By Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk
The music of Johann Sebastian Bach is transformative. It has motivated the work of nearly every great composer to follow in the history of Western Classical music. It continues to inspire those who hear it more than 267 years after Bach’s death. The 11th Grand Rapids Bach Festival, which opens March 5, acknowledges that the music of J.S. Bach not only has staying power, it also has the ability to turn out an audience.
“The Grand Rapids Bach Festival was founded to infuse the community with opportunities to discover the works of Johann Sebastian Bach,” said David Lockington, Music Director Laureate of the Grand Rapids Symphony in 2013, following his appointment as the Festival’s director.
“We’re thrilled to share the transformational power of Bach’s music in an array of traditional and unexpected settings, said Lockington, who conducts three programs during the festival.
The 2017 Grand Rapids Bach Festival returns in March with a week of events celebrating the life and music of the composer whose music represents the pinnacle of the Baroque Era. The biennial festival launched in 1997 by Grand Rapids mezzo soprano Linn Maxell Keller, a singer, actress, organizer, advocate and devotee of the music of Bach. Keller, who died in June 2016, will be remembered during this year’s festival directed by David Lockington.
The Grand Rapids Bach Festival, presented by the Grand Rapids Symphony, welcomes guest organist Isabelle Demers and harpsichordist Ian Watson to Grand Rapids and features solos by Grand Rapids Symphony’s concertmaster and violinist James Crawford, principal flutist Christopher Kantner, and principal oboist Ellen Sherman.
The culminating concert, titled Joyful Bach: Choral Celebration on March 11, features highlights of several of Bach’s cantatas including “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” from Cantata No. 147.
Expect some surprises during the 11th biennial festival. Visitors passing through the Gerald R. Ford International Airport on March 8 will be greeted by the music of J.S. Bach and others performed by the Grand Rapids Symphony’s Woodwind Quintet. Flutist Chris Kantner, oboist Sarah Peterson, clarinetist Suzy Bratton, hornist Erich Peterson and bassoonist Victoria Olson will play light classical music plus music by Bach from 2-5 pm in the Ford Airport’s Grand Hall adjacent to its food court.
Many area churches will include the music of Bach in Sunday services on March 5 and March 12.
The 2017 Grand Rapids Bach Festival also will remember its founder and champion, Linn Maxwell Keller. Grand Rapids Bach Festival originated in 1997 as a three-day celebration of the music of Bach, organized by Keller, a Grand Rapids resident, who had performed in major Bach festivals nationally and internationally. She engaged German organist, scholar and conductor Karl Hochreither, a noted authority on Bach’s church music, to serve as music director for several of the early festivals.
Past guest artists at the Grand Rapids Bach Festival have included Jeannette Sorrell, harpsichordist and musical director of Apollo’s Fire in 2011. But many of the performers have been local musicians.
Keller’s vision for the festival included not only performances, but educational opportunities and explorations of Bach’s genius. Despite her loss, the Grand Rapids Bach Festival lives on.
“It’s established as long as the people of Grand Rapids want this festival,” Keller told The Grand Rapids Press in 2003. “As long as people are blessed by it and enjoy the music, it looks like we’ll be around for a while.”
The 11th biennial celebration of the music of Johann Sebastian Bach features five separate programs over six days in four churches and one museum in Grand Rapids.
Here’s the lineup:
The Bach Choral Celebration program will be rebroadcast on May 14, 2017, at 1 p.m. on Blue Lake Public Radio 88.9 FM and 90.3 FM.
Tickets are $15 for either the Creative Keyboards concert on March 7 or the Cantatas program on March 9. Students can get tickets for $5.
A freewill donation will be collected for the Bach Choral Celebration on March 11.
A $25 Bach Pass can be purchased for the entire Grand Rapids Bach Festival, and are available at the GRS ticket office, weekdays 9 am-5 pm at 300 Ottawa Ave. NW, Suite 100, (located across from the Calder Plaza), or by calling 616.454.9451 x 4. (Phone orders will be charged a $2 per ticket service fee, with a $12 maximum.)
Tickets also may be purchased online at GRSymphony.org.