7th annual Bachanalia music marathon starts Friday

The biggest party in classical music is coming to Nashville.

bachguitarWe’re talking about the 7th annual Bachanalia, a six-hour marathon that will survey many of Johann Sebastian Bach’s greatest works. This year’s free concert runs from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. Friday, March 22 at Christ Church Cathedral, 900 Broadway, and will feature 93 of the city’s top musicians performing an eclectic program of sacred music, keyboard works and other instrumental pieces. There will even be a little lighthearted Bachian jazz.

“We had over 850 people attend last year’s festival,” says Susan Dupont, one of the fest’s organizers. “Bachanalia now has an enthusiastic following, so we’re hoping for another strong turnout this Friday.”

Inspiration for Bachanalia came from a similar event held at Trinity Episcopal Church in New Orleans. “Trinity has a Bach-around-the-clock festival that features 24 hours of music,” says Dupont. “We didn’t feel like we could do 24 hours, but we liked the idea. Fortunately, so did hundreds of our best musicians, who all perform for free.”

Everything at this year’s festival looks strong.

During the 5 p.m. hour, Tucker Biddlecombe, the new choral director at the Blair School of Music, will lead the Blair Chamber Chorus in one of Bach’s motets. The Nashville Saxophone Quartet will also perform a prelude and fugue along with music from the Art of the Fugue.

The 6 p.m. hour will feature harpsichordist Polly Brecht performing the Harpsichord Concerto No. 7 in G major with the Atlantic Ensemble. Organist Andrew Risinger will play the famous Toccata and Fugue in D minor, which has been featured as the soundtrack of countless horror movies and cartoons.

The 7 p.m. slot will include Nashville Symphony cellist Christopher Stenstrom playing the Suite No. 2 in D minor on a Baroque cello, along with Blair composer Michael Alec Rose discussing and playing music from Bach’s Partita No. 4. Blair pianist Jennifer McGuire will then play the magnificent Prelude and Fugue in C-sharp minor form Book I of the Well-Tempered Clavier.

The highlight of the entire fest may well come at 8 p.m., when the Portara Ensemble performs the famed Cantata “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.” A close second will come at the end of the 9 p.m. hour, when violinist Christian Teal – first violinist of the Blair String Quartet – performs the equally mighty Partita No. 2 in D minor, which includes the famous Chaconne.

Bachanalia is a fun and informal event, and delicious food is offered on site. The complete schedule and roster of musicians is available here.

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About John Pitcher

John Pitcher is the chief classical music, jazz and dance critic as well as co-founder of ArtsNash. He has been a classical music critic for the Washington Post, the Rochester (NY) Democrat and Chronicle, National Public Radio’s Performance Today (NPR), ArtNowNashville.com and the Nashville Scene. His writings about music and the arts have also appeared in Symphony Magazine, American Record Guide and Stagebill Magazine, among other publications. Pitcher earned his master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, where he studied arts writing with Judith Crist and Phyllis Garland. His work has received the New York State Associated Press award for outstanding classical music criticism.