Carmel has inspired many people. Over the decades, stretching as far back as early 20th Century, creative people have thrived in this small town by the sea. On Sunday, July 14, 2019, day two of the 82nd Carmel Bach Festival, we enjoyed a glimpse of what Carmel has inspired in Maestro Paul Goodwin. Every conductor and director has a vision with much joy to share. Attending live performances seems the only way to understand and receive that joy and vision. At first blush, one wonders how Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248, by Johann Sebastian Bach is related to A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Incidental Music, Op 61 by Felix Mendelssohn. Andrew Oster gave us some insight with his pre-concert lecture. His well-presented thoughts with recorded excerpts made it easier to enjoy the afternoon’s concert. I’ve decided to let the musicologists discuss the connection. It is enough for me to honor Felix Mendelssohn for his work in reviving Bach’s music.
The Festival Orchestra kicked off the concert in Sunset Center with the first and second parts of the Christmas Oratorio. Playing on period instruments complete with Oboe da caccia; Baroque trumpet, including the one in the Pre-Festival Concert The Kings’ Trumpeter; continuo organ and harpsichord; the orchestra brought the music alive. Joined by Festival Soloists soprano Mhairi Lawson, mezzo-soprano Meg Bragle, tenor Thomas Cooley, bass-baritone Dashon Burton with the Festival Chorale and Chorus, we heard the music Bach was inspired to write upon considering the readings from the Bible for the Season of Christmas. These texts inspired Picander, Bach’s librettist, to write a rich text for Bach. Today’s concert was sung in German with supertitles provided. What a pleasant, uplifting celebration. If you recognized portions of the music, you were not dreaming. As was explained in the Pre-concert talk, Bach frequently re-used compositions and followed the Baroque practice of repeating sections of music. We also have the music and translated texts available in pews across traditions.
After a brief intermission, the Festival Orchestra sat down with more modern instruments. Gone were the Continuo and the Harpsichord. Replacing the plethora of double reeds were modern French Horns, clarinets, and trumpets. The soprano and alto sections of the Chorale and Chorus returned with Mhairi Lawson and Meg Bragle to help provide magical music to scenes from William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It is a pleasure to experience their performance. They have a depth of knowledge and skill that makes it seem easy to perform these works. I know otherwise. Providing the narration was noted actress Francesca Faridany. Her animated reading in a wonderful red costume put the sparkle on the elfin music. Again we were enchanted and entertained by the music. The audience was attentive and respectful. I could see the musicians on stage were enjoying themselves also.
Within the next few days we will hear the rest of the Christmas Oratorio. We have been promised maximum variety in three venues. This afternoon was a fine beginning. I found myself caught up in the music those on stage clearly enjoyed performing. It is magical and wonderful when the silence after the instruments are lowered is respectful and comfortable. I promise to reread the Program Notes published in the Festival book and to reflect on Mr. Oster’s talk before hearing the other four Parts of the Oratorio. I am eager to hear what will be offered for Parts Four & Five on Mondays and Parts Three & Six on Wednesdays.