That Week with the Bachs November 19th to the 25th, 1731
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THE Musical, Remember?

Back in 2023, that first step toward Full production?

WE DID IT!!

Watch and Listen to the Video of the Concert Version:

Here is a truncated article by Joshua Kosman, the principal music critic of the San Francisco Chronicle:

Bach and his family spend a harrowing week on deadline.

Joshua Kosman, February 17, 2023. Updated: February 19, 20

It all began with a footnote.

Connecticut writer William Kinsolving was immersed in a biography of Johann Sebastian Bach when he happened upon a curious detail of the German composer’s output. In November 1731, eight years into his long and troubled stint as the leading musical authority in Leipzig, Bach seems to have dropped everything to quickly compose a new cantata — the famous Cantata No. 140, “Wachet auf.”

This was striking, because Bach had already devoted several years of grueling labor on arriving in Leipzig to create hundreds of cantatas, covering the entire Lutheran liturgical calendar. Why did he need one more?

“I thought, that’s a hook, right?” Kinsolving told The Chronicle in a recent phone interview. “And so I started going into it just for fun, to find out what had happened.”

What he discovered was not simply a compositional anomaly, but a large family grappling with a range of creative and interpersonal issues.

The result: “That Week With the Bachs,” a two-hour musical that was unveiled Thursday, Feb. 16, in Grace Cathedral.

But what performers! For this public read through, Kinsolving — with help from Grace’s Ghiberti Center for Culture and the Merola Opera Program — had the services of some of the Bay Area’s vocal A-listers, reciting his lines and singing his lyrics retrofitted to Bach’s music.

Chief among these was the venerable mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade, who served as narrator and also sang a brief curtain-raiser that Kinsolving had created for her to the tune of Bach’s Minuet in G. There are few singers of any category who can rival von Stade’s wit or charisma as a performer, and that sense of enjoyment was contagious.

“William asked me to be part of this,” she said after the performance Thursday, “and I thought, ‘Sure, I can do a little narration.’ It’s pretty music, and I don’t know much about Bach, so this will be fun.

“The hardest part was getting it all on my iPad. I’m not as tech-savvy as these kids.”

Bach and his devoted young wife Anna Magdalena were splendidly embodied by bass-baritone Philip Skinner and soprano Marnie Breckenridge, in performances that conjured up a loving and robustly physical marriage. The oldest and most noteworthy of Bach’s 20 children — as well as a host of Leipzig officials and colleagues — were dexterously played by a cast comprising soprano Taylor See, tenors Jonathan Smucker and Kevin Gino, baritone Simon Barrad, and bass Chung-Wai Soong.

The picture that emerges of the Bach family is vividly realistic, a persuasive version of “Life With Father” if Father were a towering genius.

“I found there is a tendency to regard Bach as a god and put him on a pedestal,” said Kinsolving. “I wanted to bring him down to earth.”

The play is neatly structured in seven scenes, one for each day leading up to the Sunday performance of the new cantata, and during the course of that week, numerous themes get nimbly hashed out.

Bach’s three eldest sons grapple in different ways with their father’s overshadowing musical presence. His daughter, Catharina, searches for love and dreams vainly of the life choices that are unavailable to her as a woman. Anna, Bach’s second wife, mourns her dead infants (of her 13 children, only six survived to adulthood) and tries to defuse the resentments of her stepsons.

Bach struggles to adapt to newer trends in music, especially in a wonderful duet with his friend and fellow composer Georg Philipp Telemann, who has found a path to economic success in opera. And copious amounts of coffee are brewed and consumed.

The piece’s musical component is made up of excerpts from the cantata itself, along with other well-known Bach pieces for which  Kinsolving has written new lyrics. Catharina’s lament on the evaporation of her romantic hopes is set to the Air from the Orchestral Suite No. 3 (the “Air on a G String”); “Friday,” a full family celebration as the performance finally nears is drawn from the E-Major Violin Concerto.

Here's Where the world is now

The results of the presentations at Grace Cathedral included very enthusiastic sold-out audiences, the budget recovered in four shows, and perspicacious investors coming forward to offer financial support for future developments.

Most interesting was the idea that became obvious to those investors and many others, that the “concert version” they’d just seen is a viable and commercial possibility on its own, particularly when it comes to touring.

Even so, the next step is a full production. As Ms. Von Stade said, it has a cast of sixteen and a small Baroque orchestra.

Numerous production entities have been approached and have responded with enthusiasm. Each prospect is progressing, even as every theater struggles to recover from the worldwide implosion of attendance habits due to COVID. Advancing is naturally slow, but each step forward is a further validation of

That Week with the Bachs November 19th to the 25th, 1731

So please stay tuned. One of the basic legends of the theater is that it takes seven years on average to get a musical on stage. The Bachs will beat that average, and you’ll be the first to know exactly how!

Regards and gratitude to you all,

William

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