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[whitespace] Carmel Bach Festival
Saluting the Brass: Among its several venues, the Carmel Bach Festival features the venerable Carmel Mission.

Bruno Weil takes a team approach to the Carmel Bach Festival

By Scott MacClelland

'HIS COMPOSITION was much praised by those who like this kind of music." So wrote a Hamburg newspaper critic in 1723 after hearing Johann Sebastian Bach's cantata Jesus nahm zu sich die Zwoelfe. Well before the end of his life, the popular taste in European music had abandoned "the old wig." But in Carmel, for the next three weeks, those who like "this kind of music" will gather in droves.

Even so, Bach is as much a haunt as an actual presence at the 62nd Carmel Bach Festival, where vocal and instrumental soloists, choirs and orchestra will perform everything from oratorios to chamber music to solo recitals. Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Vivaldi, Corelli, Pergolesi and Prokofiev will also make a mark. And so will Hildegard von Bingen, Marc-Antoine Charpentier, Jean Marie Leclair, Telemann and other members of the Bach family.

With Bruno Weil at the artistic helm since 1992, the Carmel Bach Festival has shifted into ever-higher gears, early among them a determined embrace of 18th-century performance practices. Instruments, tunings, ornamentations, even the pronunciation of European languages, have come under review and been made to satisfy the standards of scholarly research and historical accuracy. One controversial consequence has been the demotion of the concert piano--which is not a Baroque-era instrument--from a solo star to an accompanist, and only then for special occasions, such as a recital of post-Baroque lieder.

Another is Weil's programming strategy. While he retains the right of first refusal, the music director delegates programming responsibilities to a team of talented musicians. For example, choral director Bruce Lamott designs and directs the Carmel Mission program on Wednesday nights, while concertmaster Elizabeth Wallfisch is in charge of the Thursday program of concertos at the Sunset Center. Bassoonist Jesse Read organizes the Mmatinee chamber-music concerts, and tenor David Gordon directs the festival's education programs, including the popular Virginia Best Adams vocal master classes and recitals.

According to Lamott, "It's a communal process, which was a big change [from the past]. Bruno made it clear that you don't have be a music director to have good ideas. We are all given a great deal of leeway. Much is decided the day after the festival closes. Bruno told us last year that he wanted to do the Haydn Theresienmesse ("Theresa" Mass), Bach's Christmas Oratorio and two Pergolesi pieces: the Stabat Mater as arranged by Bach and the opera buffa La Serva Padrona.

Why a comic opera by Pergolesi? "Because Bach admired him. But it goes two ways. There's an audience affinity toward opera. Plus we have two great singing actors, Rosa Lamoreaux and Sanford Sylvan."

The opening program, to play on three successive Saturdays, includes three works by Bach (the secular cantatas Weichet nur and Schleicht, spielende Wellen and Orchestral Suite in D) and Prokofiev's Symphony No. 1 ("Classical"). The Sunday matinee is devoted to Bach's Christmas Oratorio. Chanticleer will sing on July 26 and Aug. 2. Symphonies by Haydn and Mozart will join the Theresienmesse on Tuesdays. The Pergolesi works dominate on Fridays.

Notwithstanding history's favorable judgment of Bach, the complexity of his music continues to make high demands of listeners. However, as always seems to happen, the myriad other composers of this year's festival will inevitably disclose the further greatness of Bach. The Carmel Bach Festival accords a unique opportunity to those who wish to find out if they are among the ones who "like this kind of music."

The Carmel Bach Festival runs July 17- Aug. 8 at various venues in Carmel. For schedule details, phone 624-2046 or visit the website, www.bachfestival.org.

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From the July 15-21, 1999 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 1999 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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