MUSICAL NOTES: Long Beach Bach Festival Delivers Intimate Affair

Posted: Monday, April 22, 2013 2:00 am by GAZETTES

By Jim Ruggirello
Music Writer

Concerts come in all shapes and sizes.

And one of the coolest, and also smallest, concerts I’ve been to recently was the culminating event of the 39th Long Beach Bach Festival, presented by the Long Beach Camerata Singers the other night at Sababa over in the Marketplace.

It was an intimate affair, a solo guitar recital by a dazzlingly talented virtuoso named Martha Masters, about whom more later. What made it cool was the casual setting, the food and wine, and the convivial atmosphere. The thing was dubbed “Bach a Bacchus,” and was just what I needed after a hysterically busy day.

The prize-winning Masters is on the faculty at Loyola Marymount and also Cal State Fullerton, and she is a wonder. Possessor of a clean technique, pure intonation, and an innate musicality, she presented a wide-ranging and generous program.

Short pieces were juxtaposed with major works. A Romantic curtain-raiser by Jose Viñas and a shortish Fantasia by Telemann set up a more substantial Sonata by Mario Casteluovo-Tedesco, commissioned, as was much of the 20th century guitar literature, by Andres Segovia. The attractive, tuneful thing completed Masters’ first set.

After a break, and the aforementioned food and wine, came the big work of the evening. The third violin Sonata by J.S. Bach (transcribed, like the Telemann and most of the Baroque guitar repertoire) contains a monumental fugue lasting around 10 minutes. Masters gave it a thrilling, technically dexterous (I didn’t say masterful) performance that brought the house down. She followed up with two short pieces, one by Astor Piazzolla and one written in homage to the Argentine master.

The third set was lighter, Balkan folk songs and some stuff from South America. It all added up to an enjoyable, musically satisfying evening made even more enjoyable by the surroundings.

Masters had her music on an iPad, and I felt old. Then she explained how the sheet music was scanned in, and the pages turned with the aid of this foot pedal thingy, and I felt even older.

This was the only event of this year’s Bach Festival I was able to get to, due to conflicts with the symphony and other things. Artistic director Rob Istad presented his usual creative, innovative menu of concerts, varied in terms of programming as well as venue. In fact, the Camerata and Long Beach Opera share honors these days for sounding out unique and unusual venues for their events.

And word on the street is that the Camerata and Long Beach Opera are collaborating on LBO’s production of Ernest Bloch’s “Macbeth” later this year, which has got to be a good thing, and Istad’s group has already appeared recently with the symphony.

Next year is the 40th Long Beach Bach Festival. Expect great things.