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Barry Scott Williamson, Texas Bach Festival founder and artistic director, conducts the St. John Passion at the St. Martin's Evangelical Lutheran Church. Barry Scott Williamson, Texas Bach Festival founder and artistic director, conducts the St. John Passion at the St. Martin's Evangelical Lutheran Church.

Barry Scott Williamson, Texas Bach Festival founder and artistic director, conducts the St. John Passion at the St. Martin's Evangelical Lutheran Church. Barry Scott Williamson, Texas Bach Festival founder and artistic director, conducts the St. John Passion at the St. Martin's Evangelical Lutheran Church.

 

 

Bach festival enchants 1,600 music lovers

 

By CHARLOTTE KOVALCHUK

 

The story of Jesus' trial and death according to the Gospel of John came alive through the hands and voices of the Texas Bach Festival chorus, orchestra and soloists Sunday at St. Martin's Evangelical Lutheran Church in Austin.

 

More than 400 classical music lovers enjoyed the St. John Passion concert — a moving, inspirational tale of Jesus' trial and crucifixion written by Johann Sebastian Bach.

 

Most of the third annual Texas Bach Festival concerts were performed at St. Helen Catholic Church in Georgetown, but St. Martin's served as an iconic setting for the Gospel of John passion narrative because the church descended from the one where Bach performed and worked as a music director nearly 300 years ago — St. Thomas Church in Germany.

 

The concert featured Jeffrey Jones-Ragona as narrator, Gil Zilkha as Jesus, Tim O'Brien as Pilate and festival founder and artistic director Barry Scott Williamson as conductor.

 

From Jesus' betrayal and trial, Mr. Zilkha's final, faint words, "Es ist vollbracht" (It is accomplished) mingled with choir singers' grief over his death and gratitude for redemption, to their last plea to see the Lord again someday, the performance was indeed the festival highlight Mr. Williamson promised.

 

He called the dramatic work thrilling and challenging.

A crowd enjoys the performance.

A crowd enjoys the performance.

 

"You don't hear the performance done many times because it's so difficult," he said. "It's not a walk in the park for the orchestra and soloists."

 

The piece is shorter than Bach's more well-known St. Matthew Passion, but has its own personality and is immensely rewarding, Mr. Williamson said.

 

Austinites Robert Epstein and wife Cat Grau, both former music majors, had studied the St. Matthew Passion and were excited to hear the St. John Passion.

 

"It's rare to see the St. John Passion in its entirety. I've seen bits and pieces over the years," Mr. Epstein said. The couple were two of around 1,600 listeners who flocked to the four-day festival as well as preview concerts last month.

 

This year's attendance equals last year's, an exciting feat for the event since the previous festival featured nine concerts and this year featured only seven.

 

Mr. Williamson praised the festival's high level of artistry.

 

"The chorus, orchestra, soloists and the myriad of performers we had — the artistry level is unparalleled for Central Texas," he said.

 

"We are so proud of that. We have created a huge amount of momentum."

 

That momentum will carry on to next year's festival, tentatively titled, "Bach Four and More" for its fourth season, which falls on the same year as Ludwig van Beethoven's 250th birthday.

 

In honor of the German composer's anniversary, the festival will feature an all-Beethoven opening concert. But for now, attendees are still feeling swept away by this year's festival.

 

"It's been an incredible season with outstanding musical compositions by outstanding instrumentalists," pianist Toby Blumenthal said. She performed at the festival's opening concert Friday.

 

"It's wonderful to have all this great music in Georgetown."

 

 

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