Bach lives in Southern California

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Oct 042012

Gedenktafel_Markt_18_(Weimar)_Johann_Sebastian_BachGreat musical experiences are not limited to major venues, major orchestras, major soloists.

This is not to denigrate high-profile concerts, which give us a chance to dress up and spend a festive evening out, and which sometimes come with with huge musical rewards – but there are gems of a different sort out there in the local musical community.

Here in the Los Angeles area we have the Southern California Junior Bach Festival ( for students of strings, woodwinds, voice, organ, and keyboard, which takes place every year in three adjudicated stages between April and October. The Keyboard category, for students under age 19, attracts the greatest number of entrants.

The final stage, which for 2012 took place on Sept. 30, 2012 at Cal State Long Beach, is called the Complete Works Audition. Students who reach this stage are of course highly prepared and highly motivated. It is often possible to see and hear the influence of ambitious teachers and overbearing parents but you will also hear some students who are far from being wind-up toys or robots under remote control, students whose irrepressible innate musicality has been both nurtured and guided.

The Complete Works Audition lasts an entire day, and because the various categories, e.g. French Suites, WTC Book I, WTC Book II, etc., run in parallel sessions, it is not possible to hear everything. Except for the quite pleasant Daniel Recital Hall the closely-connected venues can be spare but admission to all sessions is free and you will hear often competent, sometimes even moving performances.

Since this a competition there is a great deal at stake for the students, parents, and teachers. But regardless of the final results (see my post about the Truncated Competition Society) it can be very rewarding, even uplifting, to talk to the students and parents and to let the students know that they have actually communicated with their audience. For the students this can be something of a surprise or bewilderment since their entire focus has been on practice and performance in a world circumscribed by parents and teachers.

The first-place winners in the various categories play in the Complete Works Audition Awards Concert, Covenant Presbyterian Church, 607 E. Third Street (at Atlantic Ave.) in Long Beach on October 13.

It is well worth spending time to hear these young students before they go off in other directions or are polished into uniformity by the conservatory system. The way they play now in the Bach Festival is at least evidence of the health of classical music education and at most an inspiration.