“J.S. Bach: The Circle of Creation” illustrates how the genius didn’t work alone — someone made his paper, his candles, his instruments. Tafelmusik captures that cycle of creativity in “Circle.”
There’s no question: Johann Sebastian Bach was one serious overachiever.
Take the last quarter-century of his life. Hired by Leipzig to serve as the German city’s cantor for St. Thomas Church, Bach not only wrote weekly cantatas for several major houses of worship. There were also church holidays and weddings and funerals in need of original music, plus — in his free time — weekly appearances at the Café Zimmerman coffeehouse, where Bach loosened up by conducting his secular works.
Yet the prolific genius wasn’t working alone — not exactly. Somebody made the paper on which Bach wrote his scores. Others fashioned the candles by which he could work at night. Instruments were handmade, gut strings were spun. Musicians performed. Bills were paid.
Tafelmusik: ‘J.S. Bach: The Circle of Creation’
7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 11, Meany Center, University of Washington; $43-$48 (artsuw.org)
This cycle of craftsmanship, creative collaboration and taking care of art’s business is the celebratory subject of Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra’s lively concert program “J.S. Bach: The Circle of Creation,” coming to Meany Center (copresented by Early Music Guild) on March 11. A multimedia immersion into the world of artisans and others involved in the moments between Bach’s musical inspiration and realization, the Toronto-based Tafelmusik’s “Circle” marries live music, narration, video and still images.
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Besides the 17-member orchestra (Seattle Baroque Orchestra concertmaster Linda Melsted and SBO co-founder/former music director Ingrid Matthews are both past members), Tafelmusik will be joined by Canadian actor and stage director Blair Williams, who will draw upon source materials (e.g., Bach-era newspapers) to enrich bursts of storytelling between music selections that include Brandenburg Concerto No. 3, the Orchestral Suite No. 1 in C major, and excerpts from a string ensemble version of Goldberg Variations.
A YouTube video clip from “Circle”’s debut in 2014-15 illustrates the project’s low-key but eye-and-ear catching theatricality in production design and, surprisingly, movement.
The musicians don’t sit for these appearances. Having memorized the scores, they stand on stage in seemingly random positions, some facing other players and shifting around with their backs to the audience. It’s a little like watching a gang of buskers in a subway tunnel, yet it’s mesmerizing to see in a concert hall.
“We can move soloists to the center of the stage, and then move them back into the group when everybody starts playing again,” says Alison Mackay, a Tafelmusik double bassist who has created several of the organization’s multimedia projects.
“That loose choreography actually reinforces the structure of the music and enlivens what’s going on. We also realized we don’t have to stay on the stage.”
Mackay, who has been with Tafelmusik since its 1979 origins , says “Circle” and her other multidisciplinary productions (including the well-received “House of Dreams,” linking baroque music and painting) are not gimmicks.
“It’s not just adding bells and whistles,” Mackay says. “It’s putting a different lens on the music and seeing it in historical context. The combination of images and narration with music can heighten the experience emotionally. It becomes more than the sum of its parts.
“It’s also a way into our world of baroque music, which can be rather esoteric. It can be a fascinating exploration for lots of people, and a little more personal.”