Bach Festival & Symposium Returns April 12-14

Bach chorus

The department of music and dance has announced that the 2019 Bach Festival and Symposium will be held on April 12-14. The multi-faceted project, the third such offering to take place at UMass, will feature a wide range of events, including concerts, scholarly presentations, community performances and panel discussions. Highlights include a full-day symposium on April 13 – featuring an international roster of scholars and a keynote by Columbia University’s Lydia Goehr – and a full performance of Bach’s epic “St. Matthew Passion,” led Andrew Megill, conductor of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra Chorus, the Carmel Bach Festival Chorale and Fuma Sacra.

Every two years, the UMass Amherst Bach Festival and Symposium brings together many of the diverse elements of the UMass Amherst music program, which is renowned for both its academic achievement and conservatory-style approach. 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 to provide a more complete appreciation of the composer’s work and legacy.  

The first Bach Festival and Symposium in 2015 featured a performance of Bach’s “St. John Passion” with guest director Julian Wachner and scholars such as Richard Taruskin, Christoph Wolff and Michael Maul. Two years ago, the event returned with a keynote by Michael Marissen and Simon Carrington conducting the “Mass in B Minor,” a performance that garnered favorable reviews from The New York Times.

This year’s Festival performances were organized by faculty members Elizabeth Chang, William Hite and Tony Thornton, along with Amanda Stenroos MM’15. The Festival weekend opens with a free concert by faculty pianist Gilles Vonsattel on Friday, April 12 at 4 p.m. in Bezanson Recital Hall, located in the Fine Arts Center. The concert will feature Bach’s “Prelude in C Major” from “The Well-Tempered Clavier” and “Three Counterpoints” from “Art of Fugue,” plus works by Beethoven and Shostakovich. The following day, the UMass Festival Orchestra and Chorus (Tony Thornton, chorus master) will present the “St. Matthew Passion” at 7 p.m. in the Fine Arts Center Concert Hall. Conducted by Andrew Megill, the concert will feature tenor Willliam Hite as the Evangelist and baritone Paul Max Tipton as Christus. On Sunday, April 14, the festival concludes with two free performances of Bach cantatas – the ever-popular “Coffee Cantata” at 11 a.m. at Amherst Coffee and a special Alumni Cantata Concert at 3 p.m. in Bezanson Recital Hall featuring Michael Beattie, director, and UMass music alumni.

This year’s Symposium, titled “Bach in the Imaginary Museum and Bach Re-Imagined: Contemporary Perspectives on Performing and Re-Creating Bach,” will take place on Saturday, April 13 from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. in Bezanson Recital Hall. Organized by associate professor Erinn E. Knyt and professor emeritus Ernest May, the day-long event will feature a keynote by Lydia Goehr, professor of philosophy at Columbia University, titled “Re-Visioning Bach through the Competitive Arts.”  An expert in German aesthetic theory, Goehr is a recipient of Mellon, Getty, and Guggenheim Fellowships, and author of The Imaginary Museum of Musical Works: An Essay in the Philosophy of Music.

The Symposium will feature scholarly presentations by an international roster of music theorists and historians, including UMass faculty members Owen Belcher, Erinn E. Knyt and Emiliano Ricciardi; Maureen Carr of Penn State University; Ellen Exner ’00, New England Conservatory; Ruth HaCohen, Hebrew University of Jerusalem; Karolina Kolinek, University of California Davis; Peter Kupfer, Southern Methodist University; John Lutterman, University of Anchorage – Alaska; Yo Tomita, Queen’s University, Belfast and independent researchers Tekla Babyak and Benjamin Laude.

The Symposium also includes a free panel discussion, titled Intercultural and Multidisciplinary Perspectives on Bach’s ‘St. Matthew Passion,’” on Friday, April 12 at 7:30 p.m. in Bezanson Recital Hall. Led by Professor May, the panelists will include Symposium presenters Lydia Goehr, Ruth HaCohen and Yo Tomita, along with Thomas Cressy, Cornell University; Michael Marissen, Swarthmore College and Andrea Moore, Smith College.

Numerous other related events are also being planned for weeks leading up to Festival and Symposium weekend, including prelude lectures and informal Bach in the Subway performances in downtown Amherst. Complete updated information is available at

Tickets for April 13 performance of the “St. Matthew Passion, which are $25 for the general public and $5 for students and senior citizens, can be purchased at the Fine Arts Center Box Office, by phone at 413-545-2511 or online at

Registration for the April 13 symposium is $25 ($5 for students), and will take place in the Bezanson Recital Hall lobby beginning at 8 a.m.

The 2019 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 Radio and the NEPR News Network.