Top Scholars, Performers Celebrate “Bach and the Organ” at the Eastman School of Music

August 27, 2012

Today he’s considered one of the greatest composers of all time, but during his lifetime Johann Sebastian Bach was celebrated and renowned throughout Europe as an organist. This fall, the Eastman Rochester Organ Initiative (EROI) is partnering with the American Bach Society to present a musical and scholarly exploration of the many connections between the composer and the instrument during the celebration of “Bach and the Organ.”

The 2012 EROI Festival from Sept. 27 to 30 will be “the international Bach event of the year, bringing together many of the world’s top Bach performers and scholars,” said David Higgs, professor of organ and chair of the organ and historical keyboards department at the Eastman School of Music. “Participants will be able to hear Bach’s famous organ solo works, concertos, and cantatas on a faithful re-creation of a central German-style organ from the late 18th century – a fresh, inspiring way to hear the music of Bach. Other significant historical as well as new instruments will round out the offerings of organ music by the greatest composer for that instrument.”

For the public, “Bach and the Organ” presents numerous opportunities to hear renowned soloists from Eastman and around the world perform. Several concerts will be presented on the Craighead-Saunders Organ in Christ Church, a replica of an instrument built in 1776 by celebrated organ builder Adam Gottlob Casparini. It was recreated using historic organ-building processes to capture the grander, more enveloping sound characteristic of organs in Bach’s time.

Performances on the Craighead-Saunders include recitals by guest artists and Eastman organ students as well as a re-creation of Mendelssohn’s 1840 Leipzig concert of Bach’s organ music -Mendelssohn’s only public recital on the organ and one that helped revive interest in Bach in the 19th century. In addition, the organ will be at the center of a gala concert of a Bach organ concerto and festive cantatas by the Boston Early Music Festival Chamber Ensemble and Christ Church Schola Cantorum, with renowned vocal soloists who specialize in the music of Bach, such as countertenor Daniel Taylor and soprano Ellen Hargis.

Other EROI Festival performances will take place on the Italian Baroque Organ at the Memorial Art Gallery, the Halloran All-Saints Organ in Sacred Heart Cathedral, and the 1893 Hook & Hastings Organ Romantic Organ, currently being installed in Christ Church. A full recital will be devoted to the pedal clavichord, which had a prominent role as a performance and practice instrument in the 18th century and is widely considered to be the central keyboard instrument of the Bach family. The Eastman School of Music acquired its own pedal clavichord in 2002.

In addition to the concerts, “Bach and the Organ” will feature scholarly sessions of new research on such topics as manuscript studies and the organ’s role in 18th-century vocal and instrumental music. Some of the world’s most respected Bach scholars will present lectures, including keynote speaker and noted Bach scholar Peter Williams, Christoph Wolff of Harvard University, and Peter Wollny of the Bach-Archive in Leipzig.

“The Eastman School is excited to collaborate with the American Bach Society on this event, and we are also grateful to the Westfield Center for their continued collaboration with us,” said Higgs.


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