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Bach Festival: 35 years and still going strong


June 9, 2010 at 1:09 a.m.

Soprano Melissa Givens performs from Robert Schumann's "Liederkreis" at First United Methodist Church on Wednesday. The performance is part of the Victoria Bach Festival's 35th anniversary concert.

Hitting 35 years is a big accomplishment for any organization, and so to celebrate the Victoria Bach Festival hitting this milestone, a 35th Anniversary Celebration concert was given Wednesday.

The concert featured soprano Melissa Givens, baritone Paul M. Tipton and Joey Martin on piano. It also celebrated notable birthdays in the realm of classical music by featuring the works of composers who are also hitting a milestone this year, including Robert Schumann, who would have turned 200 this year and Samuel Barber, who would have been 100.

Although Wednesday's concert was to specifically celebrate turning 35, the entire week is an unofficial celebration, artistic director Craig Hella Johnson said.

"We're here this week to celebrate and to pay great respect and express our gratitude to all the people who have led the festival and supported it and of course, all the musicians, all the patrons, the board members and audience members," he said.

The road has been long and winding for the festival since its inception back in 1976. Back then, the fledgling festival was under the direction Dr. David Urness, with the sponsorship of the University of Houston-Victoria.

Now operating independently, the Bach festival leadership has expanded to Johnson and Creative Team Joey Martin and Michelle Schumann.

That winding road has hit a few bumps, however. Oboist Beth Sanders, who has performed at the festival since 1978, remembered how the festival at one time almost went under during the 1980s.

"There were some years it was barely kept alive. We were barely limping along," she added. "But somehow it managed kept going."

Part of why it was able to keep going was the hard work of Donald and Dottie Welton, the latter of whom was known as "Lady Bach." Although both are now deceased, they served as board members from 1979 to 2004 and 2008, respectively.

"They both helped preserve the name and keep it going," Sanders said.

Despite some hard times, the festival has always been able to bounce back. In fact, in 2008, for the first time in its history, the festival's finale concert, a performance of Verdi's "Requiem," was sold out.

Known for both performing masterworks of the classical repertoire and intimate chamber concerts, as well as working in more modern works from artists such as Eric Clapton and unconventional performances such as drum circles, the festival has always been about the music. But it's the people involved in the festival, from board members to audience members, that has helped it reach 35 years, Sanders said.

"This festival is very different. Through it, you get to know the local folks. There's no snobbery, the musicians are not left out. It's fun to be here," Sanders said. "And seeing the people year after year is like catching up with old friends. I come down here every year for the people. They know us by name."



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