Winter has overstayed its welcome for many this year, but Bachathon, the musical equivalent of daffodils and tulips, is arriving early.
The four-hour Bach blowout usually takes place the first Sunday in May, but this year it’s happening Sunday, April 15. The venue has changed, too, from Grace & Holy Trinity Cathedral, the usual host of Bachathon, to Village Presbyterian Church.
Elisa Williams Bickers, associate director of music and principal organist for Village Presbyterian, explains the changes.
“Because of the upcoming 2018 AGO (American Guild of Organists) convention in Kansas City, we decided to just bump (Bachathon) up a little earlier to give us some breathing space,” she said. “And the reason for moving it to Village was literally just a scheduling question because the cathedral was not available at this time. Next year, it will be back at the cathedral.”
Village Presbyterian is a logical alternate venue. Besides its beautifully renovated and acoustically superb sanctuary, it’s also home to a new, $2 million Richards, Fowkes & Co. organ, which, like Grace & Holy Trinity’s organ, is ideal for Bach.
“The Gabriel Kney at the cathedral has a wonderful pungency, while Village’s organ is a little bit more gentle but still very Dutch Protestant,” Bickers said. “They’re both absolutely wonderful for interpreting the works of Bach. We’re just excited to try it here this year.”
Bachathon’s motto is “Come when you can, leave when you must.” The afternoon is divided in 30-minute segments, which allows plenty of time between performances to stretch your legs or grab a bit to eat.
“We’ll have the Village Cup open, that’s our coffee shop in the welcome center adjacent to the sanctuary,” Bickers said. “People can get pastries and other little snacks and coffee drinks. We’ll be open the whole afternoon. People will be nourished musically and physically.”
Providing the musical nourishment are some of the area’s finest organists and baroque music specialists, like local organ superstar Jan Kraybill and harpsichordist Rebecca Bell.
“Michael Bauer, who’s professor of organ at KU, is playing several sets of chorales,” Bickers said. “That man’s artistry just never ceases to amaze me. When you put Michael Bauer and Johann Sebastian Bach at the same organ, amazing, uplifting things are going to happen.
“It will also be wonderful to hear the chamber ensemble at 5 p.m. We’ll have celebrated the organ all day, which is a wonderful thing to do, but chamber music really shines in our newly renovated sanctuary.”
There’s also a choral performance at 4 p.m. featuring the organist guild’s Schola Cantorum led by Anthony Maglione.
“This will be Anthony’s last time conducting the Schola Cantorum, so we’re really looking forward to hearing what he puts forward and honoring him on this day,” Bickers said. “He’s one of the busiest performers and conductors and teachers and composers that I know, and something had to give.”
Bickers herself will conclude Bachathon with a solo performance at 5:30 p.m. With her intimate knowledge of the church’s organ and virtuosic technique, it should be a spectacular conclusion to the afternoon.
“I’m playing what many of us consider to be Bach’s most amazing organ work, the Passacaglia in C Minor,” she said. “It’s a holy piece for me. The way it just builds and builds and flourishes emotionally. But it also does a wonderful job of showing many different sonic colors that the organ has to offer. I think it’s a wonderful piece to feature on a concert that is dedicated to the creative genius of Bach.”
The Bachathon schedule:
2 p.m. Andrew Morris, organist Shawnee Presbyterian Church
2:30 p.m. Kevin Kissinger, staff organist Community of Christ, Independence
3 p.m. Ronald Krebs, vice president of the Reuter Organ Co., and Emily Bennett, soprano and teacher at Johnson County Community College and Barstow School
3:30 p.m. Jan Kraybill, organist-in-residence at the international headquarters of Community of Christ, Independence, and conservator of the Julia Irene Kauffman Casavant Organ at Helzberg Hall, Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts
4 p.m. Schola Cantorum led by Anthony Maglione, director of choral studies, William Jewell College, and artist-in-residence and choirmaster at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, Kansas City
4:30 p.m. Michael Bauer, professor of organ and church music, University of Kansas
5 p.m. Bonita Green, soprano; Lyra Pherigo, flute; Mary Grant, violin; Alexander East, cello; Rebecca Bell, harpsichord
5:30 p.m. Elisa Williams Bickers, associate director of music and principal organist, Village Presbyterian Church
2-6 p.m. Sunday, April 15. Village Presbyterian Church, 6641 Mission Road, Prairie Village. Free. For more information, visit kcago.com/bachathon.html.
Brazilian pianist Nelson Freire does not have the name recognition of, say, Emanuel Ax or Alfred Brendel, partly because he has eschewed the spotlight throughout his illustrious career. But connoisseurs of piano music treasure his legacy of superb recordings and his recitals, which are always memorable events.
The Friends of Chamber Music will present Freire at the Folly Theater on April 22, and, if you’re a lover of piano music, you won’t want to miss it.
In addition to works by Mozart, Schumann and Chopin, Freire, 73, also will perform music by Spanish composer Isaac Albéniz and his fellow Brazilian Heitor Villa-Lobos. The New York Times has written that Freire “wastes no energy on useless physicality. His tone palette is stocked mainly with subtle shades instead of bright neon colors.” This is the sort of program that will show off Freire’s subtle artistry to its fullest.
2:30 p.m. Sunday, April 22. Folly Theater, 300 W. 12th St. $25-$35. 816-561-9999 or chambermusic.org.
Bach Aria Soloists
Thanks to the efforts of Elizabeth Suh Lane, Beau Bledsoe and the Bach Aria Soloists, tango has become a passion for many in Kansas City. The Bach Aria Soloists’ many concerts have shown tango to be a form of high art, as worthy of respect as European classical music or American jazz.
The bandonéon, the accordion-like instrument most associated with tango, was invented by the German Heinrich Band to accompany religious music. Little did he know that the instrument, which German immigrants brought to Argentina, would find its greatest use in passionate and erotic tango.
Among current bandonéonists, del Curto is considered the finest.
“We are ecstatic about bringing Héctor del Curto and Gustavo Casenave back to Kansas City,” Lane said. “Héctor just won the Grammy Award this year for best Latin jazz album with the Pablo Ziegler Trio. And Gustavo is a Steinway artist and a three-time Latin Grammy nominee for his tango compositions.”
The two tango heavyweights will be joined by Lane, violinist and leader of Bach Aria Soloists; Bledsoe, a guitarist steeped in the music of Latin America; and bassist Jeff Harshbarger, a star on the local jazz scene. They’ll perform authentic tango as well as the tango-classical fusion of Astor Piazzolla.
“Hector and Gustavo are true tango masters,” Lane said. “It’s quite extraordinary that Kansas City will be able to experience the passion of Astor Piazzolla’s electric music performed by world-class artists from Buenos Aires and Uruguay.”
7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 21. Folly Theater, 300 W. 12th St. $20-$60. 816-474-4444 or bachariasoloists.com.
You can reach Patrick Neas at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow his Facebook page, KC Arts Beat, at facebook.com/kcartsbeat.