Bach is the beginning and the end – birthday concerts all weekend

The 21th of March is the first day of spring and the birthday of Johann Sebastian Bach. It might be no coincidence that the composer whose music incorporates the wonder of the universe joined this earth on the day of the rebirth of nature. It is hard to talk about Bach without exaggerations, he is the one described by fellow composers as “the beginning and the end” (Max Reger), or “examining Bach is the answer to all questions” (Brahms). Müpa celebrates him all weekend: on both Saturday and Sunday night after 19:00 PM (CET), online concerts will be broadcasted with the title Hommage à Johann Sebastian Bach. The programme is made up of recordings of Müpa concerts from previous years.

Before the Voyager spacecraft started its journey, writer-scientist Lewis Thomas was asked what he would send with it from the cultural products of humanity, something that shows the most who we are. He replied: “The complete works of Johann Sebastian Bach.” Then he added after a brief pause: “But that would be bragging.”

At the online events of the weekend, we can hear a comprehensive compilation of this monumental and endlessly rich life work. There will be chamber pieces, concertos, organ pieces, solo suites and cantatas, but we can also hear one of his greatest works, the impressively strong and mystical Mass in B minor.

On Saturday night, we start with cheerful concertos, go through intimate solo suites and arrive at the philosophical deepness of the cantatas. The evening starts with three Brandenburg concertos that were played in the Müpa by the Budapest Strings on the 1st of March 2019. It starts with the Third Brandenburg concerto (consisting only strings), then the second follows, and finally the first where aerophones enrich the strings with some Baroque splendor. After that, three exceptional Hungarian artists come to stage. The three solo suites were played on the 2nd of February 2014 at the Bach Marathon. Pianist Dénes Várjon starts with English Suite No. 2 in A minor. Violinist Kristóf Baráti continues with Partita No. 4 in D major. And cellist Miklós Perényi finishes with Cello Suite No. 3 in C major. These suites are among the most extraordinary Bach pieces: they are very intimate, remarkably structured, both deeply emotional and intellectual. The concert ends with two cantatas, Ich habe genug, and the famous and heartbreakingly beautiful Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen. These church music pieces can be heard in the interpretation of Michael Volle and the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin from March 2019.

In the Sunday collection, there will be an organ piece, concertos, and the Mass in B minor. The great French organist, Michel Bouvard, played the Prelude and Fugue in E minor in 2015 as part of a 24-hour Bach series. After this sparkling intro, there come Piano Concerto in F minor and the Piano Concerto for Three Pianos and Orchestra in C major. They will be played by Zoltán Fejérvári, András Kemenes, János Palojtay and the Pannon Philharmonics, with András Vass as conductor.

“There are many Johann Sebastian Bach pieces that are not only surrounded by the atmosphere of grandiosity and special respect for talent, but also mystery. The Mass in B minor is definitely like that. It is not only one of the biggest composition by Bach, but it is among the greatest achievements of music history”

– writes Müpa about the piece in question. György Vashegyi and his ensembles, the Orfeo Orchestra and the Purcell Choir, collaborate with renowned soloists from Hungary and abroad. It was recorded on the 25th October 2017.

The music of Bach is able to evoke something like religious ecstasy, even if the listener is an Atheist. It is totally simple and monumental at the same time, deeply human and transcendent, cheerful and uplifted, and most intriguingly: forever modern – more than a combination of avant-garde or punk. Even though he was born 336 years ago.

The Hommage à Johann Sebastian Bach series is a joint production by the Bach For Everyone Festival and the Müpa.

Article: Zsuzsanna Deák

Translation: Zsófia Hacsek