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Northern Lights presents the majesty of Bach

“To me Bach is without question the greatest composer who ever lived.” – Andras Schiff

“I pity the man who doesn’t love Bach.” – William Buckley

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It is great to live on what is probably the only planet in the universe where Bach’s music is played; in fact, I think we should change the name of the Earth to “Bach’s Home.”  The idea won’t fly, but I think it should.

Born in 1685 in Eisenach, Germany, Johann Sebastian Bach never travelled far physically but made incredible journeys musically, including the Well Tempered Clavier Books I and II, The GoldbergVariations, The Brandenburg Concertos and the B Minor Mass, to mention only a few of the most famous. On Tuesday, February 19, we will have the pleasure of listening to two of his keyboard concertos, played by the great Australian-born pianist David Fung. The 4 p.m. performance at the Auditorio de la Ribera in Ajijic is part of the vibrant 17th Northern Lights Festival de Febrero, which runs from February 9 to 24.

Fung has played virtually all over the world in the best concert halls and music festivals. Critics have commented on his “superstar qualities” and have said things such as “everything you could wish for” (Cleveland Classical), and “an agile and alert interpreter of Mozart’s crystalline note-spinning” (The Plain Dealer).  All interpretations are created through the filter of the brain of the interpreter and I am looking forward to listening to Bach being played by this extraordinary musician.

Written from about 1717 to 1723, the seven keyboard concertos have a wide range of expression. Fung will first play the No. 7 in G Minor, which begins with a melody that everyone will probably recognize even if they don’t know the piece (if that makes any sense), vivacious and harmonically adventurous. In the second movement there is an enormous change of character, with slow pulsations of mysterious chords in the strings and the keyboard weaving through them with a poignant melody. Here Bach shows that he doesn’t need to create extraordinarily complex counterpoint in order to be extraordinarily expressive. The last movement is a high-speed romp with gusts of extreme velocity in the piano. A Category 5 movement. Here I say “Piano”, although Fung also plays harpsichord and I don’t know which instrument he will play.  The harpsichord has the advantage of blending with the strings better and the piano has the advantage of being able to play loud and soft, and can make legato singing lines. Either way, I’ll be happy.

The second concerto will be the No. 4 in A Major. The piece starts off with a joyous intensity right out of the gate – and we’re off! It is interesting to compare the expressions of joy in different composers, and I don’t think I have ever heard such pure joy as Bach expresses when he is really in the mood. Witness the Cum Sancto Spiritu of the B Minor Mass and the G Major Prelude and Fugue of the Well Tempered Clavier Book 2. And so many other pieces. All great composers express joy in their own way and Bach’s is breathtaking. The second movement is once again introspective and mysterious with an arioso melody in the piano weaving in and about pulsating and mysterious chords in the strings. Once again it looks forward to the B Minor Mass, and at times backward to the kind of Passacaglia of “Dido’s Lament” in Purcell’s “Dido and Aeneas.” The last movement is once again pure joy.

If only everyone in the world would learn to love Bach’s music we would all have more than enough motivation to take care of this planet and conserve it as “Bach’s Home.”

Dr. Charles Nath has been a part of the musical world of Guadalajara since 1988, with 26 years as principal clarinetist of the Jalisco Philharmonic as well as many chamber music presentations. He also wrote a column on music for the Informador newspaper and made numerous music appreciation presentations on radio and television.

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