Bach to Boulder

Festival moves to Dairy Arts Center for four-concert season

Courtesy: Boulder Bach Festival

The slogan “Across Time Across Cultures” has been a theme of the Boulder Bach Festival for much of Zachary Carrettin’s 10-year run as music director, but it takes on more significance during his upcoming 11th season. It now serves as the title of a new adult education series, with one event offered in tandem with each of four diverse concert programs running through next spring at the Dairy Arts Center. 

Carrettin says the education series is the most exciting new element coming to the festival, where change has been a constant since its founding in 1981. And while venue and programming strategy have fluctuated from year to year — including several concerts in Longmont — this season’s offerings are centralized at the downtown multidisciplinary arts center in Boulder.

With all four concerts and their corresponding education programs at one location, Carrettin hopes to make this season more audience friendly. That includes a uniform 4 p.m. start time, meant to avoid conflicts with other organizations. (“It’s important to us that our audience does not have to decide,” Carrettin says.) The education presentations take place at 6 p.m., and all eight events will be about 75 minutes with no intermission. 

That is the timing of Bach’s longest keyboard work, the Goldberg Variations, which will be performed during the Oct. 21 opener by Boulder’s resident superstar pianist, CU’s David Korevaar. 

“This is the second most requested work by our patrons, and this will only be the second time we have done it in 15 years,” Carrettin says.

Korevaar recorded the work in 2006, and says that he has reflected since then. “When I learned it, I was looking at it as this immortal monument, at the great profundity and emotional depth,” the local pianist says. “But I think I missed some of the humor and playfulness in the way it is written.”

Bach knew how good he was, according to Korevaar, who says the balancing of dark and serious variations with lighter and playful ones was intentional. Every third variation is a “canon,” with round-like imitation, and even within those, there is a huge variety in character and many inside jokes. He plans to take the repeats of both halves in all 30 variations. The concert is expected to sell out.

Rounding out 2023 for this year’s festival is a Dec. 17 holiday program built around the Christmas section of Handel’s Messiah. Carrettin says the  concert will feature a more traditional approach to the excerpt, with a 16-voice chorus and a small baroque orchestra, but he hopes the open Dairy space will provide more physical possibilities for the singers. The evening also includes Bach chorales centered on Epiphany and a short concerto by Vivaldi.

‘Beyond the shackles of time’

Iceland is an isolated country with a small population that one might not immediately associate with a vibrant classical concert scene, but Carrettin says that much of the most interesting and beautiful music being composed today comes from the far-flung volcanic island. 

That includes a portion of the music on the Feb. 10 program, which was composed specifically for Carrettin and his wife, BBF Artistic and Executive Director Mina Gajić, who perform as a duo under the stage name Mystery Sonata. 

Gajić will perform a work for solo piano by Anna Thorvaldsdottir, who has created new sonic landscapes and acoustic phenomena that challenge instrumentalists and singers. “She has developed ways of notating sounds that have never been produced before,” Carrettin says.

A piece composed for the duo by María Huld Markan Sigfúsdóttir is written without meter. “There is a lack of pulse, as if the melodic line is free beyond the shackles of time,” Carrettin says. Each of the modern Icelandic pieces will be preceded by a Bach prelude as a “palate cleanser.” 

Closing out this year’s programming on March 21 is Ukrainian-born Israeli violinist Vadim Gluzman, who performed a solo recital last season. Carrettin says patrons were moved by the performance from Gluzman, “a spectacular force as a musician,” who expressed an interest to return and work with BBF artists. 

“It turned out that the best day for both Vadim and the Dairy was Bach’s birthday,” he says. 

ON THE BILL: Boulder Bach Festival season opener: The Goldberg Variations with David Korevaar. 4 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 21, Dairy Arts Center – Gordon Gamm Theater, 2590 Walnut St., Boulder. Tickets here.

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At a glance: Mark these dates for Boulder Bach Festival, 2023-24

The season opens Oct. 21 with a single keyboard masterwork
by Johann Sebastian Bach. The connected education program on Oct. 19 is presented by guitarist Keith Barnhart, who explores variation from Bach to The Beatles.

A holiday concert on Dec. 17 is built around the Christmas section of Handel’s Messiah. A vocal quartet of fellowship artists performs holiday music from across time and cultures during the associated education program on Dec. 14.

The event on Feb. 10 is the most adventurous, with Zachary Carrettin and Mina Gajić, presenting new music from four Icelandic composers for violin and piano. For the ancillary event on Feb. 7, Carrettin and Gajić will present a discussion of the music with projections and examples.

The season closes with a Bach-centric international program on the composer’s birthday, March 21. The program includes Bach’s A-minor Violin Concerto and his Concerto for Two Violins. The ancient form of the passacaglia will be explored and contrasted in pieces by modern Estonian composer Arvo Pärt and Bohemian baroque composer Heinrich Biber. The March 18companion event will feature side-by-side comparisons of period and modern instruments.