CONCERT PREVIEW: James Bagwell conducts Bach and Vivaldi at First Congregational Church on May 14

Conductor and chorus preparer James Bagwell. Photo: Daniel Gallois

GREAT BARRINGTON – Live choral music in the Berkshires has taken a hit during the pandemic. Holiday concerts have been canceled two years in a row. Local choirs have been forced to reduce even their rehearsal activities. But to 4 p.m. Saturday May 14the Berkshire Bach Society bring choral music back to the region in a grand way with a program of Bach and Vivaldi at the First Congregational Church, James Bagwell conduct.

Like I wrote in The Berkshire Edge in september, singing in a choir provides a rare pleasure found nowhere else: “The feelings of camaraderie go well with the feeling of wonder that great choral music inspires. It was a rather sad realization at the time, because choristers and their public, deprived of these pleasures, knew that they would wait a long time before coming together again to perform or share choral music live.

The folks at the Berkshire Bach Society know how much this means to local music lovers: “We are delighted to bring this concert of uplifting and celebratory music to our audiences as we emerge from two long years of pandemic,” Terrill McDade , the company’s interim chief executive said in a statement. More tellingly, McDade calls Saturday’s presentation “a concert of comfort food for the soul.”

As Professor of Music and Director of Performance Studies at Bard College, James Bagwell is well known to Berkshire audiences. If you read his biography, you will agree that Bagwell has formed choirs for more American and international orchestras than I can name here. But highlights include the New York Philharmonic, Boston Symphony Orchestra, San Francisco Symphony, and Los Angeles Philharmonic.

The conductors with whom Bagwell worked as chorus preparers are also countless, but the list includes Andris Nelsons, Alan Gilbert, Zubin Mehta, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Michael Tilson Thomas and Robert Shaw. He recently prepared the New York Concert Chorale for performances of Leonard Bernstein’s “Kaddish Symphony” with the New York Philharmonic.

Mr. Bagwell recently assumed the position of Associate Conductor of The Orchestra Now and is Principal Guest Conductor of the American Symphony Orchestra. No stranger to pop music, Bagwell has collaborated with singer and songwriter Natalie Merchantconducting orchestras for his shows with the San Francisco and Seattle Symphonies and others.

Because they are part of his regular performance repertoire, the two pieces on Saturday’s program are well known to Bagwell: the sublime “Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme” BWV 140 by JS Bach, (performed hereon site, by the Netherlands Bach Society) and the magnificentGloria in D majorRV 589. Bagwell’s familiarity with these works will undoubtedly make them a joy for performing musicians to repeat. The rest of us, alas, will only hear them once on Saturday.

When the Society speaks of “uplifting and celebratory music,” chances are it’s referring to Vivaldi’s “Gloria in D Major,” a 30-minute, 12-movement work with enough joy to spare.

Our souls could use comfort food after all the discomfort and outright horror they have endured over the past five years. And the comfort of Bach’s music, combined with the joy of Vivaldi, is exactly what the doctor ordered.

Tickets available here and at the door. Seats $60/$40/$35. Full masking required.

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