Birmingham Town Hall and Symphony Hall will be hosting several events celebrating “Bach: a Beautiful Mind” this Easter.
I’m not sure how beautiful Bach’s mind actually was, as he left us hardly any documentary evidence of his personal feelings; he didn’t have the time, needing to churn out new music week after week for his ecclesiastical employers, but the music he did indeed produce has a beauty impossible to quantify.
This will be the third time in six years that Birmingham has put the spotlight on Bach’s genius, and proceedings begin on Saturday with a Bach Discovery Day in the Studio at Birmingham REP. BBC Radio 3’s Lucie Skeaping is the host, and guest speakers and performers include David Owen Norris, Sophie Yates, Richard Egarr and David Goode.
Richard Egarr will nip over swiftly to the Town Hall on Saturday lunchtime to introduce and perform an exploration of “Bach at the Harpsichord”.
Richard tells me about his contributions to the weekend, when as well as giving the Saturday harpsichord recital he also directs the Academy of Ancient Music at the Town Hall on Sunday in an enticing programme of Bach concertos and orchestral suites.
“Bach’s music is very familiar to us,” he says.
“My recital programme mixes up different types of keyboard pieces to highlight the diversity that Bach provides for us in his music.
“Then the concert with the Academy of Ancient Music shows him as the master baroque colourist, setting the glorious fully orchestrated Orchestral Suite’ against the glittering harpsichord concertos. And as for the outcome, I hope the audience will leave the concerts full of wonder for this incredibly vital and passionate composer.”
So the idea of the “beautiful mind” persists, and Richard talks about the new insights he hopes to bring to the composer’s music.
“There’s always something further to say about any piece of great music. Every performer is an individual and will have their own ideas about music – and so they should! If everyone thought the same then music (and art) would die a very quick death,” he declares.
The AAM has always been a ground-breaker in the authentic movement and have grown to become a joy to listen to.
“Of course we’ve learned a great deal in the last 65 years, and hopefully we will all continue to learn and investigate and never stagnate,” he says.
“When things began all those years ago the traditions and methods of playing these old machines had been well and truly buried or lost. If you had no-one to teach you to drive, I’m sure it would be a while before you figured out how to stop stalling the car. It’s so much more difficult to recapture playing techniques without direct human contact with a teacher or player from the time, relying often on ambiguous or incomplete written information. We’re in a good position now, with many fabulously skilled players and singers. We must continue to learn and most importantly to communicate this fantastic music in a passionate and committed way.”
The centrepiece of this forthcoming Bach weekend will be the visit of Andras Schiff to Birmingham Town Hall for a performance of the great Goldberg Variations on Saturday (8pm). Composed for one of Bach’s students to play to his insomniac employer, the work is an amazing compendium of baroque styles and textures, but the thought of its succeeding in sending the restless aristocrat to sleep is certainly not reflective of the fascination of this music.
The weekend is completed with Bach at the King of Instruments on Sunday afternoon at Symphony Hall, when David Goode puts the venue’s magnificent Klais organ through its paces in a wonderful programme which embraces not only Bach himself, but also his arrangements of Vivaldi, arrangements by Dupre and Reger and Bach, and finally Liszt’s Prelude and Fugue on BACH, the fruitful cipher of musical notes afforded by German nomenclature.
Scarcely an afterthought, the Bach thread continues on Good Friday when Jeffrey Skidmore directs Ex Cathedra in the taut, dramatic St John Passion, which will be sung in German with English surtitles (2pm).
* All details on 0121 780 3333.