It was 1932 and the Great Depression was in full swing when a group of musicians from the University of Minnesota decided to practice and perform the music of Johann Sebastian Bach.
With the help of a professor, Donald Ferguson, they founded the Bach Society of Minnesota. Eight years later, they launched their first Minnesota Bach Festival.
Fast forward to 2022 and the Bach Society is preparing to celebrate its 90th anniversary by reviving the Minnesota Bach Festival. Opening on Friday, it will feature 15 concerts with a variety of fascinating collaborators before concluding on May 28. Here are some of the most promising gigs to catch:
Legends and lies: The festival opener doesn’t actually include the music of JS Bach, traveling even further down the time machine. If you’ve only heard of medieval trickster Till Eulenspiegel in Richard Strauss’ symphonic poem, you should check out this collaboration between male vocal octet Cantus and the musicians of the Bach Society, led by its artistic director , Matthias Maute. Full of Renaissance and early Baroque music, it is interspersed with stories of old Till’s exploits. (from April 29 to May 3 at five sites)
Bach’s Mass in B Minor: What was Bach’s consummate masterpiece? The consensus choice is this magnum opus brimming with impressive music for vocal soloists, choir and orchestra. Maute leads. (7:30 p.m. May 14, Ordway Concert Hall, 345 Washington St., St. Paul)
The baroque and the spiritual: Baritone Angel Refuse will present a recital that explores commonalities between the music of Bach and George Frideric Handel, early African-American spirituals, and 20th-century black composers. (7:30 p.m. May 28, Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, 285 N. Dale St., St. Paul)
Don’t fancy in-person gigs? It’s understandable, with the recent surge of a new COVID variant. So attend some online instead. The “Legends and Lies” program with Cantus will be available from April 29 to May 8. The baroque trio Flying Forms will be broadcast a live concert with violinist Kangwon Kim on May 13. And, after playing Bach and premiering a new Bach-inspired cantata by Paul Jacobson in Rochester on May 19, Lyra Baroque broadcast the program live May 20.
Minnesota Bach Festival
When: April 29-May 28.
Or: Various locations in the Twin Cities and Rochester and online.
Tickets: Free-$45, bachsocietymn.org.
Rob Hubbard is a classical music writer from Twin Cities. [email protected]