Thinking outside the Bachs at this year’s music fest

Toronto Bach Festival to hit the Danforth from May 24 to 26 with a few changes from previous years

This year’s Toronto Bach Festival from May 24 to 26 will be different, with the performance of original Canadian compositions and the addition of a tavern as a second venue, artistic director John Abberger says.

Seated at a table in a tweed jacket, with a scarf draped across the back of his chair, Abberger speaks of the changes in the festival’s fourth year.

Cellist Elinor Frey has commissioned cello works by Canadian composers Scott Edward Godin and Isaiah Ceccarelli, to be played alongside Bach’s “Suite No. 6 in D major” at the festival.

“That’s why this concert is so cool, because [Frey] will play two original pieces for the five-string cello, and she’ll play the Bach,” said Abberger, a Danforth-area resident.

Concerts are held at St. Barnabas-on-the-Danforth, except for one event, Late Night with Bach, at the Black Swan Tavern, just down the street on Danforth Avenue, where patrons can enjoy a beer with their Bach.

Raised in Orlando, Abberger himself was classically trained as an oboist at New York City’s famous Juilliard School, before moving to Toronto.

Plenty of North American cities have Bach festivals, but four years ago Abberger, 61, felt it was absent from Toronto.

He had two major motivations for a festival: to bring the German composer’s lesser-known cantatas to Torontonians and to present the medleys in the way Bach intended.

“Musicologists have been rethinking it and poring over the music,” he explained. “Nearly 40 years ago a musicologist in the States, Joshua Rifkin, came up with a theory that Bach’s music was not written for a choir but a small group of singers.”

So, for the Lutheran Masses presented on the Sunday at St. Barnabas, soprano Helene Brunet, countertenor Daniel Taylor, tenor Lawrence Wiliford and bass Joel Allison will perform “Mass in F major”, “Mass in G major” and “Sanctus in D major”.

“The Toronto public should hear this music performed the way it was in Bach’s day, but it’s hard to market it because it’s esoteric,” Abberger added.

Four hundred people attended the festival last year, showing there is a hunger for the work. This year, the pieces are chosen with the harpsichord as the main instrument. Last year the playlist was chosen based on the organ.

Also on the docket this year will be a lecture on Bach and the influence of French style by New England Conservatory of Music professor, Dr. Ellen Exner.

“To me, it gets to the essence of human experience in an uplifting away. I believe it enriches our lives. It crosses boundaries like age, culture, and race,” Abberger said. “I believe it has universal appeal. It’s my idea, a city as diverse as Toronto, this can be a common experience for all of us.”

Comments are closed.