″…according to Italian taste″: Leipzig′s Bachfest 2011 | Music | DW | 17.06.2011
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"…according to Italian taste": Leipzig's Bachfest 2011

Bach loved discovering new music - a fact evident through the influence of Italian music on his own work. The Bachfest in June examines that influence and celebrates two composers with milestone anniversaries in 2011.

Composer Johann Sebastian Bach

Though he seldom travelled, foreign music played a big role in Bach's life

Leipzig is without a doubt the city of Bach . The composer spent 27 years of his life there and wrote history as the city's Thomaskantor, the head of the St. Thomas Choir for boys. His remains are preserved in the St. Thomas Church 's sanctuary - reason enough for thousands of Johann Sebastian Bach admirers to head to Leipzig each year.

But fans also come to take in the annual Bachfest, now considered the most significant of its kind in Europe .

Genius on the prowl

The Thomanerchor - St. Thomas Choir of Boys - in Leipzig

The St. Thomas Choir which Bach directed continues to make music

In the 17th century, Italy was Europe 's musical capital. Johann Sebastian Bach scarcely left the region where he grew up and never traveled to Italy to hear its music first hand. But he was constantly on the search for new music, whether French, English or Italian.

Bach copied scores by other composers and integrated their musical idiom into his own work. His adaptations of concertos by Antonio Vivaldi are well-known. He rewrote them for organ and as trio sonatas, lending them an entirely new musical quality along the way.

The composer is often praised as a "universal genius" or the "greatest composer of all time." Christoph Wolff, Artistic Director of the Bachfest, added to those assessments in an interview with Deutsche Welle.

"For a festival organizer, Johann Sebastian Bach is ideal because there are endless possibilities when it comes to doing his work justice," said Wolff, who is also a professor and head of the Bach Archive in Leipzig .

"Bach is at the center of music, regardless of whether you approach the subject in classical or non-classical categories," Wolff added.

Bachfest 2011 in numbers

A breakdancer from the Flying Steps

Breakdancing meets Bach in performances by Berlin-based troupe the Flying Steps

In the course of 10 days, around 65,000 guests can visit 110 events. Performers will tackle 470 works, presented in 32 locations in and around Leipzig . The city's churches and the Gewandhaus concert hall are set to present performances alongside outdoor venues and clubs. It's clear from the billing that the festival is out to reach a mixed audience.

A high point at this year's event from June 10 to 19 is a world premiere of "Zanaida" by Johann Christian Bach. The opera by Bach's youngest son was long held to be missing, but in December 2010, the score was discovered in a private collection that made its way to the Bach Archive.

Bach will share the spotlight with two other composers at this year's event: Gustav Mahler, who died 100 years ago, and Franz Liszt, who was born 200 years ago.

Performers include local favorites like the celebrated St. Thomas Choir and the Gewandhaus Orchestra, but in keeping with the festival motto, Italian ensembles including Il Giardino Armonico and the Venice Baroque Orchestra will also perform. Juxtaposing Bach's music with that of his Italian contemporaries is one way in which the fest illuminates its theme of Bach and Italy .

Best of the best

A monument at St. Thomas Church to Bach

Bach is honored with a monument in front of Leipzig's St. Thomas Church

But there is one particularly noteworthy connection between the composer and the then capital of music, as Christoph Wolff pointed out.

"In the last decade of his life after 1740, Bach was occupying himself with the latest Italian music, including a setting of the 'Stabat Mater' by the young composer Pergolesi," explained the head of the Bachfest.

"Bach produced a transcription of the work, edited it and then performed it in a German version in Leipzig ."

In Protestant circles, few had had the chance to hear such novel and modern music. But Bach - who didn't to be seen as an old-fashioned composer - was always after the newest and best in music. The genius artist helped himself to whatever foreign scores he could find in order to develop musical culture in his adopted city.

Author: Rick Fulker
Editor: Greg Wiser

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