If it were possible for a person to sit stock-still and pace excitedly around a room at the same time, the Carmel Bach Festival’s maestro Paul Goodwin would be that person. Indeed, when he talks about the acclaimed music festival’s milestone 80th season, the globe-circling Englishman is the embodiment of controlled passion.
For this year’s programming, Carmel Bach’s inspiration and namesake, Johann Sebastian Bach, is amply represented, to be sure, along with esteemed classical composers such as Mozart, Mahler and Haydn. Perhaps more surprisingly, songs from pop stars Adele, Radiohead and Led Zeppelin occasionally appear, too. This is hardly standard fare at classical music festivals. But that’s the point. Goodwin, the festival’s artistic director and principal conductor, is going for something of a musical mash-up, while staying true to the history and identity of the festival, founded in 1935 as a modest, four-day event in Carmel Mission Basilica and Sunset School Auditorium.
An ebullient, smiling conversationalist, Goodwin spoke on a pre-festival visit to Carmel about how the festival has evolved over time, especially on his watch.
“One of the things I’ve done is pull the festival away from Bach, actually,’’ he says. ‘’Through the seven years I’ve been here, I’ve changed programming and made it much more varied. It’s never been as varied as THAT,’’ he allows, referring to having a Led Zep hit on one program.
There’s a reason for that, of course, and it shapes what festival-goers will hear at Carmel’s Sunset Center Auditorium, Carmel Mission Basilica and six other area venues.
“The familiar and the unfamiliar, you have to balance them out,’’ explains Goodwin, who works widely in Europe. “Certain pieces become iconic, through multiple performances over time.’’ That creates an opening for a creative conductor to change how a composition is played or surprise audiences with a less well-known piece.
Sir John Tavener’s 2002 work “Mother and Child’’ graces the main Spiritual Sunday concerts. Tavener, a contemporary British composer, is high-profile, but many concertgoers “won’t know about ‘Mother and Child,’” Goodwin says. “Mother and Child,’’ which incorporates elements as disparate as a chorale, Hindu temple gong and organ, hasn’t been played at the festival in six years. Goodwin describes it as “joyous and fascinating and forward looking.’’
You can’t get much more joyous than J.S. Bach’s “Ascension Oratorio,’’ which highlights the festival’s gala opening night concert July 15 in the Sunset Center Auditorium. Also on the first-night program is minimalist composer Philip Glass’ 1992 “Concerto Grosso.’’ Henry Purcell’s 1694 “Birthday Ode for Queen Mary,’’ introduces High Baroque ceremonial sounds into the mix. George Frideric Handel is well-represented by “Worthy is the Lamb, Amen’’ from his signature work “Messiah.’’ The opening night program is repeated July 22.
The festival’s elegant eclecticism comes from Goodwin’s desire to forge connections between different eras, traditions and cultures. It’s also central to the on-going drive to expand audiences and engage diverse communities. The event leads master classes, offers free lectures and stages free concerts, as well as free-admission open rehearsals that draw up to 600 music lovers. Goodwin, concertmaster Peter Hanson and dramaturge David Gordon collaborate in presenting the open rehearsals.
Festival planning starts several years ahead of time and incorporates ideas from an in-house artistic committee.
“It’s a give-and-take process. It’s rarely ‘Just tell us what to do,’ and they do it. The final decision is mine,’’ Goodwin says.
A popular guest conductor and global high flier, Goodwin’s feet seldom touch the ground. But he alights in Carmel every spring to firm up preparations for the Bach Festival. The festival has been a highlight of California’s cultural calendar every year since 1935 except during 1943-45, when it was shelved during the depths of World War II. As they did for pioneering pre-war Carmel Bach Festivals, visiting musicians are currently billeted in private homes for weeks-long stays after being called to Carmel from far-flung places.
“The quality of the musicians is very high,’’ Goodwin ob-serves of Festival Orchestra players, some of whom return year after year. He especially prizes their versatility.
And versatile they must be. This year they will accompany festival singers on Adele’s “Rumor Has It,’’ Led Zeppelin’s “Going to California’’ and Cole Porter’s ‘’Another Opening, Another Show,’’ among others. Then, on another night, in another program, the orchestra will perform Monteverdi’s “Vespers for the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Mary,’’ written in 1610. Monteverdi’s work will be performed in the venerable Carmel Mission Basilica, where it began for Carmel Bach back in 1935.
This year’s Carmel Bach Festival, for all its admirable adventurousness, does not neglect justly loved favorites in the classical music canon.
“The two great pillars of the festival are Mozart’s magisterial ‘C Minor Mass’ on Sunday and Beethoven’s monumental ‘Symphony No. 9’ on Friday,’’ according to Goodwin. Festival-goers will get two chances to hear Beethoven’s great work. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart will be showcased in the two Spiritual Sunday main concerts.
The 2017 Carmel Bach Festival runs July 15-July 29, with pre-festival events beginning July1. The pre-festival gala is July 14 at the Intercontinental The Clement, Monterey. Go to www.bachfestival.org.