For people who love live music, being deprived of in-person concerts and recitals adds extra grief to the challenges of the pandemic. Nothing takes the place of hearing musicians perform live, not even the spectacular streaming concerts that have been a generous godsend of the COVID era.
As some of us discovered, listening to live music after a year of deprivation can be a surprisingly emotional experience. Steve Friedlander, Carmel Bach Festival general manager, says that just hearing a violin tuning brought tears to his eyes as he approached a small socially distanced porch setting for a live recital after these many months of sequestering.
As California’s longest-running summer music festival, the Carmel Bach Festival is a cultural cornerstone of the Monterey Peninsula. It began in 1935 as series of concerts at the Sunset School auditorium and the Carmel Mission Basilica. It has grown into a world-class attraction with an international ensemble presenting concerts, recitals, master classes, lectures and open rehearsals during its summer season.
Friedlander’s urgent mission for the past 13 months has been to return Bach Festival performances to our concert halls as soon as possible. From the outside, it seemed the organization had gone dark and quiet. Behind the scenes, however, Friedlander, the board and his staff worked feverishly figuring out how and when the Festival, traditionally held in July, could resume. Over video calls, he joined with artistic administrators around the country, all sharing information about financial survival and envisioning how to reopen their events.
The good news finally came out last week that the Bach Festival would be held Oct. 23-Nov. 5.
“Everybody has pulled together,” Friedlander says. “We talk about what we are going through and how we are feeling. There has been a lot of collaboration and creation and even emotional support. That’s really helped a lot.”
Friedlander says colleagues in Monterey County also shared information and developed support systems. “Our community has really rallied around the Carmel Bach Festival and been very generous in helping us find our way through the pandemic year.”
The conundrum of when to reopen the Festival remained a primary challenge, along with what constraints to consider, including how many members of the Festival ensemble would be allowed on stage at the same time.
“I can’t tell you how many different designs in size and scale we considered, imagining and reimagining scenarios,” he says. “Our world is really controlled by the California Department of Public Health and the local county health department as to what live events can be indoors and what they are allowed to do. That’s been the last group to be addressed for a blueprint for a safer economy.”
Toward the end of 2020, Friedlander observed how the pandemic was unfolding and thought, “You know, there is nothing wrong with our situation that a little more time might help.”
He took the plunge and started putting holds on dates that might work for Festival concerts in Carmel’s Sunset Center.
“I don’t know if I am being foolish, courageous or a little of both,” he muses.
This will be the first time since its inception the Festival will be held in the fall. The two weeks include the popular series of main concerts at Carmel’s Sunset Center, with additional events in other locations to be scheduled as the possibilities arise.
Festival president Cyril Yansouni says, “We are now committed to presenting a Festival that will safely enable the largest number of our dedicated patrons once again to enjoy the superlative live music for which the Festival is known.”
The musical fare will be guided by artistic director and principal conductor Paul Goodwin, who concludes his 11-year tenure with the Festival this season. A range of instrumental and vocal music will be presented representing five centuries of musical masterpieces, featuring J. S. Bach’s “B Minor Mass” as the Sunday centerpiece of the Festival. Goodwin leads the ensemble in Handel’s “Ode to St. Cecelia” on Saturday evenings.
Monday nights of the Festival, concertmaster Peter Hanson will lead the string orchestra in Bach Brandenburg concertos and works by Antonio Vivaldi. Tuesday nights the Festival ensemble hopes to present Henry Purcell’s “Dido and Aeneas.” Associate conductor and choral director Andrew Megill will lead his choristers Wednesday evenings in a multi-era program of “angels singing,” according to Friedlander.
On Thursday nights, violinist Edwin Huizinga and guitarist William Coulter present a “Fire and Ice” crossover concert with friends. Friday concerts open with Richard Wagner’s soothing “Siegfried Idyll” followed by Mozart’s magnificent “Symphony No. 40 in G minor.”
Friedlander sounds reasonably confident about the upcoming Festival plans but frequently interjects the caveat, “Everything is subject to change.” The Festival’s recital series, which ordinarily happens along with the main concerts, is still in the formation stage and may happen at a different time this season. The programming depends on continuing improvement in the public health environment. More information and ticket availability will be announced at a later date.
In other Festival news, Friedlander says the search for the new music director is going well and that they are pleased with the interest shown in the position. A limited number of finalists will be invited to conduct at the 2022 Festival, after which a decision will be made by the organization’s board of directors. The new artistic director will then begin his or her tenure immediately by presenting a plan for the 2023 season, along with a longer-range artistic vision for subsequent seasons.
As live music returns to our available experience, we may find we appreciate it as never before. Having taken it for granted in our region where musical performances are so bountiful, it may serve as a curious artifact of the COVID months to realize what a privilege it is to be able to enjoy excellent live music often. Autumn with the Carmel Bach Festival promises to be a mighty celebration in this regard.
‘Cottages, Gardens & Cantatas’
Next month, the Festival presents an online version of its annual “Cottages, Gardens & Cantatas” home and garden tour. The online fundraiser allows participants to look through five showcase homes at their convenience between May 1-9.
“Curating the tour has been an exhilarating experience,” says longtime event director Gail Dryden. “The homes are architecturally wonderful, and the owners’ collections are unique. Having the opportunity to focus on the details is a real advantage of a virtual tour.”
As a ticket holder, you can view the homes whenever and as often as you wish during the nine days of the event. Tickets can be purchased through the Carmel Bach website, BachFestival.org, or by calling 831-624-1521. All proceeds support the Carmel Bach Festival.