As the Northwest Bach Festival celebrates its 40th anniversary, its Grammy-winning artistic director Zuill Bailey says he always strives to choose music that requires both the audiences and musicians to appreciate the sounds "with a fresh set of ears."
To that end, Bailey will go to the ends of the earth — sometimes literally — to find interesting and unusual interpretations that he and his guests can deliver in the festivals' venues. This year, those guests include the Grammy-winning Ying String Quartet and jazz pianist Matt Herskowitz, in addition to some of the best musicians working here in the Inland Northwest.
"In my travels, I always go digging for catalogs and collections and libraries, searching for something interesting and new," Bailey says, noting that's exactly how he came across cellist Laszlo Varga's unique arrangement of Richard Strauss's Don Quixote, created for a sextet, that Bailey found through some internet sleuthing and a visit to the University of North Carolina-Greensboro.
"I had heard a rumor that he'd given his collection of all of his works" to the school, Bailey says, "so I went to the school and went straight to the department and asked, 'Is this true?' And they said, 'Not only is it true, but here are copies!'"
The performances of Varga's rare Don Quixote are just some of the things that make the Northwest Bach Festival a unique asset for the region's cultural life. The series of shows have a little something for everyone, from the classical music expert to utter neophyte.
While superfans attend every minute they can, perhaps you need to be a little more choosy in plotting a night with Bailey and friends. You can find the complete schedule and ticket information at nwbachfest.org; here are a few highlights to consider:
On Friday, March 2, at 7:30 pm, Bailey and the Ying String Quartet tackle works by the festival namesake J.S. Bach, as well as Schumann and Arensky. The Schumann concerto should be a true highlight, as the five musicians attack the piece that requires five virtuosos to pull off. The show is at Hamilton Studio, 1427 W. Dean Ave. in Spokane, and costs $35, or $15 for students.
GET IT FIRST
The West Coast premiere of Varga's arrangement for sextet of Richard Strauss's Don Quixote on Monday, March 5, at 7:30 pm, will feature Spokane musicians Mateusz Wolski (violin), Nick Carper (viola), Daniel Cotter (bass clarinet) and Emily Browne (horn), joined by pianist Matt Herskowitz and cellist Bailey. This show is at Barrister Winery, 1213 W. Railroad Ave. in Spokane. Tickets are $35, or $15 for students.
GET TO CHURCH
John Bodinger, the organist at St. John's Cathedral, takes center stage in a special show at the church on Sunday, March 11, at 3 pm. Bodinger will do some solo work on Bach's original instrument, the organ, plus play selections with pianist Elizabeth DeMio and cellist Bailey.
"To me, this brings it back to Bach. Bach was an organist. I wanted to showcase Bach's instrument with the organ, but in a way that brings it around in a different way," Bailey says. Hence, the show will focus on solo organ before adding Bailey's cello and DeMio's piano as it moves along. The show is at St. John's Cathedral, 127 E. 12th Ave., in Spokane. Tickets are $35, or $15 for students.
GET IT FREE
Bailey brings some guests every year for free shows in River Park Square, and this year they'll be on Thursday, March 1, and Thursday, March 8, at noon at the Kress Gallery on the mall's third floor. Bring a lunch or just drop by to hear some incredible musicianship during the hour-long programs. Bailey also does two "Flash-Bach!" shows for free at downtown venues announced the morning of the shows. This year, they'll be at noon on Friday, March 2, and Friday, March 9; locations will be announced at 8 am those mornings via the Northwest Bach Festival Facebook page.
"The important thing for me is to break down that wall of inaccessibility to performers and audience," Bailey says. "To put them in a setting that is very up close and personal and very visceral, so that people are close with their families and friends to these instruments, in a setting where they can have conversations and be social. Musically, what I'm looking for is a kind of tapas-menu of sounds.
"It's amazing to see how music stops people in their tracks. When I sit down in a shopping mall and start playing my cello, when I start no one's around me. By 15 minutes later, I have this mob all standing there with their phones out."♦
Northwest Bach Festival • through Sun, March 11 • Various locations • For times and prices, visit nwbachfest.org for complete show schedule and details • Tickets at brownpapertickets.com or 800-838-3006