Charlotte Bach Festival Breaks Out All Over in 2024

Catch the Vespers

Aisslinn Nosky plays violin
Aisslinn Nosky is set to perform at the Charlotte Bach Festival. (Photo by Perry Tannenbaum)

Since 2018 — sans obligatory pandemic hiatus — singers, musicians and ancient instruments have been gathering to greet the summer at the Charlotte Bach Festival, a nine-day celebration of the Baroque Era’s best. Once again this year, with the tagline “Charlotte Goes to Italy (Musically),” the assembly has gathered but they’re branching out — embracing new locations, new composers and venturing beyond the baroque.

Neither headline piece at the festival’s two big Saturday night concerts is by the great Bach patriarch, Johann Sebastian. The big kickoff features violinist Aisslinn Nosky, who first dazzled the Queen City in 2018 playing Antonio Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons at Belk Theater with the Charlotte Symphony. Now the redhead is offering a Red Priest encore with authentic baroque instruments at the Sandra Levine Theatre at Queens University.

Of course, Vivaldi was a contemporary of Bach’s, and Johann will share the bill with Antonio, launching the Opening Concert in Tilge, Höchster, meine Sünden, a church cantata based on Giovanni Pergolesi’s famed Stabat mater – only with a new text based on Psalm 51. 

On the other hand, Claudio Monteverdi’s Vespro della Beata Vergine, more commonly known as the Vespers of 1610, was premiered 40 years before Bach’s birth — or maybe 414 years before its Charlotte premiere at Charlotte Bach’s Closing Concert on June 22, also at the Levine.

Bach Akademie Charlotte, the festival presenters, performed a teaser of the complete Vespers last March at an all-Venetian concert.

“That was the one we did at Myers Park Presbyterian,” recalls Akademie president Garrett Murphy. “We had quite a good audience for that, and a preview movement of the Monteverdi Vespers. We knew at that moment we were going to do that whole piece, so the artistic leadership team designed a whole festival around that theme of what was happening in Italy.”

Vespers also gets the biggest build-up with a sequence: two demonstration lectures, “The Monteverdi Experience” I & II, at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church at noon on Thursday and Friday — both free with the purchase of Vespers tickets, clearly the festival climax.

Plus the entire piece hasn’t been played here in ages, if at all.

“Our musicians are most excited about that,” Murphy confides. “For them, that’s the festival, and they are coming together with great excitement to perform the Monteverdi Vespers and are really hoping that folks will come out.”

Leadership of the festival is also branching out in the wake of artistic director Scott Allen Jarrett’s departure. A triumvirate now reigns as artistic leaders, including Nosky, cellist Guy Fishman and keyboardist Nicolas Haigh. While they craft the festival’s programming — and a burgeoning season of Akademie concerts between festivals — Haigh’s spouse, soprano Margaret Carpenter Haigh, corrals the talent.

Charlotte Bach Festival performer Margaret Carpenter Haigh sings
Margaret Carpenter Haigh (far left) is set to perform at the Charlotte Bach Festival. (Photo by Perry Tannenbaum)

Each of the four will also headline a festival concert. After Nosky’s Vivaldi on Saturday, Margaret Haigh teams up with theorbo master William Simms for Lagrime mie: Songs of Lamentation, Disdain, and Renewal next Monday at the McColl Center on North Tryon Street. She’ll naturally be singing songs by Italians, including Giovanni Kapsberger, Luigi Rossi, Monteverdi and, of course, Barbara Strozzi’s “Lagrime mie,” for she has privately labeled the entire 2024 festival “Bach Akademie Goes Italy.”

But not before she and Simms begin in the Renaissance and Elizabethan England with a sheaf of songs by renowned lutenist composer John Dowland.

Nicolas, a fixture on harpsichord and organ at past festivals, steps into the spotlight as he leads the Bach Akademie Charlotte Choir and the festival’s four vocal fellows in “The Renaissance Motet” with compositions by Giovanni da Palestrina, Giaches de Wert, Nicolas Gombert and the marvelously innovative Englishman, William Byrd.

That Thursday night concert and the Wednesday night “Vocal Fellows Recital” preceding it bring a new site into play, both for the festival and the QC. Apparently, the Holy Comforter Episcopal Church on Park Road is ready for its closeup.

Charlotte Bach Festival performer Guy Fishman
Guy Fishman performs at the McColl Center in 2022. (Photo by Perry Tannenbaum)

Fishman opens another new frontier for the festival at Trinity Presbyterian on Providence Road in what promises to be one of the season’s most revelatory programs, “The Cello, Ascending.” 

Leading an assortment of Akademie Choir and Orchestra members, Fishman will illustrate what he subtitles “The Rising Virtuosity of the Baroque Cello” as the instrument shed its subsidiary timekeeping role of providing an ensemble’s bass line and emerged as a major solo voice. The mix of composers will include Vivaldi, Handel and Gabrielli along with less familiar names.

Arguably the most trailblazing of all the Bach Festival concerts is the Tuesday event, “Bach, the Next Chapter,” staged at a previously undiscovered underground treasure: the Kathryn Greenhoot Recital Hall, below the Levine at the Sarah Belk Gambrell Center.

Nosky leads a tight-knit group in guiding us into the influence JS had on the generation after him, including Princess Amalia of Prussia and his own most famous son, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach. Spoiler: Johann was a very popular name in the Bachs’ day.

“Since the first time I toured Queens,” Murphy remembers, “I’ve been excited about using that Katherine Greenhoot Recital Hall downstairs, which I think is a perfect size venue for something like this. It’s beautiful, about 150 seats, and very modern and a nice little space. But this is something we’re excited to share with Charlotte and are hopeful that we can continue to grow a following for C.P.E. Bach as well.”

ImaginOn almost gets its Charlotte Bach concert debut as it hosts “Lunch and Learn” at noon on Tuesday. Carolina Pro Musica’s multi-instrumentalist mainstay Holly Maurer and Weber State University professor Esther Jeehae Ahn will go over some Baroque basics and explore the influence Italian composers, from Monteverdi to Vivaldi, had on J.S. Bach in a casual bring-your-own-lunch setting. Sorry, kids, this freebie is “sold” out.

Which brings us to Charlotte Bach’s guest celebs and another free event. Peter Blanchette, the virtuoso inventor of the 11-string archguitar, takes the festival’s popular Bach@The Brauhaus series to The Pianodrome on South Brevard Street in The Historic Grace Church at the Brooklyn Collective. 

Blanchette has arranged hundreds of Bach compositions for his invention, but his repertoire ranges from medieval and Renaissance to contemporary and world music. Already this Friday’s revels are sold out.

But perhaps in honor of Simms and his many-stringed theorbo, you’ll also find a cash bar Monday night at the McColl for the aforementioned Lagrime mie concert.

A group of classical musicians performing
Nicolas Haigh on organ (far left) and William Simms on theorbo. (Poto by Perry Tannenbaum)

St. Peter’s mighty organ gets a workout as virtuoso Jonathan William Moyer plays J.S. Bach’s complete German Organ Mass — with an intermission — on Sunday evening. Then on Monday afternoon, Moyer offers an Organ Masterclass at Providence United Methodist, listening to and critiquing local organists, then showing how it’s done. This freebie, open to the public, starts at 2 p.m.

“He is now the professor at Oberlin, and a consummate artist, doing recitals all over the world,” Murphy says about Moyer. “He’s doing the complete, as they call it, Organ Book Three, but it has a lot of familiar tunes, and it’s a pretty epic thing to hear all at once. He is just delighted to be coming and playing that organ at St. Peter’s, one of the few, I’m told, in the country that can really do that piece justice.”

Planning by the new Nosky-Fishman-Haigh troika has already begun for the 2026 Bach Festival and beyond. Meanwhile, they will be tag-teaming Bach Akademie’s upcoming regular season, just announced this week. Lift-off is set for Sept. 7 when Fishman will play all six Bach Cello Suites, split into afternoon and evening concerts with three suites each.

Read more: Down at Spoleto Festival USA, the Vibe Is Shifting

A new and different kind of split happens when Nicolas Haigh leads the Bach Akademie Choir in October. They’re breaking out of town! On successive nights from Oct. 25-27, Akademie’s choral concert will be performed in Asheville, Charlotte and Lancaster. Fishman returns for a single concert, leading the Akademie Ensemble in Charlotte on Jan. 25.

Then before the 6th Charlotte Bach Festival returns in 2025 from June 14-21, the regular season climaxes with another three-day marathon. Nosky and Margaret Carpenter Haigh will co-lead the Akademie Charlotte Choir & Orchestra on another Asheville-Charlotte-Lancaster tour, May 9-11.

Bach Akademie is definitely spreading the music around, even into the Palmetto State. Spread the word!

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