Pulling out all the stops: Bach Choir of Bethlehem begins 2018-19 season with Peter Serkin concert
Having a Grammy-Award-winning classical pianist play at the Bach Choir of Bethlehem’s opening gala concert resonates personally for Bach Choir artistic director and conductor Greg Funfgeld.
“As a young man, I would regularly attend concerts in New York City where I had the privilege of hearing Peter Serkin play,” Funfgeld says. “His performance of Beethoven’s ‘Fourth Piano Concerto’ was one of the greatest musical experiences of my life.”
Serkin, the first pianist to receive the Premio Internazionale Musicale Chigiana award, will perform at Bach Choir’s Gala Concert and Fundraiser at 4 p.m. Nov. 3, Central Moravian Church, 73 W. Church St., Bethlehem.
Funfgeld characterizes Serkin as a “brilliant and most thoughtful pianist.”
“To have him coming to Bethlehem is very exciting,” says Funfgeld. “He will be a treat for Lehigh Valley music lovers and an inspiration to young pianists and lifelong learners.”
Serkin is the son of Rudolph Serkin, considered one of the greatest Beethoven interpreters of the 20th century. He also has performed the “most brilliant chamber music” with violinist Ida Kavafian, cellist Fred Sherry and clarinetist Richard Stoltzman as the acclaimed Tashi Quartet.
“He is so incredibly virtuosic, profoundly musical and unforgettable” Funfgeld says.
For the Bethlehem concert, Serkin will perform “The Goldberg Variations” by Bach and “Adagio in B Minor K540” and “Sonata in B-flat Major K570” by Mozart.
“His Mozart is sublime and elegant and his Bach will be revelatory,” Funfgeld promises.
The gala concert is just one highlight in a Bach Choir season of highlights, says Funfgeld.
In his 36th season as artistic director, Funfgeld is the longest-tenured leader in the Bach Choir’s history.
“I couldn’t be more pleased and am looking forward to a great year,” he says.
The season marks the first in which the Bach Choir and Bel Canto Youth Chorus have merged. Joy Hirokawa, Bel Canto founder and artistic director, has been recognized with a 2018 Tribute to the Arts award from the Bethlehem Fine Arts Council.
Funfgeld says the youth choir will be highlighted in Bach Choir’s family concert in February and at the 112th Bethlehem Bach Festival in May.
The family concert at 3 p.m. Feb. 24, Zoellner Arts Center, will be a Youth Choirs Festival, during which Bel Canto will join Emmaus High School Chorale, Lehigh Valley Charter High School for the Arts Touring Choir and Parkland Chorale in a program of Bach and contemporary composers with the Bach Choir of Bethlehem and Bach Festival Orchestra.
“The Youth Choir Festival is really going to be a stunning event,” Funfgeld says. “These 200 voices join together to offer an exquisite program of choral music. These young people are so gifted in their own right and create sparks and all kinds of energy.”
At the Bethlehem Bach Festival, May 10-11, 17-18, Bel Canto will premiere a piece commissioned to celebrate the two groups’ merger by renowned American composer Gwyneth Walker for the Saturday morning concert.
“She writes beautifully for young voices,” Funfgeld says.
Funfgeld is equally excited about the 100th Bach at Noon concert, which takes place in March.
Bach at Noon is a free concert series designed to educate new audiences about Bach’s music which draws more than 8,000 people for the 10 concerts in Bethlehem and Allentown.
The 100th Bach at Noon at 12:10 p.m. March 12, Central Moravian Church, will feature a performance of Cantata 140, “Wachet Auf,” one of Bach’s more celebrated cantatas. Former choir members who sang in Bach at Noon in the past are invited to take part in the milestone performance.
“Bach at Noon has taken on a wonderful life of its own,” Funfgeld says. “It has a very devoted following and attracts people from all walks of life.”
The program for the next Bach at Noon, Nov. 13, is French Suite Nr. 4 in E-flat Major, BWV 815, with Funfgeld, harpsichord, and Cantata 61, “Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland.”
Also coming up is the Bach Choir’s Christmas Concerts, Dec. 8, First Presbyterian Church, Allentown, and Dec. 9, First Presbyterian Church of Bethlehem.
The concerts will feature “Cantata 63, “Christen, ätzet diesen Tag” (“Christians all, this happy day”) with four trumpets, which was composed for Christmas Day service in 1723. The choir and orchestra also will perform “Cantata 36, “Schwingt freudig euch empor” (“Soar joyfully aloft”), which was composed for the first Sunday of Advent.
For the spring concert April 12, Zoellner Arts Center, Funfgeld will conduct the Bach Choir of Bethlehem and The Bach Festival Orchestra alongside Lehigh University’s Philharmonic Orchestra on a program that includes “Mozart’s Requiem in D Minor, K626,” and William Walton’s “Coronation Te Deum.”
The season includes Bel Canto’s Winter Concert, Dec. 1, featuring a “A Ceremony of Carols” by Benjamin Britten, and the Bel Canto Spring Concert May 4, both at Wesley United Methodist Church, Bethlehem.
“We are pulling out all the stops,” Funfgeld says. “I like to think of music as cosmic in nature and this season has just amazing music.“
Tickets: Bach Choir office, 440 Heckewelder Place, Bethlehem; firstname.lastname@example.org; 610-866-4382