Catasauqua Press

Thursday, February 20, 2020
CONTRIBUTED PHOTOBach Choir of Bethlehem Artistic Director Greg Funfgeld conducts Bach Choir. CONTRIBUTED PHOTOBach Choir of Bethlehem Artistic Director Greg Funfgeld conducts Bach Choir.

Innovation, tradition guides Funfgeld in Bach Choir 122nd season

Sunday, October 20, 2019 by KATHY LAUER-WILLIAMS Special to The Press in Focus

The Bach Choir of Bethlehem’s 122nd season is marked by “innovation and new ideas steeped in tradition,” says Greg Funfgeld, Bach Choir artistic director and conductor.

The season, which culminates with an international tour to Bachfest in Leipzig Germany in June, highlights the impact music has in everyone’s lives, in the past and as a guide toward the future.

“Our strength is that we have not been afraid of innovation, but yet stay connected to our roots,” Funfgeld says of the Bach Choir of Bethlehem.

The Bach Choir’s season also explores the relationship between the music of Handel and Bach; collaborates on a staged performance of a beloved Benjamin Britten piece, and once again presents the internationally-acclaimed Bach Festival.

During the season, the choir will present more than 40 concerts and education programs for an audience of more than 22,000.

For the first time in its history, the Bach Choir will perform Handel’s “Messiah” in its entirety. The first part will be sung at the choir’s Christmas concert and the second part at the spring concert. At both concerts, “Messiah” will be paired with Bach pieces.

“This idea is something I’ve been thinking about,” Funfgeld says. “I wanted to put Bach and Handel side by side. They are the two giants of the Baroque era.

“Bach was primarily a man of the church and Handel was a man of theater, but both had a foot in each other’s world. The way the two composers related is fascinating.”

For the Christmas concert, Funfgeld is pairing the first part of “Messiah,” which celebrates Biblical prophecies of Christ, with Bach’s “Magnificat.”

First heard in Leipzig in 1723, Bach’s setting of Mary’s song of praise is Bach at his most theatrical, making it an ideal partner to Handel’s masterpiece. This part of “Messiah” includes texts from Isaiah that mirrors back Mary’s Magnificat, or hymn of praise to the Lord.

For the spring concert, Funfgeld is pairing the second half of “Messiah” with Bach’s “Eater Oratorio,” both of which approach the story of Christ’s Passion and resurrection in their singular styles.

For the family concert, Bach Choir is presenting Benjamin Britten’s “Noah’s Floydde.”

Funfgeld says the staged performance of Britten’s one-act church opera will include nearly 90 children, including students from Junior String Philharmonic, Young People’s Philharmonic, Pennsylvania Youth Theatre and The Bel Canto Youth Chorus of the Bach Choir.

“This is a very ambitious program,” Funfgeld says. “But Britten has an extraordinary way of connecting with children. They are just transformed by it.”

Funfgeld and the Bach Choir have been active in recent years collaborating with theater and dance troupes on performances,

“It’s so stimulating,” Funfgeld says. “There is an enriched sense of Bach. It creates a different experience.”

In the spring, the 113th Bach Festival will welcome back guitarist Eliot Fisk as artist-in-residence, performing “Concerto in E Major for Guitar and Orchestra” by Luigi Boccherini. As part of the festival, The Bach Choir will preview the concert it will perform at the Leipzig Bachfest in June.

The season also includes the Bach Choir’s very popular Bach at Noon series of free noon concerts over 10 months of the year at Central Moravian Church in Bethlehem and St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Allentown. Started in 2005, the music series performed by members of The Bach Choir and Bach Festival Orchestra now attracts more than 8,000 annually. The choir will give its 105th Bach at Noon performance in February.

‘People come looking for something deep,” Funfgeld says. “Bach’s music is a touchstone.”

The 2019-2020 season is the second last season for Funfgeld who is in his 37th year as artistic director and conductor. He has announced his retirement will be in June 2021.

Funfgeld says knowing that it could be the last time he performs some of the pieces gives them a “a bittersweet quality.”

He says although there is some sadness, retiring is “the right thing at the right time.”

“I have been uniquely blessed and so fortunate in the work I’ve been given to do,” he says. “This is the greatest music in the world.”