The Eugene Concert Choir kicks off its season with a concert on Veterans Day that contains two complex musical works whose touchstone is the Baroque style of the great Johann Sebastian Bach – but whose completely different tones will make the concert swing from the sublime to the hilarious.
The ECC’s first concert combines the talents of its group-within-a-group of the Eugene Vocal Arts Ensemble with the skills of the Eugene Concert Orchestra, whose concertmaster is the skilled Searmi Park. And the music? Well, we talked to Artistic Director Diane Retallack to hear more about the mix of the serious classical composer Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach with the, er, less serious stylings of “PDQ Bach,” a fictional Bach scion whose mashups of classical music with popular music and humor have delighted fans for decades.
“I wanted to bring to performance some extraordinary choral chamber works that are not very often performed,” Retallack said. “We did that last year with Haydn’s St. Cecilia Mass, and this year it’s C.P.E. Bach’s ‘Magnificat.'”
Retallack said that the piece “requires sophisticated vocal performers to pull it off.” The beauty of the Baroque-inflected classical (as in classical music’s classical period, roughly 1775-1825) work will be amplified by the acoustics in the University of Oregon’s Beall Hall, she said.
The Vocal Arts Ensemble has a two-concert series each year in Beall now, and Retallack said that the acoustics are why. Patrons who enjoy the intimacy of a chamber performance can buy a series subscription to those specific concerts, while those who prefer a more expansive music experience can snag the three-concert subscription for the Hult Center’s Silva Concert Hall (some of us, of course, love both experiences; there are subscriptions and single tickets available for all of the ECC’s concerts as well).
As for P.D.Q. Bach, the brainchild of musicologist and composer Peter Schickele, his work on the Nov. 11 program is what Retallack calls “a dessert” after the “deep, extraordinary” Magnificat. The “Bluegrass Cantata” mixes riffs on Johann Sebastian Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto with traditional American bluegrass music – and German lyrics that, Retallack noted, are actually pretty hilarious both in German and in rough English translations.
“I love the German language,” Retallack said, “and the Bluegrass Cantata is in this colloquial, country-style German – the last line can be translated as ‘that’s a big 10-4, good buddy.'”
For the bluegrass portions, Retallack hired Eugene’s Corwin Bolt to put together a traditional bluegrass band – fiddle, banjo, mandolin, guitar and bass – that could handle dealing with a chorus, an orchestra and a conductor. “They really cook; it’s really hot,” she said of the group, which includes Bolt of Corwin Bolt and the Wingnuts on banjo; Jeremy Wegner of The Sugar Beets and the Klezmonauts on mandolin; Jeremy Sher from the Green Mountain Bluegrass Band on fiddle; Sean Shanahan, one of the hosts of the popular weekly Sam Bond’s bluegrass jam, on guitar; and Josh Britton on of Corwin Bolt and the Wingnuts on bass.
Bolt didn’t just recruit the band and doesn’t just play banjo. He also has to perform harmonica for the Bluegrass Cantata’s recitatives. “But because you need various chords for recitatives and harmonicas are only in one key,” Retallack said, “Corwin is doing this amazing job of fitting four different harmonicas between his fingers to get all of the chords.”
In order to honor Veterans Day and the veterans in the audience, Retallack has planned to begin the program with the song “America the Beautiful.”
“Everybody can just come and bathe themselves in this incredible, glorious music, and also the P.D.Q. Bach,” Retallack said. “It’s not only funny; it’s really good.”
Bach to Bach with the Eugene Vocal Arts Ensemble and Eugene Concert Choir
7:30 pm Friday, Nov. 11
Beall Hall, University of Oregon campus
Tickets are $10 (fulltime college students with ID)-$28; fees add $2.50-$3.50 and are available ahead of time at the Hult Center box office online or 541-682-5000, or the night of the performance at Beall Hall itself.