The World-Renowned Bach Virtuosi Festival Will Debut on the Upper West Side this May

  Last modified on April 12th, 2024

eternal bach

New York City music fans with a particular passion for the baroque period have a reason to rejoice this spring: Bach Virtuosi Festival is set to make a splash on the Upper West Side, with multiple performances scheduled between May 13 and May 21.

A fixture of the prestigious Portland, Maine orchestral scene (dubbed the “can’t miss classical event of the summer” by The Boston Globe) since its inception in 2016, Bach Virtuosi Festival is a true celebration of composer J.S. Bach, offering lucky guests the unique opportunity to bask in incomparable sonatas, cantatas, partitas, concerti and arias. Though the Portland edition will return for a triumphant ninth year in June, predominantly at St. Luke’s Cathedral (get all of the details here), its New York debut is somewhat of a homecoming for Lewis Kaplan, violinist, conductor and founder of the festival.

A resident of the Upper West Side since the early 1960s, Lewis has served as an esteemed professor of violin at The Juilliard School (where he graduated) since 1964. A man of many titles, he founded the Aeolian Chamber Players, a chamber quartet, around the same time — and also co-founded the Bowdoin International Music Festival in Brunswick, Maine in 1964, tirelessly guiding it for 50 years prior to stepping down in 2014. It should come as no surprise that he’s been internationally recognized for his contributions to the craft, even being knighted in 2009 by the President of Germany. Recently turning 90, Lewis’ commitment to bringing Bach’s best to New York is unparalleled and a dream realized.

Whether you attend Bach Virtuosi Festival in Portland or Manhattan, where its main performances will be held at Church of Saint Ignatius of Antioch (552 West End Avenue between 86th and 87th streets), impeccable standards, awe-inspiring artists and the integrity of the music will be upheld throughout.

Inspired by Voyager 1, the NASA spacecraft launched in 1977 and still traveling in space, this year’s theme is “The Eternal Bach.” Now, you may be wondering what exactly the common thread is here. Essentially, prior to launch, a phonograph record — known as “The Golden Record” — was placed on the Voyager containing sounds and imagery said to encapsulate Earth (in case the spacecraft comes into contact with extraterrestrial beings). Of the twenty works of music on the record, three are by J.S. Bach — and each will be performed at the opening of the festival (in both locations).

In addition, New York attendees will have the privilege of hearing Brandenburg Concerti Nos. 2 & 5, performed by a renowned rotation of musicians who perform with the New York Philharmonic and Boston Symphony and teach at the finest conservatories, including Juilliard, Yale and Eastman School of Music. Naturally, BVF musicians have been awarded the Avery Fisher Career Grant and a Lifetime Achievement Grant from Early Music America – each a major accomplishment.

Though Bach Virtuosi Festival instantly found its niche upon its premiere, its notability has grown over the years — thanks in part to 2020s virtual edition which included a rousing tribute to Black Lives Matter and focused on humanity, social justice, equity, understanding and love. With appearances from late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman and Senator Angus King (among others), the production (known as Brotherhood/Sisterhood) amassed over 130,000 views.

In addition to the performances, the festival will kick off on Monday, May 13 with a lecture from Christoph Wolff, author and the world’s foremost expert on Bach. The stunning setting — in a historic townhouse belonging to the Federal Republic of Germany across from the Metropolitan Museum of Art — will serve as a backdrop for the start of a truly magical week of music.

A limited number of tickets are available — please visit bachvirtuosifestival.org/tickets for more information and to secure your access to the New York events.

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