Arts Around Town

Arts Around Town: Bach Choir lifts festival to soaring heights under baton of 30-year conductor

When the baton lifts by Greg Funfgeld this weekend and next at Lehigh University, it will mark his 30th year as artistic director and conductor in leading the 106th annual Bethlehem Bach Festival with The Bach Choir. Funfgeld has chosen an anniversary program for the Lehigh Valley that features fresh Festival voices and choral works by Ludwig van Beethoven and American composer Morten Lauridsen.

Modern dance makes its return since last performed at the 100th festival, with New York's Rioult Dance opening the concerts on both Saturdays at 10:30 a.m., at Zoellner Arts Center. The dance company's work, "Views of the Fleeting World," is choreographed by Pascal Rioult to an arrangement of strings of seven movements from Bach's "Art of Fugue." This is the first time Rioult will be performing the acclaimed all-Bach program with a live orchestra and, in this case, with the Bach Festival Orchestra.

Distinguished soloists participating in the festival are Kendra Colton and Rosa Lamoreaux, sopranos, Daniel Taylor, countertenor, Benjamin Butterfield, tenor, William Sharp, baritone, and Christopheren Nomura, bass-baritone. Thomas Goeman, assistant conductor and accompanist of The Bach Choir and organist of the Bach Festival Orchestra, is the piano soloist for Beethoven's "Choral Fantasy" on both Fridays at 4 p.m., at Packer Memorial Church. Bach Cantatas open the program.

The Friday programs at Packer Memorial Church at 8 p.m., pair Bach's sacred "Cantata 1" and its theme of light and hope with Lauridsen's ethereal "Lux Aeterna (Eternal Light)," composed in 1997 and first performed by The Bach Choir in March 2008.

For David Ruhf, a baritone with The Bach Choir since 2001, Lauridsen's music "both supplies and evokes…it reaches deep, deep beneath the surface, and finds – and comforts – the soul in need."

Ruhf, a graduate of Westminster Choir College, said Friday's concert should have the proper atmosphere for Lauridsen's music. "The sun should be setting around the time of the concert, and the stained glass (of the church) radiant," he described. "Morten wants the music to transport people and bring light to their life."

Ruhf explained how the choir was rehearsing the work on the evening of the Boston bombing and were singing the final "Amen" where the piece slows when suddenly the 90-plus singers were exact in their synchronicity. He called it a moment he will long remember. Ruhf said another monumental moment was performing with the choir at a 10th anniversary musical observance of 9/11 in New York City at St. Paul's Chapel and Trinity Church, Wall Street.

In a recent blog interview for The Bach Choir's website, Lauridsen told Ruhf that he wrote the "Lux Aeterna" to heal himself as his own mother was dying. He said that people comment how the piece has helped them through their own times of hardship. As 9/11 unfolded, Lauridsen said a Southern California classical radio station had stopped its regular programming to play the "Lux Aeterna" as an antidote to the events in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania.

The first recording of the "Lux Aeterna," by the Los Angeles Master Chorale, received a Grammy nomination. Lauridsen received the National Medal of Arts at the White House from President Bush in 2007. He also is the subject of the 2012 award-winning documentary, "Shining Night: A Portrait of Composer Morten Lauridsen," by filmmaker Michael Stillwater. A pre-festival screening was held Monday at the Frank Banko Alehouse Cinemas at the ArtsQuest SteelStacks in South Bethlehem. Lauridsen has been professor of composition at the University of Southern California's Thornton School of Music for more than 40 years.

Additional events during the Bethlehem Bach Festival include: Distinguished Scholar Lecture by Bach scholar Dr. Michael Marissen, professor of music at Swarthmore College, Fridays at 2 p.m., at the Black Box Theatre at Zoellner Arts Center; Fridays dinner/discussion by Dr. Larry Lipkis, professor of music and composer-in-residence at Moravian College, at 5:30 p.m., in the Asa Packer Room at Lehigh University Center. Between Saturday morning concerts and the annual Saturday afternoon performances of the "Mass in B Minor," an upscale, tented festival picnic will be held next to Zoellner Arts Center. Young Suzuki violin students directed by Nancy Terlaak Poot will perform on the lawn above Packer Church prior to the Friday evening concert. In the same spot, the Festival Brass Choir directed by Ron Demkee will play chorales before both parts of the "Mass" on Saturday, a longtime Bach Festival tradition.

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The Snow Goose Gallery in downtown historic Bethlehem is hosting "The Art of the Miniature xxi," the 21st Invitational Exhibition of Fine Art Miniatures from Around the World, beginning Sunday through June 16. An opening reception will be held Sunday from 1 to 5 p.m. Snow Goose Gallery is owned by award-winning artist of miniatures, Mary Serfass.

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Country Gate Players in Belvidere, N.J., is up and running once more after falling victim to a fire earlier this year which set the group back a bit. The new show is Ernest Thompson's award-winning "On Golden Pond," which opens Saturday through May 12, under the direction of Gina Scurato.

"On Golden Pond" is the story of Ethel and Norman Thayer (played by Katharine Hepburn and Henry Fonda in the 1981 film) who return to their summer home in Maine for the 44th year. Country Gate's JoAnn Mazza and Bill Scurato take on the roles. When adult daughter, Chelsea (Chelsea Markopoulos), makes a long-delayed appearance with her fiancé (Vinny Foti) and his rebellious teen son (Logan Farley), it renews the Thayers' energy and gives them the courage to contemplate their waning time together.

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The Reading Symphony Orchestra presents the Kinderkonzert 2013: "Carnival of the Animals" by Camille Saint Saens, on Sunday at 2 p.m., at the Sovereign Performing Arts Center. The Reading Symphony Youth Orchestra will perform under the direction of RSO cellist Peter Brye. The program will include pianists Matthew Bengtson and Charlie Abramovic, plus members of the Berks Ballet Theater. Narrator is RSYO parent John Rothenberger. Kinderkonzert is an annual symphonic experience performed for preschool and elementary children and their families.

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In Allentown, kids will be "Creating a Symphony" on Sunday at 2 p.m., at Miller Symphony Hall. The annual Family Concert by the Allentown Symphony Orchestra has kids bringing along their own homemade instruments and playing classical music along with the orchestra. A Musical Circus will be held at the hall at 12:30 p.m. There are online instructions on types of instruments for kids to create.

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Local students have captured national recognition in the 2013 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. The East Central Pennsylvania Scholastic Regional Awards announces six students awarded national medals from a panel of distinguished judges. More than 1,600 students in grades 7-12, representing 47 states and Washington, D.C., and American schools abroad, were chosen to receive national medals.

Winners are: Milo Sucro, Gold Medal, senior at Lehigh Valley Charter Art High School, for painting "Jelly Donut"; R.J. Monko, American Visions Medal, junior at Parkland High School, for sculpture "Ride Til You Die"; Shane Miller, Silver Medal, senior at Parkland High School, for mixed media "Lene Lenape Wilds"; Brittany Gantz, Silver Medal, senior at Fleetwood High School, for Fashion "Unconventional Shoes"; Jared Parker, Silver Medal, sophomore at Nazareth High School, for Photography "In Igne," and Lexi Brown, Silver Medal, grade 8, Southern Lehigh Middle School, for Photography "Out of My Mind."

A National Celebration will be held in New York City on May 31, when national gold medal-level winners will be honored at a special onstage ceremony at Carnegie Hall. For the first time and in honor of the 90th anniversary of the program, the ceremony will be webcast live. Select award-winning art and writing will be exhibited at Parsons The New School for Design and the Pratt Manhattan Gallery through June 15.

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The Pulitzer-winning musical, "Next to Normal," opens Friday through May 19 at Civic Theatre of Allentown. The rock musical, written by Brian Yorkey with lyrics by Tom Kitt, features a pop-rock score of more than 30 songs. The Tony Award-winning work, directed by William Sanders, is about Diana Goodman (Janie Greim), a seemingly normal suburban wife and mother who has struggled with bi-polar disorder and hallucinations for 16 years following a family tragedy that left her scarred and heartbroken. She does what she can to keep the family together and as "normal" as possible.

Cast members include Michael Traupman as Dan, Kallie Linder as Natalie, Matthew Meckes as Gabe, Will Morris as Henry, and Brian Foley as Dr. Fine/Dr. Madden.

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