s the revered Carmel Bach Festival begins its 80th season, Paul Goodwin marks his seventh year as artistic director and conductor.
Each year, thousands of travelers come from around the world to the seaside town of Carmel. Some of them come for the ocean views. But many come for Bach.
The Carmel Bach Festival is a destination in itself. Under Paul Goodwin, now in his seventh season as artistic director and chief conductor, the long-running summer music extravaganza ranks high among the California coast’s many attractions.
It’s a revered tradition, and as the festival turns 80 this year, London-based Goodwin says it continues to grow with the times.
“Part of my remix has been to expand the vocabulary of the festival — the sort of music we play, the people we’re playing it to,” said Goodwin. “We’re bringing everybody in, being inclusive rather than exclusive. We’re called a Bach festival, but we’re not stuck with Bach.”
To be sure, Carmel Bach doesn’t skimp on the music of its namesake. This year’s calendar features Bach’s “Ascension” Oratorio – “a wonderful piece that’s not often done,” says Goodwin — as well as large helpings of the composer’s more intimate works.
But Goodwin’s programs also include Monteverdi’s 1610 “Vespers”; Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, “Choral”; and Purcell’s “Birthday Ode for Queen Mary.” Special concerts pair Mozart with Viennese waltzes, Schubert with Rodgers and Hammerstein. And there’s a performance of Philip Glass’s1992 “Concerto Grosso” — a special tribute to the American composer, who, like Carmel Bach, turns 80 this year.
According to Goodwin, the distance from Bach to Glass really isn’t that far. “For my musicians, who play a lot of Baroque music, it’s an easy jump to minimalist music,” he says. “I try to find a balance point between our traditional audiences, who love Bach and the classics, and the new audiences, who want something a little different. A composer like Philip Glass suits both sides.”
Just as important as repertoire, says Goodwin, is the festival’s approach to presentation. In addition to traditional concerts, the schedule includes kids’ programs, open rehearsals and community events.
Goodwin’s especially proud of the open rehearsals, although he says others were skeptical at first. “People said ‘if they come to free rehearsals, they’re not going to buy tickets to the concert,’” he recalls. “But you have people with kids who can’t stay for the whole concert. You have people who want a taste, because they’re not sure if they want to hear that particular music. They get a feel for it – and then they come to the concert.”
The rehearsals are especially popular with music aficionados, adds Goodwin. “They want to hear more of a work, particularly how we rehearse it. What I’ve found is that people enjoy the rehearsals so much, they come to the concert and bring their friends. So it’s actually been good for ticket sales.”
Unlike many summer festivals, Carmel Bach engages its musicians for the entire month. Goodwin says they return year after year, from orchestras throughout the U.S., Canada and Europe. “That’s one of the things that makes us unique,” he says. “They not only do the big pieces, like the Mass and the Beethoven, they also do the chamber music – small-scale Bach cantatas, string quartets, brass groupings, choral things. They come because they know they’ll be heard as individual soloists as well as in the big orchestral pieces.”
Like many conductors, Goodwin enjoys a peripatetic lifestyle, conducting concerts around the world. On the day we spoke, he had just returned from a festival in Tokyo; after Carmel, he’ll return to Europe for assignments in Spain and Poland.
Still, Goodwin says there’s no place quite like Carmel. “It’s a lovely atmosphere,” he says. “For our audiences, it’s delightful to spend a weekend or a week, see the town, hear the music, meet our musicians. People bring their kids and enjoy themselves.
“The first time I came to Carmel, before I joined the festival, I went to one of the concerts. I came through the door of the Sunset Center, and I could see people coming to their seats. They were standing and waving to each other. There was a wonderful synergy among everyone, like a big family. It’s that personal element that brings people back year after year.”
Contact Georgia Rowe at firstname.lastname@example.org.
CARMEL BACH FESTIVAL
When July 15-29
Where: Various Carmel venues
Tickets: $10-$128; 831-624-1521, www.bachfestival.org