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Johann Sebastian Bach and the generations of musicians influenced by him will be the focus of "Refracted Bach," a five-part festival, culminating in a performance of Bach's towering masterpiece, the Mass in B Minor. The Festival will be presented by The Dessoff Choirs in venues around New York City from January 31 to March 3, 2012. "In this festival, we view all music through the prism of Bach, exploring repertoire from Palestrina to the cutting edge of today's music," says Dessoff's Music Director Christopher Shepard, a leading Bach interpreter and scholar of Bach performance in America.
The Refracted Bach Midwinter Festival will kick off on Tuesday, January 31 at 7:30 PM with an opening lecture entitled "Why Bach Matters" at Liederkranz Concert Hall. Given by George B. Stauffer, Dean of the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University, the lecture is intended to place Bach in an historical context and to frame the festival's centerpiece, the Mass in B Minor, which closes the festival on March 3.
Following the lecture, on Friday, February 3 at 8 PM, at the Church of St. Paul the Apostle, will be "Stile Antico," a concert that presents an intriguing snapshot of J. S. Bach as a musician who absorbed the lessons of his predecessors, and who, in turn, had a profound and enduring influence on generations of musicians who came after him. The program opens with early choral works, which Bach knew and performed, by Palestrina and Polish baroque composer Grzegorz Gerwazy Gorczycki, and then moves forward in time to showcase choral pieces he inspired -- by Mendelssohn, Schumann, Reger and living composers Sven-David Sandström and William Hawley, including the American premiere of his Tota Pulchra es Maria. It also includes two recent works for solo instruments by the contemporary American composer Ingram Marshall, played by the artists for whom they were composed, oboist Libby Van Cleve and violinist Todd Reynolds.
According to Music Director Christopher Shepard, "Of all the programs in this five-part festival, 'Stile Antico' covers the most ground, from Bach's resetting of a Palestrina Mass to Ingram Marshall's September Canons, written in the aftermath of 9/11. The common thread is a kind of respect, love and even reverence that each of these composers (including Bach himself) shows for the musical models they are 'refracting' through the prism of their own creativity."
The Midwinter Festival -- the first of its kind for Dessoff, now in its 87th season -- was inspired by the group's unique history, according to Shepard: "Dessoff, more than any other New York ensemble, can claim early music as its own because our founder, Margarete Dessoff, and her successor, Paul Boepple, were both instrumental in introducing Americans to Medieval and Renaissance music at a time when that repertoire was virtually unknown here." Boepple was also known, says Shepard, for premiering works by leading composers of his time: "To this day, combining the old and the new is at the core of Dessoff's mission."
In addition to the opening lecture and "Stile Antico concert," the festival includes the New York premiere of contemporary English composer Robin Holloway's Gilded Goldbergs for two pianos on February 7; a participatory reading on February 11, open to all choral singers, of movements from Bach cantatas that he refashioned for the Mass in B Minor; and culminates with a full performance of the Mass by The Dessoff Choirs and the period-instrument ensemble Arcadia Players on March 3.
Tickets for George Stauffer's lecture on "Why Bach Matters" and "Stile Antico" are $10-$35; children under 12 free. For more program information, discounted festival packages and individual tickets, please visit dessoff.org, or call (212) 831-8224.
Danielle Green is an assistant publicist with Cohn Dutcher Associates.