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Maurice Ravel, seated at a piano, with a birthday hat
Photo by Lipnitzki/Roger Viollet/Getty Images

The great French composer Maurice Ravel turns 142 today, and it seems like he's popping up everywhere, both in the news and in the concert hall.

Bach's B minor x 4

Mar 2, 2017
clockwise, from upper right: portrait by E.G. Haussmann (1748); portrait by J.E. Rentsch (c. 1715); statue by C. Seffner (1908); forensic reconstruction by Caroline Wilkinson (2008)
Wikimedia Commons

Last weekend I spent a lot of time with Bach. Over the last four and a half months, I’ve spent a lot of time with Bach. “But you produce a show called The Bach Hour. Of course you’ve spent a lot of time with Bach!”

 

Yes, well, there is that. But this has been exceptional. Being at four different performances of Bach’s Mass in B minor since October has left me with two takeaways, one of them expected, the other unexpected. Neither takeaway is the, dare I say, cliché, “I heard things in the Mass I had never heard before.”

Bach
Portrait by E.G. Hausmann / Wikimedia Commons

I just listened to a podcast interview with a former CIA analyst who said, “It’s not uncommon for an analyst to get a bit obsessed with his quarry.” Boy do I know it.

Petr Kratochvil

The year was 1788. Thomas Jefferson, nearing the end of his post as the Ambassador to France, spent his days wandering the streets of Paris, attending concerts and the theater, and combing through bookshops in search of any volumes that would be pertinent to the fledgling United States of America.

In Vienna, Austria, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart churned out more than 40 compositions, including the three symphonies that would be his last - numbers 39, 40, and 41.

And across the ocean, as more and more states ratified the U.S. Constitution, General George Washington began the campaign that resulted in his unanimous election as the new nation's first president.

manuscript of the Kyrie of Bach's Mass in B minor
Wikimedia Commons

When we learned that the 2016-2017 concert season in Boston would include no fewer than four major presentations of J.S. Bach’s Mass in B minor, it seemed almost like too much of a good thing. Almost.

In fact, the opposite has been true, from my perspective anyway. After two of those four performances, the familiarity of the music isn’t what stands out to me. It’s the vast differences in approach that make each performance a new event.

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