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Music school celebrates Bach with festival

BY RACHAEL LANDER | MARCH 2, 2009 7:30 AM

J.S. Bach is to the Baroque era what the Beatles was to the ‘60s. Not only did Bach help define the time period, but, UI associate professor and violist Christine Rutledge said, Bach is one of the greatest composers of all time. This reason, along with a pure love of Bach, is why Rutledge created a week dedicated to his music.

The Bach Festival will take place Tuesday through Friday. The days will feature an array of free performances, lectures, and master classes, dedicated to teaching students, faculty, and the community about Bach styles through the use of Baroque period instruments and music.

“To play Bach on modern instruments, it transfers quite well,” Rutledge said. “But to play [the music] in the way that Bach ideated it, created it, and heard it brings a new life to it.”

Rutledge also said her goal for the Bach Festival is to integrate period instruments into the UI music program. The differences between Baroque era instruments and modern ones vary according to materials. UI music Professor Emeritus Betty Bang Mather, who will lecture and teach a master class during the fest, described the Baroque flute as significantly different from one manufactured today.

“The baroque flute is wooden instead of metal and also has a lower pitch,” she said. “It’s not as perfect as a modern flute because it doesn’t have any keys. You put your fingers on top of holes to play it. It has a much more mellow, much more personal sound.”

Rutledge noted that to appreciate and understand Bach’s music, a period instrument isn’t necessary, but it adds to learning.

“Not only does it enhance performance on a modern instrument to know about the style, but if you know about it, the music becomes much more understandable,” she said. “You’re playing the music the way it should be played, not superimposing modern ideas on something old. It’s approaching [the music] not from a point of ignorance but a point of information, so that you have an idea of the style.”

Rutledge set up the week with a goal of integrating numerous areas of music to appeal not only to students but the community as well. She incorporated viola, flute, and voice, as well as numerous other instruments, to further enhance learning and appeal of the festival. The week also includes a lecture from Harvard University professor and Bach expert Christoph Wolff.

He’s written a lot about Bach,” Rutledge said. “His biography of Bach was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize, and it’s one of the books that I consider to be my bible on Bach. I wanted to have not just performance but have the academic side of music involved as well to talk about period style so it wasn’t just one-sided.”

With a lineup of music professionals from around the country, the Bach Festival will be anything but one-sided. The experts range from some of the UI’s own faculty to Seattle Baroque Ensemble violinist and director Ingrid Matthews, and soprano Sherezade Panthaki.

To fund the festival, Rutledge said, she was lucky to receive a grant through the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Excellence in Innovation Fund. She hopes to be able to form an event similar to this again soon, despite the taxing work involved.

“It’s definitely a labor of love,” she said.


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