Depth of ‘Bach Odyssey’ Resonates With Audiences

By Catherine Yang, Epoch Times
October 31, 2016 12:15 pm Last Updated: October 31, 2016 12:16 pm

NEW YORK—Angela Hewitt’s Bach is filled with the colors and joy of life.

Evidenced by the long line of people waiting to enter the Kaufmann Concert Hall at 92Y, the young child loudly claiming the middle seat of a row so he could be sure to see the pianist’s fingers, the elderly gentleman moved to tears, the thunderous applause and standing ovations, Bach still speaks to our humanity today.

Hewitt on Oct. 27 played the first recital of her “Bach Odyssey,” a series of 12 recitals in which she will play all of J.S. Bach’s major keyboard works over four years. She performed the second recital at 92Y on Oct. 30, and the third will be in April. The entire cycle will be performed at the venue, and multiple concertgoers professed on the first day that they would attend all 12 recitals.

“Bach has shaped not only my career, but more importantly my musical personality, musical intelligence. I mean, he’s the basis for all the music that came after him,” Hewitt said in an earlier interview. She has been playing Bach since the age of 3, has performed and recorded all of these keyboard works, and still finds more in the music every time. It has been, and continues to be, a deeply emotional journey for Hewitt.

Hanna Arie-Gaifman, director of the 92Y Tisch Center for the Arts, thought this journey and exploration of a composer was exactly what she wanted to share with concert hall audiences.

“It’s music which is alive—it speaks to us,” said Arie-Gaifman. It was almost exactly a year ago that she and Hewitt discussed Hewitt’s future with Bach, after she had played “The Art of Fugue” at the venue. When she heard about Hewitt’s “Odyssey,” she said they must bring it to 92Y.

Pianist Angela Hewitt at the first recital of the Bach Odyssey series at 92Y in Manhattan on Oct. 27, 2016. (Samira Bouaou/Epoch Times)
Pianist Angela Hewitt at the first recital of the Bach Odyssey series at 92Y in Manhattan on Oct. 27, 2016. (Samira Bouaou/Epoch Times)

It’s All About the Music

Founded in 1874, 92Y is one of the oldest cultural centers in the country, with a hall built for chamber music and lectures, and a large educational component that adds to its programming.

Arie-Gaifman is a champion of promoting musical understanding, programming in ways to allow people to go in depth on a certain composer or work through lectures, classes, extensive program notes, concert themes, and interesting artist–work pairings.

“We are programming in service of the works of art,” said Arie-Gaifman, who is fluent in English, German, Hebrew, French, Czech, and Russian, and brings together an international array of artists. She previously served as the dean of the Mozart Academy in Prague and has an eye out for younger artists who have reached maturity in their work—”artists who have something to say.”

The programming is often artist driven, added Clement So, the Tisch Center’s artistic administrator. The artists cherish creativity and are always more than just performers. Out of conversations come new and fascinating ways to hear what may be even very old music.

We forever revisit music composed hundreds of years ago, the classics, according to So, because “it still resonates with you, it touches your heart.”

“There’s something human about it,” he said. “I think that—the humanness of the music—is what we want to draw out.”

For Hewitt, Bach has been a cornerstone of her repertoire, So added. But she’s not just playing Bach as a routine. “I think we can see this is a special thing for her. It’s not just Angela playing Bach again; it’s different for her. She still finds things in it … and I think that speaks to the odyssey element, the journey.”

Arie-Gaifman added, “Maybe it’s interpreted differently than in Bach’s time, but it touches something in us and is meaningful in such a way that we find meaning in it.” This—finding new ways to understand old works—is paramount in reaching contemporary audiences, she said. 

“The unbelievable thing about classical music, especially with Bach: The more you perform it, the more you hear it, the more you find in it,” Arie-Gaifman said. Artists with depth certainly know this, she added.

Hewitt is certainly one of those artists. The odyssey would be like “revisiting old friends,” she had said, but as she goes along, she has more to bring to the music, more color, more joy.

The “Bach Odyssey” will be performed in its entirety at 92Y in New York, as well as in Italy, Tokyo, London, and Ottawa, Canada.

Pianist Angela Hewitt at the CD signing after the first recital of the Bach Odyssey series at 92Y in Manhattan on Oct. 27, 2016. (Samira Bouaou/Epoch Times)
Pianist Angela Hewitt at the CD signing after the first recital of the Bach Odyssey series at 92Y in Manhattan on Oct. 27, 2016. (Samira Bouaou/Epoch Times)