Master Maestro Inspires All Ages: Upper Valley Musicians Playfully Celebrate Bach’s Birthday
Mark Ralston Daniel, 12, of Hanover, N.H., looks toward his father before performing a cello composition during the Bach marathon at Our Savior Lutheran Church in Hanover on March 31, 2014. (Valley News - Will Parson) Purchase photo reprints »
Ruth Cappin of Hanover, N.H., plays violin during a "flash mob" orchestra that was part of a Bach marathon at Our Savior Lutheran Church in Hanover, N.H., on March 31, 2014. (Valley News - Will Parson) Purchase photo reprints »
Margaret Gilmore points out a line of Bach's Brandenburg Concerto #1 for Robert Racusin of Norwich, Vt., during a "flash mob" orchestra that was part of a Bach marathon at Our Savior Lutheran Church in Hanover, N.H., on March 31, 2014. Gilmore, a cellist and music teacher, organized the 12-hour event. (Valley News - Will Parson) Purchase photo reprints »
Margaret Gilmore helps tune a double bass for Eli Kaliski, 12, of Thetford, Vt., during a Bach marathon at Our Savior Lutheran Church in Hanover, N.H., on March 31, 2014. (Valley News - Will Parson) Purchase photo reprints »
Hanover — Aristotle Williamson waited for the waves of veteran organist Peter Beardsley’s rendition of the Prelude and Fugue in B minor to recede from the soaring ceiling in the sanctuary of Our Savior Lutheran Church.
Then the 5-year-old from Bradford, Vt., strode to the piano beneath the abstract sculpture of Christ rising from an earthbound cross and launched into the Musette in D, nearly 290 years after Johann Sebastian Bach composed it and three hours into the Upper Valley’s inaugural Bach Birthday Music Marathon last Monday.
“I played it three days ago,” Aristotle said after his second-ever piano recital and third-ever public music performance. “The first time I did this one was not so hard.”
Among the parade of more than 60 Upper Valley musicians who answered the call of cellist and teacher Margaret Gilmore to play throughout the 329th anniversary of the German maestro’s birthday, performers of many ages — a range of more than 70 years — stripes and levels of achievement welcomed the challenge.
“You are always hearing new things and learning new things when you perform his music,” Thetford resident Matt Wiencke, a magazine editor by day and an in-demand pianist in his free time, said after playing the English Suite No. 2 in A minor. “A certain melody line in the left hand will stand out differently from one performance to another, for example. There is a lot of conflict and passion in his music and you can hear how he’s often striving for something either in a loud, crashy way or in a soft, poignant, but still powerful way. His music is technically very difficult, too. When I’m practicing the faster movements of his suites or his fugues from the Well Tempered - Clavier for a concert, it’s like training for the Olympics.”
No wonder clarinetist Elfie Forbes, of Thetford, chose to kick off the marathon with flutist Gail Richens, of Hanover, and cellist Ruth Sylvester, of Thetford in Bach’s Trio Sonata.
“We wanted to go first so we could relax the rest of the day,” Forbes said. “I think it’s easier than sitting and waiting your turn.”
Easier, too, she added, than playing Bach with an instrument that “didn’t exist when he was writing.” And yet, worth the flexing of musical muscles and nerve endings.
“This is a kick,” Forbes said. “This is a great place to play.”
With those high ceilings, acoustically friendly walls, and flexible, semi-circle seating, not to mention a location central to the Upper Valley, Our Savior looked and sounded like just the place Gilmore was looking for, as she prepared to mount a more egalitarian version of the kind of all-day or all-night marathon she’d seen in Europe and helped to organize in Arizona and California.
“The ones in which I have participated in the past were invitation-only events, so the organizers knew exactly who was performing what and at what time,” said Gilmore, who lives in Thetford. “They actually designed it so that there was a good mix of Bach music, and no duplications, rather like one would have at a concert. From an artistic design perspective, this is good: You don’t want performers all playing the same piece. You want variety of music instrumentation and styles. But I wanted no restrictions placed on the participants, so that everyone would feel welcome.”
To Our Savior co-pastors Susan and Michael Thomas, that was music to, well, you know …
“(Gilmore) came to us and said, ‘I have this idea; could we co-sponsor this?’ ” Susan Thomas said. “It was meant to be a community event.”
A community that includes other congregations and newcomers to the Upper Valley: Lutheran-ordained minister Carol Jeunnette of Lebanon, now an assistant pastor of St. Thomas Episcopal Church across town, played the Sonata in B Minor on flute with St. Thomas’ interim organist Peter Beardsley on piano.
“Eons ago, I was a music major (at Illinois’ Wheaton College),” Jeunnette said. “In the years since, I would have the instrument out of the case two or three times a year. This was a great chance to go back to it.”
And a stern test, on which she was relieved to have Beardsley share the heavy lifting.
“It’s extremely complex,” Jeunnette said. “It takes a tremendous accompanist.”
This accompanist brought 55 years of professional experience on keyboards, including 36 as organist and choirmaster of a large church in western Massachusetts, and a lifetime of keeping up with the Bach canon.
“He was an outstanding brain,” Beardsley said.
Imagine Bach wrapping that brain around the flash mob orchestra that performed the Brandenburg Concerto No. 1 in F major midway through the evening of the marathon — without rehearsal — and coming soon to a Web browser near you.
“Bach goes everywhere harmonically,” she said. “You know when a passage is coming up that it’s going to go here, but it goes there instead.”
David Corriveau can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and at 603-727-3304.