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The first of this summer’s classical music festivals opened with a splash this past Sunday, and it exits in spectacular fashion this coming Sunday.
The fourth annual Bach Virtuosi Festival’s final offering will showcase three of the Baroque Era’s best and most influential composers. By coincidence, all three were born in the same year: 1685.
Among the featured artists will be organ virtuoso Katelyn Emerson; she grew up in York and now tours the world as one of the king of instrument’s foremost interpreters.
Singer-songwriter Ellis Paul is another native Mainer who tours the world as a traveling troubador. He’s returning to his home state with a Friday appearance in Portland. He’ll be joined by Seth Glier and Abbie Gardner.
The final concert of the Bach Virtuosi Festival, slated for this Sunday evening in Portland, includes a reference to the year 1685 in its title. I asked founding artistic director Lewis Kaplan, whom I’ve known for two decades, to explain.
All three of the composers who will be featured were born in the year 1685: Johann Sebastian Bach, George Frideric Handel and Domenico Scarlatti.
“If Bach alone had been born in 1685 the year would have been memorialized in the annals of music,” Kaplan said. “To have two more giants born in the same year all the stars in heaven must have aligned. The three never met although Bach and Handel were born just miles apart in Germany.”
Kaplan averred that Handel was the master of Baroque opera, an enormous success in London where he lived most of his adult life. Bach, the greatest of all composers was at once both spiritual yet earthy.
Scarlatti was born in Naples, Italy. Scarlatti wrote primarily for the keyboard – his catalogue contains 555 sonatas – and was a major influence on the transition from the Baroque to the Classical style.
Sunday’s concert spans an enormous artistic spectrum, opening with a pair of Scarlatti sonatas played by harpsichordist Gabriel Shuford. The evening continues with three cantatas by Bach, performed by a small group of singers and instrumentalists.
Bach is also featured in his Passacaglia in C Minor, a major work for solo pipe organ. The keyboard artist will be Katelyn Emerson, who grew up in York and now lives in Germany, where she is continuing her graduate-level studies on the king of instruments.
The young musician is enjoying a stellar career. Among her recent honors are first prize in the American Guild of Organists’ 2016 National Young Artists Competition. Reviewing for the organization’s official publication, Lenora McCroskey commented, “Emerson showed her prowess on the instrument and played with energy and verve.” Other critics have praised Emerson’s versatility and expertise in the Baroque repertoire.
The biggest piece of the evening will be Bach’s Concerto for Violin and Oboe, with Kaplan playing the former and Amanda Hardy the latter. They’ll be joined by a small (Baroque-style)) orchestra.
The evening wraps up with excerpts from Handel’s “Julius Caesar,” one of the many operas he penned.
The Bach Virtuosi Festival concludes at 7:30 p.m. June 9 at St. Luke’s Cathedral, 143 State St, in Portland. Visit BachVirtuosiFestival.org.
Katelyn Emerson isn’t the only native Maine artist of international standing who will be returning to perform this weekend. Singer-songwriter Ellis Paul, a native of Fort Kent, now lives in Boston and tours the world with his music, will perform this Friday in Portland.
Paul’s been cited as a founder and mainstay of the Hub’s vibrant folk music scene, where he started in the late 1980s while attending Boston College on a track scholarship.
His career as a traveling troubadour – he’s on the road about two-thirds of the year and plays about 200 dates – has attained the three-decade mark. He’s been repeatedly recognized by the Boston Music Awards, receiving three separate honors in 1999 alone. Along the way Paul’s also collected several awards from the Kerrville Folk Festival and five years ago he was a member of the inaugural class of the Maine Music Hall of Fame.
Paul’s recordings date back to 1989. His most recent album, “The Storyteller’s Suitcase,” was released this year.
Although Paul mostly performs his own songs, he usually works in at least one by folk legend Woody Guthrie into most concerts. He sports a Woody Guthrie tatoo on one arm.
Appearing with Paul this Friday will be Seth Glier, a singer-songwriter from western Massachusetts, and Abbie Gardner, a fiery slide guitar player who is best known as a member of the New York-based Red Molly all-female Americana band.
Catch Ellis Paul, Seth Glier and Abbie Gardner at 8 p.m. June 7 at One Longfellow Square, corner of Congress and State in Portland. Call 761-1757.
Organ virtuoso Katelyn Emerson, who grew up in York, will be one of the featured artists when the 2019 edition of the Bach Virtuosi Festival wraps up this Sunday in Portland.