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‘Ah, Bach …’ Ogden festival offers series of free concerts celebrating the composer

By Mark Saal standard-Examiner - | Feb 21, 2020
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Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750), German musician and composer playing the organ, circa 1725. From a print in the British Museum. (Photo by Rischgitz/Getty Images)

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A scene at the inaugural Ogden Bach Fest, held in 2019. The 2020 Ogden Bach Festival returns next week at venues around the city.

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A performance from the 2019 Ogden Bach Fest. The 2020 festival will be held next week at various venues around the city.

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A performance from the 2019 Ogden Bach Fest. The 2020 festival will be held next week at various venues around the city.

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A performance from the 2019 Ogden Bach Fest. The 2020 festival will be held next week at various venues around the city.

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A performance from the 2019 Ogden Bach Fest. The 2020 festival will be held next week at various venues around the city.

OGDEN — “Ah, Bach …”

In an episode of the 1970s TV sitcom “MASH,” company clerk Radar O’Reilly repeatedly uses those two words in an attempt to bluff his way through a conversation with a classically educated nurse he’s trying to impress. When she presses him on what he means by that, Hawkeye Pierce bails out the in-over-his-head Radar with: “I think once you’ve said that, you’ve said it all.”

Ogden audiences will get a chance to understand what all that means next week when the second Ogden Bach Festival comes to town. The festival’s tagline is: “Five Days. One Musical Genius.”

The festival, running next Monday through Friday, Feb. 24-28, offers Johann Sebastian Bach-inspired concerts each night at various venues around Ogden. All concerts are free.

The idea for the Ogden Bach Festival came from festival artistic director Gabriel Gordon, who holds a similar position with the Ogden-based NEXT Ensemble.

“Andrew (Barrett Watson, with Onstage Ogden) initiated the festival, but this was an idea I had several years ago after moving here,” Gordon said. “I did a lot of research, and found that Utah did not have a Bach festival — and never has had one — although I’m sure there have been several false starts.”

Yes, but why a Bach festival, and not a Beethoven festival or a Mozart festival? Gordon says Bach holds a unique place in classical music history. All three composers are recognized today, and all three had a big influence on other composers — it’s why they’re still so well-known, according to Gordon.

“But Bach was the polymath of all composers,” he said. “The special thing about Bach is that he was good at everything.”

Beethoven excelled at symphonies and string quartets, but he only wrote one opera and one ballet, according to Gordon. And Mozart was good at a lot of things, but there were a few gaps in his oeuvre as well.

But Bach?

“Bach took every single form of music that existed in the baroque era and wrote the definitive piece of that era,” Gordon said. “Think of it as one person who hit the top of the charts in rock, pop, new age, hip-hop — name any other genre that has a Top 10 list, and Bach wrote the definitive piece for it.”

The one thing Bach didn’t master?

“Bach didn’t write the definitive symphony,” Gordon said. “Beethoven did. But only because the symphony didn’t exist yet when Bach was alive.”

This impressive collection of incredibly varied classical pieces is why a Bach festival is such a “no-brainer,” according to Gordon.

“You just can’t run out of stuff to play,” he said. “There’s no way.”

This year’s festival kicks off with a concert at 7 p.m. Monday at Holy Family Catholic Church, 1100 E. 5500 South, in South Ogden. The concert features performances by Nova Chamber Music, Morgan Valley Chamber Orchestra and Myron Patterson.

Bach was an organist, and Gordon says it’s important that Bach festival concerts feature organs.

“That’s the other thing we discovered as we were doing research for all of this,” he said. “Ogden happens to have not only some magnificent churches that can be perfect concert venues, but also these churches have wonderful organs in them. You basically can’t have a Bach festival without a good organ.”

At 7 p.m. Tuesday, NEXT Ensemble and Rulon Christensen will perform a concert at St. Paul Lutheran Church, 3329 Harrison Blvd., in Ogden. This concert, according to Gordon, is an “all-not-Bach” program. All of the works on the program were written by composers who either influenced or were influenced by Bach.

If you think you’ll only hear stuffy old classical music written by long-dead guys, think again. For example, Tuesday’s concert will include two works by a composer who creates fugues based on modern artists like Lady Gaga and Adele.

“They’re brilliant fugues that Bach could have written, really, based on extremely popular tunes that people in the audience will recognize,” Gordon said. “Which is what Bach did all the time — take tunes that the troubadours of the day were performing on the street, and create fugues.”

At 7 p.m. Wednesday, the festival continues with “Bach @ the Bar,” at Lighthouse Lounge, 130 Historic 25th St., in downtown Ogden. That concert will feature The Inventures, Ryan Conger, Myles Lawrence and Gabriel Gordon.

Earlier that same day, at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, a “Bach for Kids” event will be held at Treehouse Museum, 347 22nd St., Ogden. Gordon says performing classical music for kids is one of the festival’s highest priorities.

“Kids appreciate this music more than people think; they don’t have the kind of restrictions or assumptions that most adults have,” he said. “They don’t know who Bach is, or they don’t know they shouldn’t like Bach — or new music, for that matter.”

For example, Gordon says NEXT Ensemble has performed world premieres of brand new pieces, where the ink was still drying on the paper when they performed it, and the kids loved it so much they’re still talking about that concert.

“So this is not only about raising the next generation of classical listeners, but these kids are our most appreciative audience,” Gordon said.

Next Thursday’s Ogden Bach Festival offering will be a Bach lecture and mini-concert with Mary Beth Willard. The event begins at 7 p.m. Feb. 27 in the Weber County Library’s Pleasant Valley Branch, 5568 Adams Avenue Parkway, in Washington Terrace.

The 2020 Ogden Bach Festival concludes at 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 28, in the Ogden Tabernacle, 2145 Washington Blvd., Ogden. The concert, which Gordon calls “probably the only pure-Bach concert at the festival,” will feature Chamber Orchestra Ogden and the Weber State University Choir.

Gordon says that perhaps the best part about the Ogden Bach Festival is that it’s all free. He credits Onstage Ogden with working to keep the festival without an admission charge.

“They really wanted to do something of the community and for the community,” Gordon said. “So you’ve got all this local talent that’s mostly focused in Ogden — that’s of the community — and you’re doing it in these churches and local places in Ogden — that’s for the community. So it seemed the natural thing to say, ‘This is really for the community, so let’s make sure it’s free.'”

Gordon believes there’s “truly a renaissance” taking place in Ogden. Chamber Orchestra Ogden is celebrating its 10th anniversary next year, and NEXT Ensemble has been around for five years, he said. And the fact that Salt Lake City-based Nova Chamber Music is coming to the festival is “a nice feather in our cap.”

“We want everybody to understand that you don’t necessarily need to go to Salt Lake to get your culture,” he said.

Gordon believes the 2020 Ogden Bach Festival will change folks perceptions about what they see as stereotypical classical music.

“If you have those assumptions about classical music and Bach,” he said, “these are all free concerts. Come out and have fun.”

WHAT: Ogden Bach Festival

WHEN: Concerts held nightly, Feb. 24-28

WHERE: Various venues around Ogden

ADMISSION: Free, more info at onstageogden.org


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