The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music review: We Bached Around the Clock last Saturday. Let’s do it again next year.

March 26, 2010

By Jacob Stockinger

A reminder: It’s spring break. Because of staffing for the blog, your comments may take a bit longer to get posted. But don’t despair — they will get there.

A week ago Saturday, in the Pres House chapel at 731 State Street, young and old and in-between Bached Around the Clock.

They did it – I should say “we did it” since I also played some Bach — from noon until midnight, all to celebrate the 325th birthday of Johann Sebastian Bach last Sunday.

The event was sponsored by Wisconsin Public Radio, and was spearheaded and emceed by WPR music director Cheryl Dring (below), who also hosts “Morning Classics” from 9 to 11 a.m., Monday through Friday. She took her inspiration from a 24-hour similar event in the native New Orleans. (Please forgive some fuzziness, but I used a low-light, no-flash camera.)

From what I could see and hear, the community response to this inaugural event from both performers and listeners was very positive.

For 12 hours, people wandered in and out of the casual and relaxed atmosphere.

The audience ranged from about a dozen listeners – probably even less as the night wore on – to several dozen in the mid-afternoon. Moreover, the audience was quiet and attentive and supportive, generous with its applause, praise and encouragement.

Professional and amateur musicians alike performed, many of the piano but quite a few in other ways including singing, playing the flute, performing in the organ, blowing on a saxophone.

Individuals showed up to play.

Groups showed up to perform.

Teachers brought their whole studios of students. There were small children and adults. There were easy pieces and very difficult played, familiar works and works rarely heard.

If you were there, you heard suites, sonatas and songs; preludes and fugues; inventions and toccatas; and so many other different forms of Baroque music.

Funny, you know intellectually how prolific Bach (1685-1750) was. But when you hear it – actually hear it performed live for a lot of hours – you really begin to admire not only the quality but the quality of that quantity. And you also see how much Bach sounds like Bach in everything he did.

Bach really is the Big Bang of Western classical music.

At Bach Around the Clock, I heard many memorable moments – including my own memorable nightmare of crashing and burning on a three-part fugue. (Fugues, I learned, are not kind or forgiving to nervous or under-rehearsed players.)

I didn’t stay for most of the event, so I’m sure I would have heard even more. I did try to use the live statewide web cast (below), which I know many others statewide used successfully. But it had closed down by 10 p.m. due to technical problems. I’m sure that can be fixed in the future.

However, the cookies and refreshments worked just fine, replenishing many.

But even from the few hours I was there some things stood out.

An a cappella quartet (below) sang from the motet “Komm, Jesu.”

Organist Alex Ford, spiffy in his white bow tie, not only sang in the quartet but also played chorale preludes and the famous Toccata and Fugue in D minor.

Piano teacher Denise Taylor (below to) did a fine job with a very difficult English Suite No. 2 in A minor. She also had some of her students – they went first — including Michael Xie (below middle) and Caleb Zimmick (below bottom) perform “Little Preludes.” Which don’t seem so little when you are playing them in front of other people.

I like that solidarity of teacher and student.

Probably my favorite moment was provided by Marc Mayes (below).

“I really love the solo cello suites,” he explained by way of introduction. “But there’s a problem. I don’t play the cello.”

The way around that problem, he explained, was to transpose the suite to a tenor saxophone, which he does play – very well.

And then he launched into several movements from Bach’s popular Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major. The performance was outstanding. It demonstrated, in short, the kind of ingenuity and musical taste that old Johann Sebastian himself would have appreciated.

How many of us can aspire to have our life work still have meaning to others almost 260 years after we die?

Sure, there were minor glitches, like some time gaps and the live webcast (below). But overall, it came off as a big success.

Thanks go to all, but especially to WPR, Cheryl Dring and the Pres House for starting what could become a great community event.

I don’t know the numbers from this year or what the organizers are planning – if they are planning and not just recovering.

But I say: Let’s do it again next year.

And maybe even extend it to other composers and other birthdays or anniversaries?

What do you say?

The Ear wants to hear.

Posted in Classical music

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