March 31, 2013
Read below and discover yet another reason to come to Whittier on April 6, 2013!
Reflections about the Whittier College Bach Festival
Stephen Gotbold, Chorale Bel Canto Music Director
The Bach Festival, now it its 76th year, (the oldest continual festival west of the Mississippi) has played a central part in my journey as a student, singer, conductor and teacher. I realized recently in a moment of horror that I have participated and performed in more than half of the 76 festivals - 4 as a student; 7 or 8 as a guest, conducting my high school students in cantatas or motets, or preparing closing chorales for solo cantatas; 27 with the Whittier College Choir and 31 with Chorale Bel Canto, Cantori Sine Nomine, etc.
I attended Whittier College from 1959-1963 as a music major, and in those days, every music major was intensely involved in the Festival - rehearsing, performing, ushering, helping at receptions, etc. It was always a frenetic but wonderful two to three weeks of seemingly round the clock activity. During my years as a student, our concerts were held in Mendenhall Lobby (before those big counters were installed) and at the old Friends Church. Among my many work-study jobs was setting up the 300 chairs in Mendenhall, installing the huge Bach Festival banner which hung between the bank buildings at Philadelphia and Greenleaf, baby-sitting late night rehearsals in the Music Building (now the condemned Guilford Hall) or Mendenhall.
The music of Bach holds a sacred place in the hearts and minds of every musician who reaches out to embrace it. It requires so much of us, but pays amazing dividends of discovery, of inspiration, of almost divine deliverance. The scope of the master's imagination, industry, insight and illumination is simply staggering. Whether a two-part Invention or the towering St. Matthew Passion, there is fulfillment and grace with every note which is mastered.
Central to the "Bach Festival experience" of those days was the involvement of the music faculty - Margaretha Lohmann rehearsing her students at all hours, and herself performing, always from memory, preludes and fugues, suites, concert), transcriptions, all with amazing dexterity, clarity of counterpoint and depth of expression. Ruth Haroldson played, recruited and conducted very capable orchestras, and if my memory serves, none received any compensation.
Then there was Joseph Oi Tullio, cello, playing the unaccompanied suites, providing continue for all sorts of chamber and choral works; and Floyd Stancliff, who taught and played beautifully all of the Bach works for flute. And, of course, Eugene Morrison Riddle diligently prepared the College Choir to sing cantatas and motets for every Bach Festival for over 30 years.
My involvement and dedication to this music has influenced many decisions of my life... I have participated in the Long Beach and Los Angeles Bach Festivals; spent two wonderful summers at the Oregon Bach Festival with Helmuth Rilling, after which I spent a year at the Bach Academy in Stuttgart, concertizing and recording with Riding's Gachinger Kantorei. Still today, the Bach Festival at Whittier College is the highlight of my year.