Telling Stories - 77th Annual Bach Festival

Monday, April 14, 2014

By Lighmary Flores ’17

For a few days last week, the walls of Memorial Chapel resonated with the rich and beautiful tones of Johan Sebastian Bach as Whittier College hosted the 77th Annual Bach Festival, the oldest collegiate Bach festival west of the Mississippi.

The festival, which concluded on April 6, featured talented students, faculty, alumni and guests including the Horizon Chamber Players, Chorale Bel Canto, and Raymond Erickson ’63.

Click here to see a video of the Festival's highlights.

On Friday afternoon, Whittier students and faculty were the first to take the stage during the Bach Musicale. Ranging from brass to strings and ensembles to solos, the student and faculty instrumentations produced a sometimes melancholic, sometimes romantic, yet an altogether profoundly moving performance.

“I choose to play Bach because I think that he plays beautiful music,” said Michael Urquidi ’14, who performed a solo on the guitar during the Bach Musicale. “I love to learn every bit of it. It’s a little daunting at first, when you look at the music, but once you figure it out, it becomes so easy and absolutely beautiful.”

Seeking to introduce Bach to students in a way that is “more approachable and appreciative,” the music department chose the theme of “Bach and the Cantata” because cantatas tell stories through music.

The next two festival events soared with rich vocal demonstrations by the Horizon Chamber Players and Chorale Bel Canto of Bach’s cantatas.

Horizon Chamber Players brought Zimmerman’s Coffee House, Bach’s own artistic sanctuary, to life as spectators enjoyed a cup of coffee and Bach’s lyrical and humorous secular cantatas. For their part, Chorale Bel Canto filled Memorial Chapel with exuberant, powerful, and melodic cantatas, including The Mighty Fortress, that reflected Bach’s Lutheran roots.

“I think the Bach Festival is a great idea [which allows] vocalists to get the experience of seeing professionals perform. As a vocalist, it’s wonderful to see people at that professional level here at Whittier College,” said music major Meagan Caldwell ’14.

The last night of the Festival featured the return of alumnus Erickson, a regular performer and supporter of the yearly event. Erickson presented a harpsichord recital, “Bach and his Contemporaries.”

The exquisitely carved case and legs of the harpsichord were painted with wistful landscapes which were brought to life by Raymond's complex and entrancing playing.

“[Whittier College students] have a chance to experience some of the great masterworks of music through the Bach Festival,” said Erickson. “They get really topnotch musical performances.

Moreover Erickson encourages all Whittier students, regardless of major, to explore the offerings of the music department and its faculty.

“That is what a liberal arts education is all about,” he added.

For his part, student performer Armando Gonzalez ’14 was effusive about the festival.

“Bach just rocks. As a music major, you can’t really [learn to play] music without Bach. You want to hear some really great music listen to Bach."