“Bach to School” Showcases Multi-Room Classical Talent
“Bach to School” provided a musical atmosphere in which classical met modern and formal met casual. Three organ players enlightened listeners to the intricacies of their instrument by demonstrating its ability to produce the sounds of an entire orchestra. The music moved from sounding hzarsh and intimidating and then later light and playful.
Instead of the standard concert protocol, the show began with a trip down the stairs of the Memorial Chapel, where Alexander Kelley ’13 and Jason Sheng Jia ’13 were waiting at organs in separate rooms of the Chapel’s basement. Using walkie-talkies to communicate when to start their piece, the two seniors performed Bach’s “Prelude and Fugue in E flat major” from separate rooms.
Artist-in-Residence Ronald Ebrecht, the University organist and organ teacher, explained that this was an authentic experience. Organ-playing conditions have not developed over the past few hundred years; it is still extremely difficult to get two organs in one room. Consequently, just as the Spaniards used to roam the grand halls of cathedrals to hear organ duets, so too did the attendees of “Bach to School” stroll through the hallway of the Chapel basement (although the Spaniards may not have had the walkie-talkies that were provided to the Wesleyan students). The convivial, casual environment of the concert allowed the audience to enjoy the music together instead of separately. Though the players initially had difficulty staying in rhythm with each other, each nonetheless performed an impressive piece without the benefit of seeing or hearing his partner.
The concert eventually moved upstairs to the Chapel, where Ronald Ebrecht performed pieces spanning from the 17th century to the 2000s, while also sharing tidbits and stories about the music he played. Ebrecht’s exuberant personality was reflected in his colorful bow tie and his enthusiastic playing. Sowande’s “Go Down Moses” featured the famous “Let my people go” refrain but more intensely than any church choir I've ever heard.
“The Sowande is remarkable for the connections to a fantasy,” said Ebrecht about the piece.
The concert then transitioned from African American works to Brahms’ “Fugue in A flat minor.” For anyone who reads music, it is clear that A flat is an extremely unappealing key. Ebrecht explained before playing that, though the A flat is generally considered to produce an undesirable sound, Brahms used it “in order to make [the piece] inaccessible to fools.”
In performing the piece, Ebrecht said that he did not focus on the challenge it posed.
“I tried to perform it forgetting about the complexity and focusing on making it smooth and flexible in keeping with its Romantic style,” he said.
The concert was accessible to classical music buffs and lonely Friday-nighters alike. Ebrecht is both a gifted musician and educator, and the performance proved this by showcasing two students who are recipients of his hard work.