Starting Concert Week

For us, Monday of concert week at the Bach Festival always starts with the All Bach Organ Recital in the Carmel Mission Basilica.  This is a solid hour of nothing but Bach fugues played on the basilica organ.  No stops for applause between the pieces either.  Sitting and listening to that can make everything else go right out of your mind, it’s an amazing experience.  And I’ve never seen the Basilica less than full.

After the organ concert we went back to the room briefly and then out to a big lunch at Anton and Michel, one of our favorite restaurants.  Why a big lunch?  A few years ago, the Bach Festival changed the time of its evening concerts from 8:00 PM to 7:30 PM, and the time of its pre-concert talks (which we always attend) from 7:00 PM to 6:00 PM.  This makes it very hard to go out to a nice dinner before the concert, which we always liked to do – some of the restaurants aren’t even open at 5:00 PM yet.  So, a big lunch, and a selection of fruit and protein bars for a dinner snack in late afternoon. 

Since the pandemic, the pre-concert talks are always held on the patio outside the Sunset Center, which works pretty well in Carmel in July.  This year we all wore coats, as the weather all week was cloudy and chilly.  Having it on the patio means we can just stay put to hear the Tower Brass, a 4-5 performer group, playing (of course!) baroque music for brass instruments, led by Suzanne Mudge who plays trombone.  I love the Tower Brass.

Monday’s concert had a Vivaldi trumpet concerto (I love Vivaldi), a Handel concerto grosso for organ, and Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto #4.  But the prize was a piece you don’t hear very often – I’ve never seen it performed live:  Bach’s Coffee Cantata.  I didn’t realize Johann Sebastian had this sense of humor.  The piece is about a running argument between the soprano (Clara Rottsolk, playing a young woman) and the bass (Enrico Lagasca, playing her father).  She loves coffee; apparently in the 18th century ladies were not supposed to drink coffee.  Her father wants her to give  up coffee and offers several threats – the only one that makes her give in and agree to quit drinking coffee is the threat that he won’t allow her to marry unless she does!  The tenor (Thomas Cooley) does the running commentary on the argument.  The cantata ends with a chorus saying (in translation) “Cats do not give up mousing!”

In my last post I mentioned Enrico Lagasca.  As the bass, he played the father; and I’m sorry to say I wasn’t impressed.  In the first place, he had a very 21st century haircut (shaved side of the head, long top), which annoyed me on a man playing an older 18th century man (couldn’t he have worn a wig?).  In the second place I think he’s not much older than the soprano playing his daughter.  But my real problem with him is that he can’t act.  My notes from the day after say he needs to work on his stage presence (he overdoes things), and on his German pronunciation.  Jim said his Latin was bad, too.  He does have a powerful and lovely bass voice.  Apart from that, I enjoyed the Coffee Cantata very much.

Jim decided to hike on Tuesday, so I had 2 afternoon concerts to myself, starting at 1:30 PM in the foyer of the Sunset Center with a concert of some of the earliest music ever printed, from the late 15th to early 17th century.  Unless you’re a major early music student, the only composer’s names you might recognize are John Dowland and Claudio Monteverdi.  This was all lute with a soprano  soloist.  And from 3 to 4, I attended a memorial concert for Allen Whear (1957-2022), the principal cellist, recital director, and program notes author for the Festival.  They played 2 string quartets, Haydn and Mozart.  That was at All Saints Church, about 3 blocks from the Sunset Center.  I think I had lunch before the first concert at Carmel Belle.  I did a lot of walking that week!  My notes say I walked 3 1/2 miles on Sunday, when we had no early afternoon concerts.

On Tuesday night we discovered that the new Festival conductor, Grete Pedersen, is fond of Mahler!  The concert title was Bach Dialogues.  The evening began with a short Mahler piece, and another short piece by Helmut Lachenmann (a modern composer, that is, still alive!).  I found both a little out of place for  a Bach festival.  The rest of the Tuesday evening concert was the Bach Magnificat, sung in 4 pieces, a few movements at a time, interspersed with music by Schubert and Jan Dismas Zelenka, a contemporary of Bach.  Music lovely again (the Festival musicians are amazing), and I’ll post again later.

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