chicago's most distinguished brass players, this is a concert not to be missed.

"By all accounts, there is no organ quite like the St. Luke's instrument.

"Affectionately and universally known as 'Lucille,' this four-manual, 4,000-pipe instrument, housed in its three-story organ chamber, is one of the few extant and intact organs by the premier American organ builder of the 20th century -- Ernest Skinner.

"Though the organ has been recorded frequently since its complete restoration in 1998, Lucille's majesty and grandeur is something that must be experienced live. Few other organs in such an acoustically spectacular and architecturally splendid setting offer such spine-tingling moments.

"True to the festival's mission, the program will feature works of J.S. Bach, as well as the Midwest premiere of my Baroque Suite for Brass, Organ and Timpani, composed in 2003 with the St. Luke's organ in mind. Though the work was recorded at St. Luke's soon after it was written, it has never been heard live in the setting for which it was conceived. The work is featured on the recording Brass*Organ*Quires, available at "

Monday, April 12, 2010

Welcome to Bach Week Blog: Here's a 2010 festival overview

This first blog post is meant to bring you up to date on festival details. Here's a press release we recently sent to the news media:


37th Annual Edition Offers Expanded Concert Schedule,
Rarely Performed Version of Bach’s ‘Magnificat’

EVANSTON, Ill., April 1, 2010 — A flourish of brass and organ music will launch the 37th annual Bach Week Festival in Evanston on Friday, April 23. The opening concert and those on Sunday, April 25, and Friday, April 30, will be devoted exclusively to the music of Baroque composer Johann Sebastian Bach — with one notable exception.

Amid the back-to-back Bach programming will be the Chicago-area premiere on April 23 of the “Baroque Suite for Brass, Timpani and Organ,” written in 2003 by Richard Webster, the festival’s music director. Webster, who describes the work as “an homage to Bach,” played organ and harpsichord at the first Bach Week Festival in 1974 and has served as music director since 1975.

Another novel aspect of this year’s festival will be a performance of the rarely heard, original version of Bach’s Magnificat in D Major, BWV 243, with its four Christmas movements.

The festival’s three different concerts, staged over two weekends, represent an increase over last year’s two-concert format.

The nearly four-decade-old festival has become a musical rite of spring on the North Shore, providing Chicago-area Baroque music lovers with a rare opportunity to luxuriate in Bach’s music.

“Organ and Brass Spectacular”

The festival’s opening concert, titled “Organ and Brass Spectacular,” will be presented at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, April 23, at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, 939 Hinman Ave., Evanston. Among the concert’s stars will be the world-renowned St. Luke's Organ, built by Ernest M. Skinner in 1922 and later restored, by all accounts, to its original glory.

The concert promises to be an organ-ogler’s delight: video cameras will be trained on the keyboards and pedals, with images projected on a screen so the audience can follow the action. The program includes Bach works for solo organ, brass ensemble, and organ and brass together, plus Webster’s “Baroque Suite.”

The Bach pieces include transcriptions of two movements from Bach’s Weihnachts-Oratorium (Christmas Oratorio), BWV 248; Toccata, Adagio, and Fugue in C Major for organ, BWV 564; excerpts from “Die Kunst der Fuge” (“The Art of Fugue”) transcribed for brass; seven chorale preludes from the “Orgelbüchlein” ("Little Organ Book"); and the choral prelude “Vor deinen Thron tret’ ich hiermit” (“Before Your Throne I Now Appear”), BWV 668.

The “Vor deinen Thron” is dedicated to the 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-a-long to a brass and organ arrangement of Bach’s chorale tune “Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott” (“A mighty fortress is our God”).

Performing will be Kevin Hartman, trumpet; Channing Philbrick, trumpet; Daniel Gingrich, French horn; Eric Millstein, timpani; and Richard Webster, organ.

A Cantata with ‘Heart’

The second concert will take place at 7:30 p.m., Sunday, April 25, at Nichols Concert Hall, 1490 Chicago Ave., Evanston. Works will include Bach’s Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in E Major, BWV 1042, with violin soloist Desirée Ruhstrat; Brandenburg Concerto No. 1 in F Major, BWV 1047; and Cantata No. 147, “Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben” (“Heart and Mouth and Deed and Life”), with soprano Patrice Michaels, mezzo-soprano Emily Lodine, tenor William Watson, bass Douglas Anderson, and the Bach Week Festival Chorus. The cantata is the source of the popular and beloved chorale theme, “Jésu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.”

Festival Finale

The festival will conclude with a concert at 7:30 p.m., Friday, April 30, at Nichols Concert Hall, offering Bach’s Overture No. 2 for Flute and Orchestra in B minor, BWV 1067, with flute soloist Anita Rieder; Concerto for Violin, Oboe, and Orchestra in C minor, BWV 1060, with soloists Judith Kulb, oboe; and Mathias Tacke, violin; and Magnificat in D Major, BWV 243, with soloists Amy Conn, soprano; Nina Heebink, mezzo-soprano; William Watson, tenor; and Douglas Anderson, bass, and the Bach Week Festival Chorus.

Single ticket prices are $35 adult general admission, $25 seniors over 65, $20 students with ID, and $10 children under 12. Festival subscriptions are $85 for adults, $60 for seniors, $45 for students, and $30 for children. Tickets are available at or by calling (800) 595-4849.

Founded in 1974, the Bach Week Festival is the Midwest’s premiere Baroque music festival. The event enlists musicians from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Lyric Opera of Chicago Orchestra, and leading chamber ensembles, while featuring some of the Chicago area’s finest instrumental and vocal soloists.