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“The immortal god of harmony.” - Beethoven on Bach
Dramaturge in Action
Monterey County Weekly
Thursday, July 12, 2012
David Gordon, who lives in Carmel Valley, is the Carmel Bach Festival dramaturge and lecturer. He’s been with the festival for 24 seasons – “which is sobering,” he jokes – singing tenor in 80 of its concerts and working under three of its four music director/conductors. In other words, per his job – and his passion – he knows everything.
?What was the early history of the Carmel Bach Festival?
The Monterey Symphony, Carmel Bach Festival and Carmel Music Society are all a result of Dene Denny and Hazel Watrous, very formidable forward thinkers. They hired this spirited Italian, Gastone Usigli, who started to build the festival. At that time the chorus and most of the musicians were amateur. They weren’t thinking about an annual festival. They were thinking 1936 would be Mozart. In the 1950s Denny and Watrous incorporated the festival as a nonprofit. Sandor Salgo, the second music director, showed up in 1956 and expanded it to 10 days, then two weeks, then three weeks, and built up the professional core in the 1960s, when it got more national and international notice. He put the festival on the map.
How has the festival changed in your time??
Mostly in the choice of repertoire. Each individual has his or her own favorite music. Bruno’s was Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven, Paul’s is more Handel with a little Mozart. Bruno was not that interested in contemporary music. In Paul Goodwin’s second year we’re unveiling our second commissioned work. Paul seems to have more eclectic taste and repertoire in the programming.
When did the crossover series happen?
That started last year. It was really [former executive director] Camille Kolles’ idea. We had already engaged [jazz pianist] Stephen Prutsman. Paul came up with the idea of [bluegrass musician] Mike Marshall for this year. I’m a bluegrass player so I love where he comes from. ?
How do you approach your pre-concert lectures?
I look upon them as inspirational talks. I want to get people excited. I’m not interested in teaching arcane facts or making people aware of how little they know. I want them to have the tools to hear this music and react, whether they like it or not. Who wrote it, why, what were they going through? Bach was a human being. I do the research that lights me up and I want to share that.
What’s it like performing at Carmel Bach Festival?
We freelance singers travel a lot. Here, you’re here for the whole time. The concert grows, the relationships grow. It’s kind of a self-selecting group because we work hard for low pay, for the real pleasure of making high level artistry with colleagues we like working with. I pretty much know everyone on stage by first name. We’re going to the beach together, we’re putting on 44 concerts in 15 days. There’s a family aspect that makes the concerts better.
What do you see looking ahead?
The new music director [Goodwin] is superb, better than we thought. The new executive director [Chinn] has spectacular skill sets. We’re looking to become more exciting without losing [the] central core of devotion to the music of Bach and his contemporaries or musical heirs. We will always find unique ways to present this music. We have a charter that says we have to do that. We’re not giving away our central values. There’s too much good stuff here.