By Diva Karen Stewart
EXETER – As I left my car on a side street in Exeter on Monday night, the bells in the tower at Trivitt Memorial Anglican Church were ringing a melancholy welcome.
A few minutes later, South Huron’s third Bach Music Festival of Canada was opened by the chair of the board, Friedhelm Hoffman, with greetings from South Huron’s mayor, Maureen Cole. What followed was nothing short of splendid – an evening of exceptional music presented by the wildly talented Spanish pianist Leopoldo Erice.
The concert began with Erice presenting a short lecture on his career, his appreciation for the music of Johann Sebastian Bach and his introduction to the musical part of the evening – the 32-part Goldberg Variations. I so appreciated this opportunity to learn more about Bach and his music from such a passionate and charming performer.
Erice began by saying “a concert without an audience is not a concert at all” and he thanked the nearly sold-out crowd for attending the performance this night. “The audience is the receiver of the composer’s message,” and is, therefore, a key part of the event.
Johann Sebastian Bach was a German composer and musician (1685 – 1750). He created the Goldberg Variations, an iconic 32-piece aria once described by NPR Music blogger Tom Huizenga as both “simply beautiful keyboard work, and a Rubik’s Cube of invention and architecture.”
A stately grand piano from D & S Pianos filled the stage so it was interesting to be reminded that in the time of Bach the piano had not yet been invented. The aria had been created for playing on a harpsichord with two manuals (or keyboards).
Erice described the translation to the piano to be quite demanding as the crossing of the hands would become somewhat chaotic, “like Tom and Jerry running back and forth across the keys” (he was quite funny in his delivery.) At one point in the aria, on the piano, both hands play the same note so the musician gets to decide which works for him/her.
Eric told the audience that the Goldberg Variations are said to have exquisite craftsmanship inspired by Bach’s devote Lutheran faith. It was created as part of Bach’s lifelong search for perfection. Further, Erice described the Goldberg Variations having much significance in its numbers. The 32-part Aria was created in 10 groups of three (with two parts repeated to reach the 32). There were nine canons or musical techniques employing a specific melody. And there were three parts presented in minors – #15 – (15/3 = 5) with the five having fear and sadness relating significance to the Virgin Mary; #21 (21/3 = 7) … relating to the seventh day when God rested and # 25 (5/5 = 5), a large homage, again to the Virgin Mary. The last variation #30 was celebratory.
Finally, Erice felt honoured to have the opportunity to explore Bach’s music in depth and feels that the piece often sends the audience into a meditative and contemplative state of mind. Most of all he felt the Goldberg Variations “have some of the most beautiful magical moments in music.”
After a brief break, the concert began … approximately 90 minutes of un-interrupted, technically complex but none-the-less splendid piano music, presented by a consummate professional. Some pieces were easy-listening, some were delivered with more aggression and some with rapid staccato. The pieces created in minor keys definitely changed the mood as Bach has intended per this lecturer’s research.
The triple standing ovation indicated everyone in the church that evening agreed this was a wonderful way to kick off the 2015 Festival that continues all week with evening concerts and Bach’s free Brown-Bag Lunch Series. The grand finale is St. Matthew Passion on Saturday night.
Full details are available on the website.