Opening Night at Carmel Bach Festival 2017 – 80th Anniversary

Paul Goodwin, Artistic Director & Principal Conductor

In the words of Mr. Goodwin: “As we celebrate our 80th birthday I have endeavored to expand the breadth of the Festival, incorporating as many musical tastes as possible under the ever inspiring umbrella of Johann Sebastian Bach.” Thus it is that we are witnessing this season the Carmel Bach Festival continuing to evolve and bringing us works as distant from the Baroque as Philip Glass, Gustav Mahler, Frank Martins, Richard Rodney Bennett, Samuel Barber, Aaron Copland, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Cole Porter, Rodgers & Hammerstein, John Corigliano, Jerome Kern, Keenan Boswell and Leonard Bernstein.

It was an auspicious day for the opening night: the weather was sunny and mild, the opening night concert was nearly sold out, there was an art sale benefit going on in the Chapman Gallery, the Tower Music ensemble was as impressive as ever, and, as usual, there was the inimitable David Gordon delivering another one of his impressive lectures preceding the opening night concert.

Gordon began his lecture with an appreciation of Dene Denny and Hazel Watrous. These two remarkable women came from San Francisco to Carmel in the 1920s and achieved a significant number of accomplishments. They established the first art gallery, the first theater, started the Carmel Music Society and Carmel Bach Festival, they were instrumental in creating the Monterey Symphony, and above all they initiated a studio/salon atmosphere that attracted influential artists, musicians, poets and writers who created the artistic spark that shaped and preserved the essence and beauty of Carmel as we know it today. Eighty years ago Laguna Beach, like Carmel, had spectacular natural beauty, and could have evolved into one of the most charming coastal towns in California. However, largely because it had no Dene Denny and Hazel Watrous to steer it in an artistic direction and encourage others to help preserve its beauty, commercial interests overwhelmed the town and corrupted its natural beauty.

The opening night concert at the Bach Festival opened with one of Johann Sebastian Bach’s masterpieces, the Ascension Oratorio, BWV 11. It was a stirring performance with glorious sounds coming from the Festival Orchestra, Soloists, Chorale and Chorus — reinforced with the sounds of timpani and brass that made it an even more majestic event. Fine singing by Festival soloists, soprano Mhari Lawson, mezzo Mindy Chiu, tenor Thomas Cooley and baritone Dashon Burton, added beauty and charm to the performance as did some lovely woodwind obligatos on historic instruments.

After intermission, we heard Concerto Grosso by Philip Glass, composed in 1992. Mr. Glass is celebrating his 80th birthday this year, so I suppose it is a nice gesture to include one of his works in the CBF 2017 Festival. Mr. Glass has been honored by a series of concerts locally — at Hidden Valley Seminars and at the Philip Glass recurring festival in Big Sur. His music is an acquired taste and much admired by his fans. His Concerto Grosso has a duration of approximately 19 minutes and is a work that doesn’t have much to say, but says it over and over again. Although its final movement has a tad more of interest going on, its repetitions ultimately succeed in numbing the senses and allowing our minds to wander.

The Purcell “Birthday Ode for Queen Mary received a brilliant and exciting performance from the orchestra and soloists. Soprano Mhairi Lawson was especially splendid in her aria “Bid the Virtues, Bid the Graces” that featured some charming woodwind obligatos. Also outstanding was baritone Dashon Burton in the aria “These are Sacred Charms” as was Burton and Lawson in the duet “See Nature Rejoicing.”

A lovely ending to this opening concert was the two selections from Handel’s Messiah — “Worthy is the Lamb” and “Amen.” This brought the audience to its feet with bravos and extended applause. Mr. Goodwin encouraged the orchestra, members of the Chorus and soloists also to stand and revel in the standing ovation.

We were rewarded with an encore — “Hallelujah” from the Messiah. It was fabulous.



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