Bethlehem Bach Festival Review: Honoring a Musical Master

05.06.15
Caroline Goulding
The Wall Street Journal

Nestled in the Pennsylvania countryside, on and around the bucolic campus of Lehigh University, the Bethlehem Bach Festival, under the artistic direction of conductor Greg Funfgeld, is in its 108th season and going strong. If it has flaws, they are like those that distinguish a fine emerald from the perfect clarity of a fake. The Bach Choir of Bethlehem’s 100 volunteer singers perform the music of Johann Sebastian Bach and that of his sons and contemporaries with exceptional devotion. When they lift their voices in the 19th-century sanctuary of Lehigh’s Packer Memorial Church, their choral sonority is so rich you can feel it in your bones.

Flanked by concerts of related vocal and instrumental works, Bach’s Mass in B-minor has been the centerpiece of the annual festival since 1900, when the complete work was presented here, for the first time in the U.S. The festival is a compact affair spread over Friday and Saturday, the programs repeated on the second successive weekend.
 
The Saturday morning Bach Festival Orchestra concert included the Bach Chaconne Project, conceived by Moravian College composer-in-residence Larry Lipkis, who engaged talented young musicians from area high schools and mentored them as each composed an original melodic variation on the chord progression of Bach’s celebrated Chaconne in D-minor from the Partita for solo violin. Played by the students (flutists, guitarists, trumpeters, etc.), the variations were arranged as a continuous work with an accompaniment orchestrated by Mr. Lipkis—and the resulting joint composition is worth repeating at a future concert. Afterward, the excellent young violinist and festival artist-in-residence Caroline Goulding gave a superb account of the Chaconne as Bach wrote it. This coming weekend it will be played by Elizabeth Field. 
 
Read the rest of the review here