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Bob Keyes

Bob Keyes has written about the arts in Maine since 2002. He’s never been much an artist himself, other than singing in junior high school chorus and acting in a few musicals. But he’s attended museums, theaters, clubs and concert halls all his life, and cites Bob Dylan as most influential artist of any kind since Picasso. He lives in Berwick.

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Posted: June 11, 2018

Portland gets another blast of Bach

Written by: Bob Keyes

Flutist Emi Ferguson will perform with one of her favorite teachers, harpsichordist Arthur Haas.
Photo courtesy of Bach Virtuosi Festival

The classical music world is small, and the musicians who will assemble in Portland for the Bach Virtuosi Festival this week and next are all connected. They’ve studied together, they perform together and they share each other’s successes.

For flutist Emi Ferguson, the festival is a chance to reconnect with one of her beloved professors, Arthur Haas. They’ll perform together next week, sharing the stage for Bach’s Sonata in E-Minor. “We’ve come full circle,” said Ferguson. “I’m so delighted.”

The Bach Virtuosi Festival begins on Sunday and continues through June 24 with concerts at Portland’s St. Luke’s Cathedral, Etz Chaim Synagogue and a free one June 23 at Falmouth Congregational Church that supports hunger relief.

This is the third year for the festival, which was founded by violinist Lewis Kaplan, who spent 50 years at the helm of the Bowdoin International Music Festival in Brunswick. It’s also one of two Bach festivals in Portland. The other, the Portland Bach Experience, wraps up on Sunday.

Ferguson has performed at all three of Kaplan’s Bach festivals. Haas suggested her to Kaplan when he was assembling the first lineup of musicians.

“I had never met him or worked with him, but I knew of him. He is such an incredible and revered performer and educator,” Ferguson said of Kaplan, who teaches at the Juilliard School. “My response was, ‘Oh my god, yes. I would love to be there.’ It was so exciting and cool. Lewis assembled the most awesome group of musicians, and the rest history.”

She and Kaplan have become good friends and worked together often since their introduction three years ago, including traveling and performing together in China as well as in their shared hometown of New York.

As long as Kaplan produces a Bach festival in Portland, Ferguson said she wants to perform here. “This is a very special festival, and I have really grown to love the Portland area so much. I am so blown away by the lines of people queuing up to get into the concerts. The first year of the festival, I thought, ‘This is crazy. It can’t be possible to have this kind of support from a community this small.’ It was just beautiful, and it’s one of the things that keep bringing us back together.”

Haas is a sought-after performer and teacher of Baroque music and a member of the Aulos Ensemble, a period-instrument ensemble that specializes in Bach. Among the other high-profile performers participating in the festival are soprano Sherezade Panthaki and cellist Beiliang Zhu.

“The musicians of the Bach Virtuosi Festival are internationally recognized and appreciated for being master performers,” Kaplan said in a press release. “Local attendees and tourists from around the world come to these concerts, and we continue to hear stories about how superb these musicians are at playing Bach.”

The concerts are in intimate spaces, allowing members of the audience to be close to the musicians. In addition to the festival’s five primary concerts, people can attend master classes and rehearsals.

Photo courtesy of Jay Carter

Like Ferguson, countertenor Jay Carter has come to know Portland and Maine through the festival. Last year was his first year, “and I am thrilled to come back,” he said. “The city of Portland is a wonder with a long, rich history and the beautiful scenery of Casco Bay.”

Carter was born in Illinois and lives in Kansas City. “I grew up where Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky all come together, and there is not much there,” he said. “I was not exposed to baroque music. It wasn’t in our culture. That being said, when I was a child my parents got for my birthday a record player.”

Among the records he acquired through a subscription service was a record of music by Bach. “Something about it pulled me in and held my attention despite the fact that I was a 10-year-old. It sounded impressive and communicative at the same time.”

He became exposed to vocal music in high school and studied it in college, and has been singing since. Coming together with like-minded musicians in a festival setting is rewarding, he said. “Sometimes it’s just a gig, but that’s not the case with this festival. We have a group of people coming together who genuinely like each other and like working with each other. It’s rare and beautiful, and to be able to do it against the backdrop of Portland is almost too good to be believed.”

BACH VIRTUOSI FESTIVAL

WHEN: Sunday through June 24
WHERE: Concerts at St. Luke’s Cathedral, 143 State St., Portland; Synagogue Etz Chaim, 267 Congress St., Portland; and Falmouth Congregational Church, 267 Falmouth Road, Falmouth.
TICKETS & INFO: $35 per concert in advance, $40 at the door, $100 festival pass;  bachvirtuosifestival.org, porttix.com or 207-842-0800;
CONCERTS: 7:30 p.m. Sunday, June 17, St. Luke’s Cathedral, “All Bach”
7:30 p.m. Tuesday, June 19, St. Luke’s Cathedral, “Before Bach and Beyond”
7:30 p.m. Thursday, June 21, Synagogue Etz Chaim, “J.S. Bach: Sacred and Profane”
7:30 p.m. June 23, Falmouth Congregational Church, free Bach concert
7:30 p.m. June 24, St. Luke’s Cathedral, “Bach and Handel: Two Giants”

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