Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Bach Week Festival returns to Evanston for 50th, final anniversary

Illustration by Ziye Wang
Bach Week Festival will celebrate its 50th anniversary with a final performance of the composer’s Mass in B.

Evanston’s perennial classical music festival is coming “Bach” for its grand finale.

Bach Week Festival will celebrate its 50th and final season in a two-weekend event around the Chicago area, highlighting the musical works of celebrated German composer Johann Sebastian Bach.

The festival, which debuted in 1974 at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Evanston, has been directed by organist, choirmaster and conductor Richard Webster (Bienen ’74, ’77) since its second year.

“Evanston residents have always been our audience base, our core,” Webster said. “We’ve been in a number of Chicago locations, but Evanston has always been our mother hub.” 

The event, scheduled to begin this Friday, will start with a piano performance by Sergei Babayan featuring Bach’s preludes and fugues, along with the works of other famous composers. A candlelight concert will follow.

The first weekend will close with an afternoon concert, “Music Among Friends,” showcasing the music of Bach, Antonio Vivaldi, George Frideric Handel and others. 

“Over the course of our rehearsals, I watch (the performers) sink their hearts and minds and voices into this amazing music,” Webster said. “I get such a wonderful, deep sense of satisfaction being a part of that and helping to bring out the best in them.”

The festival brings together musicians from all over Chicago, including performers from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Lyric Opera of Chicago and the Bienen School of Music.

Several Evanston residents said the musicians’ passion for Bach’s work is evident in their performances and keeps the community coming back for more.

“This wonderful event provides a great opportunity for all ages to listen to and learn more about Baroque music,” Bienen lecturer Annie Hsiao said. “The evening candlelight concert is so special and unique.” 

Jeff Yang (Bienen ’97), owner of an Evanston-based string instrument shop Chicago Strings, said he knows some of the festival’s performers and is confident that they will deliver a quality performance.  

Like Hsiao, Yang said he appreciates how the festival spotlights classical music.

“It’s a great way to bring the whole music community together — everyone who lives in the area,” Yang said.

The second weekend of the festival will close with a performance of Bach’s renowned Mass in B Minor at St. Luke’s on May 5. This will be performed by the North Park University Chamber Singers and the Bach Week Festival Orchestra and Chorus, which is composed of professional singers from all around Chicago. 

Mass in B Minor will be the final piece ever performed at the festival. Yang said he is sad to see the annual tradition end.  

“It’s kind of bittersweet, because classical music’s dying all around the U.S., and there’s less interest in the genre,” Yang said. “But still, I think it’s great that they’ve provided such a high-level experience of this genre for so long.”

After being involved in every one of the annual festivals, Webster also said he is regretful to witness the festival’s end.

However, Webster said he remains positive that there are still ample ways to listen to classical music in Chicago.

“This has defined my last 50 years, and I’m grateful for it, but I do think it’s time for the festival to take a dignified bow out because there are other wonderful Baroque musical offerings in the Chicagoland area,” Webster said. “We can say goodbye, and do it with a mix of sadness but also celebration.”

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Related Stories: 

Northwestern alumnus directs Bach Week Festival

Bach Week Festival brings Baroque to Evanston

Annual festival celebrates German composer’s music

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