by Ann M. Colford & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & T & lt;/span & he 28th annual Northwest Bach Festival is a kinder, gentler collection of musical presentations. This is the music of intimate gatherings and early salons, not the music of cathedrals. Since Connoisseur Concerts and artistic director Gunther Schuller went all-out in December with Handel's Messiah, the annual midwinter frenzy of the baroque will be more subtle this year, with an emphasis on chamber music.

"It's going to be such a pleasure to hear it all," says Gertrude Harvey of Connoisseur Concerts. "I tried to find out if Gunther had a theme, but he said, no, they're all just beautiful pieces of music and they'll be stunning together."

The programs highlight more Spokane artists as soloists than we've seen in years past, although the festival always has featured local talent. The emphasis on chamber music allows some of the Spokane Symphony's top players to shine, including Kelly Farris, Tana Bland and Tracy Dunlop, violins, and John Marshall and Helen Byrne, cellos. Soprano Darnelle Preston and violinist Misha Rosenker, associate professor of violin at Eastern Washington University, round out the roster of local performers.

"We always try to keep these festivals a combination of local and other talent," Harvey says. "For Messiah, we brought in five guest artists, and that left the opportunity for more local artists this time."

Even the guest artists have familiar faces. Returning from Boston for his second Bach Festival is harpsichordist Mark Kroll, the harpsichordist for the Boston Symphony and a professor emeritus at Boston University. He drew raves for his playing last year; this year, he will play every concert except for the final organ recital. That event, at St. Augustine Catholic Church on the South Hill, features organist James David Christie, who's also making a return engagement from the Boston area.

From the other, closer coast, Seattle-based Margriet Tindemans brings her artistry with the viola da gamba, a baroque instrument dating from 15th-century Spain. While not exactly a direct ancestor of the modern-day violin or cello, the six-stringed viola da gamba, or "leg viol," shares more than a passing family resemblance to its younger four-stringed cousins. Held between the legs (thus the name: legs, gams -- you have to love those Latin roots), the gamba is played with a slightly convex bow that's held in an underhand grip, unlike the more familiar fingers-on-top-of-the-frog position of modern violin players. The underhand grip allows gamba players to vary the tension on the bow's horsehair with their fingers.

Widely popular for a couple of centuries, the viola da gamba faded from the music scene with the emergence of both the violin and the concert hall in the 17th century. The gamba's mellow tone is better suited to smaller, more intimate spaces -- like, say, the Elizabethan Room at the Davenport Hotel -- rather than a larger theater, where the instruments of the violin family could be heard over greater distances.

"We're excited to be down in the Elizabethan Room," Harvey says. "It's a wood-paneled room, smaller than the Marie Antoinette Room, and I've always been intrigued with it. I think the acoustics will be really good."

The Schedule:

Sunday, Jan. 29, at 3 pm & r & "Baroque Strings" & r & Marie Antoinette Room, Davenport Hotel & r & Music of Domenico Scarlatti, Jean-Marie L & eacute;Clair, Fran & ccedil;ois Couperin, and J.S. Bach performed by Kelly Farris, Misha Rosenker, Margriet Tindemans and Mark Kroll & r & Champagne and sweets at intermission & r & Tickets are $25, $35 for a reserved table and $15 for students.

Tuesday, Jan. 31, at 7:30 pm & r & "Bach's Solo Voice" & r & Marie Antoinette Room, Davenport Hotel & r & Music of Bach and Alessandro Marcello performed by Tracy Dunlop, John Marshall, Margriet Tindemans and Mark Kroll & r & Coffee and sweets at intermission & r & Tickets: $25; $35, reserved table; $15, students

Friday, Feb. 3, at 8 pm & r & Elizabethan Room, Davenport Hotel & r & Music of J.S. Bach, Domenico Gabriela, Domenico Scarlatti and Georg Phillip Telemann performed by Mark Kroll, John Marshall and Margriet Tindemans & r & Coffee and sweets at intermission & r & Tickets: $20; $15, students. (Seating in the Elizabethan Room is limited to 100, so purchase tickets early.)

Saturday, Feb. 11, at 1 pm & r & "The Art of the Chaconne and Passacaglia" & r & St. Augustine Catholic Church, 19th Ave. and Bernard St. & r & Music of Pachelbel and J.S. Bach performed by James David Christie, Darnelle Preston, Kelly Farris, Tana Bland, Misha Rosenker and Helen Byrne & r & Suggested donation: $10

Sunday, Feb. 5, at 2 pm & r & "Music of the Bachs for Soprano, Viola da gamba and Harpsichord" & r & Mary Queen Catholic Church, 3423 E. Carlisle Ave. & r & Featured artists are Darnelle Preston, Margriet Tindemans and Mark Kroll The program runs just over one hour and is suitable for all ages. & r & Seating is first-come, first-served.

Artistic director Gunther Schuller will give pre-concert talks a half-hour before the concerts on Jan. 29, Jan. 31 and Feb. 3. James David Christie will provide spoken program notes on Feb. 11.

For tickets, visit or call 325-SEAT -- or call 744- 3838 on weekdays, 10 am-2 pm.

Call EWU Information at 359-6906 or the Music Department Office, 359-2241.

Summer Parkways @ South Hill

June 14-20
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