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UMass to Host Fifth Biennial Bach Festival and Symposium

AMHERST, Mass. – The University of Massachusetts Amherst has announced plans for the 2023 Bach Festival and Symposium (April 21-23; prelude events beginning March 26) hosted by the Department of Music and Dance. Since 2015, the biennial event has brought scores of concertgoers and Bach experts to UMass and the town of Amherst for a series of performances, scholarly presentations, community concerts, and discussions. The events culminate on Saturday, April 22 with the full-day symposium, “Bach & Timbre,” featuring an international roster of scholars and a keynote by Isabella van Elferen from London’s Kingston University, followed by a full performance of Bach’s epic “Mass in B Minor” by the UMass Bach Festival Orchestra and Chorus led by Andrew Megill, conductor of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra Chorus.

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In contrast to other Bach conferences and festivals, the UMass event offers a rare combination of both in-depth academic research and high-caliber performances. This wide-ranging approach allows the university to showcase the full scope of their music program while providing a more complete appreciation of the venerable composer’s work and legacy. Faculty instrumentalists and scholars work side by side with students, alumni, and guest performers and lecturers in presenting what has become one of the region’s signature cultural happenings.

Organizers for this year’s Festival and Symposium, including faculty members Elizabeth Chang, Erinn E. Knyt, Evan MacCarthy, and William Hite, plus Professor Emeritus Ernest May and Amanda Stenroos MM’15, have planned an ambitious schedule that begins on Sunday, March 26 with a number of community-based prelude events. Those performances include informal student-led performances in Bezanson Recital Hall (Sundays, March 26 and April 9), “Bach in the Subways” performances in locations around downtown Amherst (March 31-April 2), and a preview talk and performance on Wednesday, April 5 at Amherst’s The Drake titled “Exploring Bach Voices” hosted by music history professor Evan MacCarthy ($20, free for students/children; info at 

The Festival weekend officially opens on Friday, April 21 at 4 p.m. with a free concert by faculty pianist Steven Beck, who will perform Bach’s “Goldberg Variations,” BWV 988.  That evening, a free panel discussion titled “What do we talk about when we talk about ‘Bach and Timbre’?” will take place at 7:30 p.m. in room 419 of the Randolph W. Bromery Center for the Arts. Presenters will include Ernest May; Joel Lester, CUNY Graduate Center, Mannes College of Music; and Joshua Rifkin, Boston University; with Emily Dolan, Brown University; and Isabella van Elferen as respondents.

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On Saturday, April 22, the full-day Symposium, “Bach & Timbre,” takes place in Bromery Center room 419 beginning at 9 a.m. The keynote address, “Bach’s Tone Pleasure,” will be delivered by van Elferen, co-founder of the Kingston University’s Visconti Studio and author of “Timbre: Paradox, Materialism, Vibrational Aesthetics.” The Symposium will feature scholarly presentations by an international roster of music theorists and historians, led by UMass faculty members Erinn Knyt and Evan MacCarthy; a complete list of presenters and abstracts can be found on the Bach Symposium website. The cost to attend the full-day symposium is $25 ($5 for students) and free for those attending remotely. In-person and remote attendees are asked to register.  

At 7:30 p.m. that evening, the UMass Bach Festival Orchestra and Chorus (Lindsay Pope, chorus master) will present the “Mass in B Minor,” one of Bach’s most enduring masterworks, in the Frederick C. Tillis Performance Hall. Conducted by Andrew Megill, the concert will feature sopranos Kristen Watson and Ava D’Agostino MM’19, mezzo-soprano Meg Bragle, tenor Brian Giebler, and baritone Andrew Garland ’00. Tickets for the April 22 performance are $25 for the general public, $20 for seniors, and free for students, and can be purchased at the Fine Arts Center Box Office, by phone at 413-545-2511, or online at

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On Sunday, April 23, the festival concludes with a free public performance by UMass alumni of Bach’s ever-popular Coffee Cantata at 11:30 a.m. at Amherst Coffee, and a special concert of Bach violin music and premieres of related works entitled “Codemakers: Vijay Iyer, Hyeyung Sol Yoon & Texu Kim,” presented in cooperation with the UMass Asian and Asian American Arts and Culture Program (3:30 p.m., Bowker Auditorium, $10-30; visit for tickets).

The 2023 UMass Amherst Bach Festival and Symposium is sponsored by the UMass Amherst College of Humanities and Fine Arts, the UMass Office of Research and Engagement, the Fine Arts Center, and the UMass Arts Council. The media sponsor is New England Public Media.

For complete information, consult the Bach Festival and Symposium website: