Looking Back on the Bach Institute

It’s said that in the winter of 1705, a twenty-year old J.S. Bach traveled over 260 miles on foot to see the organist and composer Dietrich Buxtehude perform in Lübeck, on the Baltic Coast of Germany.

The students of the 2014 Bach Institute may not have come to us on foot, but they metaphorically followed in young Johann’s footsteps when they flew and drove through not one, but two polar vortices to immerse themselves in the music of Bach, guided by a seasoned and distinguished faculty in our own snowy coastal city of Boston.

An enthusiastic and dedicated audience braved the snow and wind to fill Lindsey Chapel for the final concert on Tuesday, January 21. Our students worked tirelessly on this challenging music for two intense weeks and we are so grateful that you rewarded them with your presence, attention, and appreciation. 

For those of you who might be wondering what we mean quantitatively by “intense,” here are some numbers from co-founder and co-director Kendra Colton’s speech at the final concert (you can view the full text here):

  • Faculty of 9 professionals drawn from Emmanuel Music, Oberlin College, Winsor Music
    • They have collectively performed more than 230 years of cantatas at Emmanuel Church
  • Approximately 100 hours of group or private coaching during the first week alone
  • 3 insightful lectures into the weekly cantatas and 1 masterclass on Bach recitative by Pamela Dellal
  • 1 presentation by John Harbison on Cantata 78 (performed for the final concert)
  • 14 performances by the students in 17 days
    • 3 Emmanuel Music Sunday cantatas
    • 3 preludes before the Emmanuel Church services
    • 4 Winsor Music outreach concerts at retirement communities
    • 2 children’s concerts at the Mather School in Dorchester
    • 5 performance demonstrations with Pamela Dellal and John Harbison
  • Students and faculty attended 3 extra-curricular concerts
    • Golijov’s La Pasión según San Marcos with Robert Spano and The Boston Symphony Orchestra
    • Chemistry performed by A Far Cry and Urbanity Dance on January 11
    • A Little Night Music performed by Emmanuel Music on January 19
  • Hours upon hours of individual practice by the students and prep by the faculty...

You get the picture — they packed a lot into two weeks.

The three sponsors of the Institute — Emmanuel Music, Oberlin College and Conservatory, and Winsor Music — work jointly to provide a seamless experience for the students, but each sponsor also brings its own unique contributions to the table. Winsor Music’s established relationships with the Mather School and local retirement communities allow the students to share their gifts and passion for music with underserved communities. This year’s children’s concerts at the Mather School in Dorchester, always a favorite of the Institute participants, featured Frère Jacques, The Opera, a short and simple interactive “opera” based on an easy and familiar tune that the children already know. Like last year’s hit, Mary Had a Little Lamb, the “opera” and the other components of the concert were arranged during the second week of the institute by the students specifically for the children of the Mather School. If you’d like to know more about a typical children’s concert at the Mather School, please visit this page for more details. Thanks to the generosity of everyone who contributed to our Kickstarter campaign this fall, we’re planning to give two more concerts at the Mather School this season — we’ll let you know when we have more details!

As we wrap this post up, we can’t go without thanking the many people who made this one-of-a-kind experience possible, and since Kendra put it so well in her speech, we’ll let her do it:

In order for this program to flourish, a large community of supporters has been enlisted.  The program lists our contributors, but I want to add my personal thanks to Dr. Peter Libby and Dr. Beryl Benacerraf, the Klarman Foundation, and Oberlin College for your critical financial support.  

Housing our out-of-town students in Boston is a special challenge because the length of the program is much longer than most people would dream of having their own relatives visit.  What’s more, the hosts do not even know the people who will be under foot, and so they take a leap of faith that I will invite quality human beings. So to Anne and Sean Gavin, John and Gretchen Graef, Cynthia Livingston and Dick Shader, Eban and Sara Kunz, Carla Rothaus and Eric Printz, and new hosts Diana Post and Hal Churchill, and Susan and Frank Kelley, I offer my sincere gratitude on behalf of the Institute and the students.

Another vital community supporter of the Bach Institute is Emmanuel Church. I’d like to thank Pam Werntz and the church for generously offering this space for the duration of the program.

To Kate Kush and all members of the Emmanuel Music Board, Ryan Turner, artistic director, and Pat Krol, executive director, I say thank you for your continued support and enthusiasm for this program.

… To the faculty, thank you for your commitment, passion, time, opinions, and faith that we would all agree OR agree to disagree on how we wanted to help the students take ownership of this great music.  It is my privilege and honor to have such esteemed colleagues and friends as musical partners.

We would also like to extend our sincere thanks to the students for their hard work and commitment during their time with us, and to congratulate them on a beautiful concert and a job well done. We hope you can draw upon the lessons you learned from your teachers and the beauty you discovered in Bach’s music as you continue on your journey as musicians, whether it takes you to Lübeck, to Boston, or beyond. Wherever you’re going, we hope it’s warmer than Boston in January!