UNCG Campus Weekly

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The Late, Great Bach. How late? 10 p.m.

022013Feature_Willis2The late night concerts have been offered two February nights this month. And there are two more to go: Feb. 22 and March 1.

They start at 10 p.m.

These special Friday night sessions in the UNCG Music Building Organ Hall are called “The Late, Great Bach.” Yes, it’s genuinely Bach. It’s great. And yes, it’s late.

The solo presentations were dreamed up by Andrew Willis, a professor of music who specializes in keyboards and early keyboards.

During the sessions, Willis introduces Bach’s second set of preludes and fugues in all keys, known as “Well-Tempered Clavier II.” Willis has been a UNCG faculty member since 1994, and since 2003 has directed the biennial UNCG Focus on Piano Literature.

“Using a piano such as Bach knew in the 1730s, tuned in the Bach temperament, these informal sessions invite you to kick back with Bach at the end of your week,” the calendar listing states.

Campus Weekly had to find out more:

First, it helps to know a little background, Willis explains. “The first piano known to history was invented in Florence around 1700 by Cristofori. Only three of his pianos survive, and one more by his pupil and successor Ferrini. About three years ago I acquired a piano made in 2005 that is a copy of this very early design. It’s essentially an Italian harpsichord that, instead of using quills to pluck the strings in the regular way, uses hammers to strike them.” That’s the type of very early piano that gained Bach’s attention, and that’s what you’ll will hear.

“J.S. Bach was a very thoroughgoing composer who lived at a time when changes in the system of tuning made it possible for the first time to play on a keyboard instrument in every major and minor key. In 1722, to demonstrate this potential, Bach completed a collection of 24 preludes and fugues for the harpsichord, one pair in each major and minor key. During the 1730s and early 1740s he composed a second complete set of 24 preludes and fugues in all keys.” And that’s the set he’s playing.

Willis suspects that one of Bach’s motivations for repeating this “gargantuan effort” was to explore the expressive potential of the newfangled keyboard instrument he had recently discovered.

“In any case, I have greatly enjoyed studying the later set of preludes and fugues, at my Italian fortepiano, and I decided the time had come to share my enthusiasm for the music and the instrument outside of the formality of a recital setting.”

Why 10 p.m. on Fridays? “To avoid competing with our school’s performance schedule I decided to try a late evening time when students might be finished with other scheduled activities.”

Not only did some students turn out for the first two sessions, he says, but also some professors and community music lovers. “I’ve been previewing highlights of the pieces before playing them and fielding questions from the listeners as we go.”

And why a series of four? “Six preludes and fugues are plenty for one sitting … We are at the halfway point, 12 keys down and 12 to go.”

“Anyone interested is most welcome to come,” he adds, “for some Bach on the Italian fortepiano.” It’s a very beautiful history lesson, on an instrument Bach would have known.

Feb. 22, 2013 F#, f#, G, g, A flat, g# – UNCG Music Building Organ Hall, 10 p.m., free
Mar. 1, 2013 A, a, B flat, b flat, B, b – UNCG Music Building Organ Hall, 10 p.m., free

“Guests are invited to raise questions, share thoughts and let the ‘Bach effect’ take you into the weekend a little bit smarter and happier,” the calendar listing promises.

By Mike Harris