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Staunton Music Festival concert features new harpsichord

When master keyboard artist Carsten Schmidt plays his second program of Toccatas and French Suites by J.S. Bach, he will introduce a new member of the Staunton musical community, a handmade harpsichord that replicates one in the Bach Haus in Eisenach, Thuringia, where Bach was raised in a large family of professional musicians.

“It is exactly the kind of harpsichord that Bach grew up with,” Schmidt says. “And it is, to my knowledge, the only instrument of its kind in the US, so a rare opportunity for people to hear this repertoire live in this way,” the way the composer himself heard the pieces. That authenticity is a significant emphasis of the Staunton Music Festival.

The concert, at 3 p.m. on Sunday, November 11 at St. Francis Catholic Church, Staunton, marks the halfway point of Schmidt’s Bach Project, a multi-year plan to perform all of the composer’s more than 140 keyboard pieces written for adult players. The new German harpsichord, which arrived in August and was briefly seen in the Summer Sounds festival, delivers a remarkably rich “plumy” sound that audiences will notice. That’s because in a harpsichord the strings are plucked, rather than being hammered like piano strings. The particularly fine sound of Schmidt’s harpsichord is the consequence of a longer than customary distance between the end of the string and the point at which it’s plucked.

Schmidt, who is also artistic director of the Staunton Music Festival, is known for adventuresome programs featuring contrasting styles. He especially likes this program, “a nice combination because these two genres show two very different sides of the younger Bach, one absorbing French influences (the Suites) and the other (the Toccatas) putting his wicked imagination to work on what he inherited from his North German colleagues from the previous generation.” Toccatas developed nearly 200 years before Bach’s time and were intended for solo performance, rather than as an adjunct to some other activity like worship or court functions. Notably flashier than earlier genres, toccatas displayed the varied “touches” or sound qualities that the performer could produce and emphasized virtuosity, complex passages that showed off the performer’s technique. Suites were composed of varied dances, and also emphasized contrast, especially in rhythm.

The Bach Project continues Sunday, March 3, 2013 at 3 p.m., when Carsten Schmidt will play Bach’s English suites and a selection of Fantasias, with more to follow in November. The spring musical weekend also includes an informal talk and recital on the English Suites on Friday evening and the annual Music-Story Concert Saturday afternoon. The annual Summer Sounds festival is scheduled for August 16-24, 2013 and will include two additional concerts, both free, for a total of 20 concerts in 9 days.

Tickets for the upcoming Bach concert cost $20, with discounts for seniors ($18) and students ($8). Ages 16 and under attend free. Annual subscriptions offer a thrifty 15% discount. For more information go to or call (540) 569-0267. Tickets are available at Bookworks (101 W. Beverley St.), online, by phone at 800-838-3006, or at the door.

Augusta Health Augusta Free Press Kris McMackin CPA
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Augusta Free Press