The concert Sunday at St. Luke’s was the first event of several in Portland this week.
The seventh annual Bach Virtuosi Festival started on a high note – many of them, in fact, during its first event, a 90-minute concert Sunday at St. Luke’s Cathedral.
The festival, which this year offers events, musical and otherwise, at various locations around Portland through Saturday, began with an evening devoted to the music of Johann Sebastian Bach.
WHAT: Bach Virtuosi Festival
WHERE: St. Luke’s Cathedral, Portland
REVIEWED: July 31; festival continues through Aug. 6
With accomplished musicians eager to get started, Bach’s high-flying Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 took over the hall with a masterfully constructed and well-played surge of polyphonic energy. Nine musicians powered up quickly to establish a distinctive Baroque sense of individual identities connecting on a higher plain. Any audience members who might have felt a bit sapped by the steamy air within the old church hall were undoubtedly roused by the spirit within the music.
The musicians were off to the races, and it only took a moment for the ears to catch up to the enriched blend of lines offered by John Thiessen (trumpet), Emi Ferguson (flute), Amanda Hardy (oboe), Renée Jolles (violin), Arthur Haas (harpsichord) and the surrounding quintet of string players. Thiessen did well by the memorable trumpet line that crowns the final movement, and Ferguson put much physical energy into her contrasting yet complementary flute work.
Next on the program were vocal duet pieces containing a variety of religious messages. “Ich Furchte Zwar Nicht des Grabes Finsternissen” featured countertenor Jay Carter and tenor Brian Giebler expressing fear and hope, respectively. Both added personal stylistic touches and, as with most of the evening’s program, the piece intrigued on many levels.
“Wenn Kömmst du, mein Heil” featured Sherezade Panthaki (soprano) and Paul Max Tipton (bass-baritone) representing the Soul and Jesus in the process of offering more than a glimpse of pious passion. Ariadne Daskalakis’ violin work also contributed to the currents of joyous devotion within the piece.
“Lobet den Herrn alle Heiden” gathered all four vocalists to reach for a complex communion. The performance styles of each singer added to the impression that these compositions require and reward a commitment by the artists, something that always makes this festival special.
After many audience members took a walk to take advantage of a gracious breeze blowing through the cathedral grounds, they returned for a final showcase for all the musical talent on hand. Festival founder Lewis Kaplan conducted the Bach Virtuosi Chamber Orchestra, singers and chorus in “Wachet, betet! betet! wachet!,” a work that at times suggests not only historical but musical developments to come centuries after Bach.
Cautioning about when “the Lord of glory brings this world to an end,” the work brings soloists and accompanists to the task of finding “the place where pleasure is complete.” That’s a big job. But the Bach Virtuosi have again contributed by providing an inspiring program of music to begin their latest festival.
Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.