The Grand Rapids Bach Festival, over its 20 year history, sometimes has had a profound effect on its community.
In 2011, the Bach Collegium of Japan, a world-renowned musical ensemble under Masaaki Suzuki, performed Bach’s B minor Mass, arguably Bach’s greatest work.
The performance at Calvin College, the first of a two-week tour of Japan, fell just seven days after a 9.0 magnitude earthquake and tsunami struck northern Japan, directly affecting the lives of many in the ensemble of 55 musicians. The most powerful earthquake ever to hit Japan caused nearly 16,000 deaths and more than 6,000 injuries.
At the conclusion of the final movement, “Dona nobis pacem” (“Grant us peace”), a number of the players in the Bach Collegium Japan, visibly moved, were fighting back tears as they played on. The standing ovation afterward lasted more than 6 minutes.
The 11th Grand Rapids Bach Festival, presented by the Grand Rapids Symphony, is underway, though for the first time without its founder, Linn Maxwell Keller. The singer and actress who graced stages from Grand Rapids to the grand opera houses of major European cities, died in June 2016.
Keller launched the Grand Rapids Bach Festival in 1997 to bring the music of Bach to West Michigan, and she’ll be remembered throughout the week.
The culminating concert on Saturday, March 11, is titled Joyful Bach: Choral Celebration. It’s a free concert but donations will be accepted to support the Grand Rapids Bach Festival.
“It seems fitting that the final program should be a joyful one at which we will briefly celebrate her life,” said David Lockington, director of the 2017 Grand Rapids Bach Festival.
Four vocal soloists plus the Grand Rapids Symphony Chorus and Youth Chorus, as well as its select ensemble, Mandala, will be part of the performance in Cornerstone University’s Christ Chapel with highlights of several of Bach’s cantatas including “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” from Cantata No. 147. It opens with the overture from Bach’s Easter Oratorio and closes with a chorus from his Christmas Oratorio.
“I wanted to give the chorus uplifting challenges, but I wanted them and the audience to enjoy some bright moments together, too,” said Lockington, who is Grand Rapids Symphony’s Music Director Laureate.
The 2017 Grand Rapids Bach Festival opened on Sunday, March 5 with music in area churches and at the Grand Rapids Art Museum.
The Grand Rapids Bach Festival, presented by the Grand Rapids Symphony, welcomes guest organist Isabelle Demers and harpsichordist Ian Watson to Grand Rapids on Tuesday, March 7. The program titled Creative Keyboards includes special appearances by Grand Rapids Symphony’s principal second violinist Eric Tanner, principal flutist Christopher Kantner, and principal oboist Ellen Sherman.
Expect some surprises during the 2017 Grand Rapids Bach Festival.
In February, Love’s Ice Cream at the Downtown Market unveiled a Bach Fest-inspired flavor of ice cream, Bach-lava Strudel, a harmonious triad of brown butter ice cream, spiced apples, and bits of pastry.
Visitors passing through the Gerald R. Ford International Airport on Wednesday, March 8, will be greeted by the music of J.S. Bach and others performed by the Grand Rapids Symphony’s Woodwind Quintet between 2 and 5 p.m. in the Ford Airport’s Grand Hall adjacent to its food court.
Celebrated Cantatas on Thursday, March 9, features soprano Jeanine De Bique, countertenor Michael Maniaci, tenor Ross Hauck and baritone Stephen Bryant in an evening of arias for solo voice and orchestra from several of Bach’s cantatas.
Cantatas include Bach’s “Wedding Cantata” as well as another secular cantata, “Amore Traditore” or “Treacherous Love” in First United Methodist Church, 227 E. Fulton St.
“I think this helps demonstrate a broader picture of Bach,” Lockington said.
Performances happen throughout the city for seven days.
“This is a community celebration,” Lockington said. “Which always inspires me and focuses me.”