Johann Sebastian Bach is one of the most beloved and influential composers of all time, his dazzlingly elaborate creations as astounding today as ever. Starting this Friday, March 26, Houston Symphony audiences will have the chance to hear no less than eight great Bach masterpieces over the course of two consecutive concert weekends, March 26–28 and April 2 & 3. Read below for a preview of what’s in store!
Baroque Meets Avant-Garde
Bach’s musical output is defined by a sense of boundless imagination and inventiveness, so it’s little surprise that his music inspired outstanding arrangements from some of the 20th century’s most cutting-edge composers.
The intricate six-voice fugue Ricercata a 6 voci from The Musical Offering served as a starting point for Anton Webern, whose 1935 arrangement passes the melody from one instrument to another, resulting in a kaleidoscopic range of instrumental colors that enhance Bach’s grand procession of interweaving themes.
Written in the last decade of Bach’s life, The Art of Fugue marked the apex of the composer’s experimentation with counterpoint (a signature Bach technique involving the sounding of two—or, as was usually the case with Bach, more than two—different melodies simultaneously). In 2001, the Art of Fugue’s unfinished quadruple fugue, Contrapunctus XIX, was arranged by a composer with a similar flair for experimentation, the boundary-pushing Luciano Berio. Berio’s hypnotic reworking for 23 instruments concludes with an ethereal ending of Berio’s own, which seamlessly fades in where Bach’s score ends.
Hear both Ricercata a 6 voci and Contrapunctus XIX in this weekend’s program, led by renowned San Francisco Symphony Music Director Esa-Pekka Salonen.
Spotlighting Houston Symphony Talent
Bach’s unaccompanied violin pieces are jewels of the repertoire that showcase an artist’s mastery in its most essential form, offering up pure, unadulterated doses of violin virtuosity. Concertmaster Yoonshin Song brings a breath of fresh air to Jones Hall with the bright and energetic Prelude from Violin Partita No. 3 in E major—one of Bach’s best known solo violin works—at this weekend’s concerts. The Prelude also serves as an introduction to Esa-Pekka Salonen’s Fog, which riffs on the Prelude’s main theme.
Next weekend, Yoonshin returns with Principal Oboe Jonathan Fischer for Bach’s Concerto in C minor for Oboe and Violin. No original score exists for an Oboe and Violin Concerto in C minor, but scholars believe that Bach’s Concerto in C minor for Two Harpsichords was almost certainly a subsequent arrangement of an earlier, original setting for Oboe and Violin.
Scholars were able to reconstruct the lost Oboe and Violin version from the harpsichord arrangement, and the resulting work is a vibrant musical dialogue filled with moments of tender beauty and spirited exuberance.
Glorious Arias for Easter
The concerts on April 2 and 3 offer an opportunity for reverent reflection and joyous refrains on Easter weekend with two of Bach’s most magnificent “church cantatas,” No. 51, Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen! and No. 170, Vergnügte Ruh, beliebte Seelenlust.
The cantatas feature some of his most challenging vocal writing, and spectacular singers Yulia Van Doren and Elizabeth DeShong—who join conductor Jane Glover and the Houston Symphony—are more than up to the task.
A Famous Finale
The concerts on April 2 and 3 conclude with Bach’s Suite No. 2 in B minor, a delightful seven-movement suite that closes with a light and sprightly “Badinerie”—some of Bach’s most recognizable music, and a sparkling showpiece for flute.
Join us this weekend, March 26–28 for Esa-Pekka Salonen Conducts Bach, Beethoven, and Salonen, and next weekend, April 2 and 3, for A Bach Easter. Livestream and in-person tickets are on sale now.