Fes­ti­val aims to bring ‘lean and mean’ Bach

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Carolina Living - BY LAWRENCE TOPPMAN Arts Cor­re­spon­dent


Karin Brookes, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of Early Mu­sic Amer­ica

When you think about the up­com­ing Char­lotte Bach Fes­ti­val, the num­ber to remember is two.

Not 1128, the to­tal of Jo­hann Se­bas­tian’s works that have reached us, though you’ll hear some of the best when the fes­ti­val kicks off in Char­lotte on June

8. (It starts in Asheville the day be­fore.) Not 20, the num­ber of chil­dren he fa­thered over 34 years, though his tal­ented off­spring may show up in solo recitals.

Not six dozen, the rough num­ber of soloists, cho­ris­ters and in­stru­men­tal­ists ded­i­cated to per­form­ing the Baroque mas­ter’s mu­sic as he’d have heard it three cen­turies ago.

Nope, two. Be­cause this is the sec­ond an­nual fes­ti­val from Bach Akademie Char­lotte, and be­cause Scott Allen Jar­rett be­lieves Bach ap­peals in a spe­cial way to both halves of your brain.

“His mu­sic gets you fir­ing on ev­ery cylin­der,” says the Akademie’s artis­tic direc­tor. “There are com­posers you love – like Han­del, who al­lows me to lux­u­ri­ate in his mu­sic – and com­posers who chal­lenge you. Bach does both. He chal­lenges me to be the mu­si­cian I should be tech­ni­cally and of­fers in­tel­lec­tual, emo­tional and the­o­log­i­cal chal­lenges.”

You can test this no­tion through June

15. Jar­rett book­ended the fes­ti­val with

mas­ter­works: It starts with the Mag­ni­fi­cat, Or­ches­tral Suite No. 2 and a can­tata for the Feast of St. Michael, and it ends with the mon­u­men­tal St. Matthew Pas­sion. (The North Carolina Baroque Or­ches­tra han­dles in­stru­men­tal chores.)

In be­tween come recitals by Is­abelle De­mers, who heads the or­gan depart­ment at Bay­lor Univer­sity; vi­olin­ist Aisslinn Nosky, who con­ducted and soloed with the Char­lotte Sym­phony Or­ches­tra in Jan­uary; and trom­bon­ist Tom Burge, tak­ing a break from CSO du­ties to play brassy adap­ta­tions in “Bach at the Brauhaus” at Free Range Brewing. In be­tween, Jar­rett will con­duct two lunchtime can­tata con­certs.

Jar­rett, board chair­man Michael Tram­mell and fel­low devo­tees founded the Akademie to im­merse the re­gion in Bach’s vo­cal and in­stru­men­tal works. (They kept the Ger­man spelling to honor the com­poser’s home­land.) They’ve cre­ated programmin­g that may not ex­ist in this form any­where else in the United States.

Karin Brookes, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of Early Mu­sic Amer­ica, keeps an eye on pre-1800s mu­sic fes­ti­vals. She’s aware of lead­ers in this field, from the Beth­le­hem (Pa.) Bach Fes­ti­val – which has been around for 113 years – to the Ore­gon Bach Fes­ti­val, an in­ter­na­tional event that will turn 50 in 2020.

She thinks Char­lotte’s ex­pe­ri­ence is unique in two ways. First, events run year-round, as Jar­rett leads a can­tata se­ries to en­ter­tain and ed­u­cate lis­ten­ers. Sec­ond, it’s set in the South.

“It’s a mir­a­cle to me when any­one gets any­thing like this off the ground and makes it work, be­cause it’s so hard set­ting up a non­profit in this arts cli­mate and eco­nomic cli­mate,” Brookes says. “All cities have legacy or­ga­ni­za­tions that have been around for decades. (To com­pete), you need to know your com­mu­nity will be re­cep­tive to you.

“Early mu­sic ac­tu­ally does pretty well around the coun­try, be­cause of its novel na­ture. And even peo­ple who don’t know much about clas­si­cal mu­sic know Bach. He just has a uni­ver­sal ap­peal.”

Bach first mes­mer­ized Jar­rett as a 10-year-old pi­ano stu­dent in Lynch­burg, Va. The Bran­den­burg Con­cer­tos took over his cas­sette player, and his her­itage in the South­ern Bap­tist church opened him up to the great pas­sions, mass, or­a­to­rios and can­tatas. He did his in­de­pen­dent study at Fur­man Univer­sity on Stravin­sky’s “Rite of Spring,” but “the piece that cap­tured my heart, mind and soul was the St. Matthew Pas­sion.”

Jar­rett built a Char­lotte fol­low­ing from 2004 to 2015 as direc­tor of cho­ruses, then as­sis­tant con­duc­tor of the Char­lotte Sym­phony. He so en­joyed the gig that he com­muted weekly from his home in Bos­ton, where he’s direc­tor of mu­sic at Bos­ton Univer­sity’s Marsh Chapel.

Tram­mell im­me­di­ately sought him for the BAC, af­ter de­cid­ing the city could sup­port a part-per­for­mance, part-ed­u­ca­tional en­deavor devoted mostly to one com­poser.

“The Char­lotte Sym­phony doesn’t get the opportunit­y to do a lot of Bach, so I saw a need in the mar­ket­place,” says Tram­mell, a tenor who works at Northrop Grum­man Synop­tics. “I think Char­lotte au­di­ences are knowl­edge­able about qual­ity, and if we were to do early mu­sic, we could of­fer a high­qual­ity prod­uct to com­ple­ment the sym­phony’s of­fer­ings. Scott can connect the his­tor­i­cal con­text to the mu­sic, and that’s what makes his Bach so ac­ces­si­ble.”

Tram­mell first built re­la­tion­ships with My­ers Park churches. The BAC later moved be­yond them as far as Gas­to­nia and Win­stonSalem last year and Chapel Hill this year, where the St. Matthew Pas­sion will go be­fore clos­ing the fes­ti­val in Char­lotte.

He, Jar­rett and the board made a cru­cial de­ci­sion at the start: Pieces must be played and sung on pe­riod in­stru­ments, in pe­riod styles, by or­ches­tras and cho­ruses of au­then­tic size. Though both men stud­ied with Hel­muth Rilling, fa­mous for mas­sive pre­sen­ta­tions in the early days of the Ore­gon fes­ti­val, they didn’t want beefy Bach. (Royce Saltz­man co-founded the Ore­gon event with Rilling; his grand­son, Adam Romey, is man­ag­ing direc­tor of the Char­lotte fes­ti­val.)

In­ex­pe­ri­enced lis­ten­ers may think “his­tor­i­cally in­formed per­for­mance” means vi­olins that screech like tor­tured cats, singers who hoot in vi­brato-less voices and con­duc­tors whose tem­pos ri­val a bul­let train’s. Not so.

“Scott trans­forms the way (au­di­ences) think about Baroque mu­sic,” says Brookes. “He’s us­ing singers and mu­si­cians trained in this style, which makes all the dif­fer­ence. Once you have heard Bach lean and mean, you don’t want to go back.”

Tram­mell’s proud of the di­rec­tion Char­lotte’s young Akademie is tak­ing: adding funky of­fer­ings such as Burge’s, do­ing a lec­ture se­ries at Friend­ship Mis­sion­ary Bap­tist Church, cre­at­ing a Vo­cal Fel­lows pro­gram to train young singers on the cusp of pro­fes­sional ca­reers, mov­ing around the city in the months be­tween fes­ti­vals with can­tatas ac­com­pa­nied by lec­tures. (Jar­rett con­sid­ers those the most un­der­rated Bach genre: “it’s hard to find one can­tata out of 200plus that doesn’t meet his high stan­dard.”)

The BAC has al­ready gone be­yond its name­sake: Nosky and De­mers will play non-Bach pieces, in­clud­ing con­tem­po­rary works, and the can­tata se­ries has pre­sented dif­fer­ent com­posers. Jar­rett, who turns 45 this month, wants to add Han­del or­a­to­rios and other early clas­sics down the road. Yet he’ll never stray too far from the main man.

“Other com­posers re­joice in who you are and meet you there,” he says. “Bach doesn’t do that. His mu­sic re­veals who I could be — and maybe who I ought to be.”


Bach Akademie Char­lotte will pro­duce the Char­lotte Bach Fes­ti­val June 7-15, in venues in the city and in Asheville and Chapel Hill. Tick­ets range from $10 to hear Tom Burge at Free Range Brewing to $40 or $60 to hear the St. Matthew Pas­sion. Pack­ages range from $ 70-$150. Get de­tails at [email protected]­lotte.com or bachar­lotte.com.


The Bach Akademie Char­lotte Can­tata Choir and the North Carolina Baroque Or­ches­tra per­form un­der the di­rec­tion of Scott Allen Jar­rett at Cen­te­nary United Methodist Church in Win­ston-Salem in June 2018. “His mu­sic gets you fir­ing on ev­ery cylin­der,” says Jar­rett.

Photo by Gary Payne Pho­tog­ra­phy

Karin Brookes, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of Early Mu­sic Amer­ica, says Bach Akademie Char­lotte’s programmin­g is unique be­cause it runs year-round. Bach has “uni­ver­sal ap­peal,” she says.

Cour­tesy of Char­lotte Bach Fes­ti­val.

Scott Allen Jar­rett, artis­tic direc­tor of Bach Akademie Char­lotte, leads re­hearsals and con­certs of the Back Bay Cho­rale in Bos­ton.

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