Rousset to conduct renditions of Bach’s work in upcoming jazz festival

Rousset says he is delighted to perform in the festival curtain-raiser, and to present works by two of the Baroque era’s most notable exponents.

(photo credit: KEITH SAUNDERS)
Johann Sebastian Bach is one of the most beloved of composers, across the centuries, generations and even genres. While the Baroque composer and keyboardist is revered as one of the iconic figures of the classical world in general, he is also frequently called “the first jazz musician” and is oft cited as being one of the sources of inspiration for all kinds improvisational endeavor.
Small wonder, then, that Bach is often the thematic linchpin of many a musical event, across the globe, including over here, with the fifth annual Bach in Jerusalem festival due to take place, primarily in the capital, March 12-20.
The eight-day program, fittingly, takes in a diverse spread of works and intent, with harpsichordist and conductor Christophe Rousset very much in the thick of things.
The 58-year-old Frenchman kick-starts the programmatic proceedings at 8 p.m. on March 12, with a harpsichord recital of Baroque era works by François Couperin and Bach at the YMCA Conference Hall. Rousset will be back in action, at 3 p.m. on the morrow, when he presents a master class based on Bach’s vast oeuvre.
Rousset will also conduct three renditions of Bach’s Easter Oratorio, together with the Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra, at the YMCA on March 16; at the Zucker Auditorium, Charles Bronfman Auditorium in Tel Aviv on March 18; and on March 19 at the Krieger Auditorium, Haifa (all at 8:30 p.m.), with New York-born Israeli soprano Tehila Nini-Goldstein, Austrian mezzo-soprano Margot Oitzinger, German tenor Richard Resch and Czech baritone Tomas Kral filling the soloist slots.
While admitting to a penchant for straying off the score straight and narrow, Rousset says he is far from being a jazz musician.
“That [improvisation] is something that we have lost over the years [in the classical music domain],” he notes. “On harpsichord, improvisation is essential, so I do improvise somehow. And I do play music which has improvisation written into it, so I have to know what it is about. Organists are much cleverer in that field.”
While Bach was skilled on harpsichord, organ and clavichord, Rousset says he himself focuses almost exclusively on harpsichord. It has been that way practically since the get-go. In fact, he went for the whole Baroque shebang.
“I was drawn, for some reason, to these aesthetics from a young age. It wasn’t just music. It was architecture, painting, plays, literature. It was very strange, as a teenager, being fascinated by that era – Baroque, Louis XIV and all that.”
All that naturally impacted on the budding musician’s initial steps toward self-expression on a keyboard.
“When I started music it was very clear that it would be for that specific [Baroque] repertoire,” he recalls. “I started on piano, of course. At that time you could not start on harpsichord. I preferred, even on piano, to play 18th-century music.”
Although the piano is used to produce lyrical, melodic and harmonic sounds, with its innards of strings and hammers, it is basically and mechanically a percussion instrument. The harpsichord, as a less sophisticated apparatus, is possibly even more percussive.
While accepting the technical makeup of his instrument of choice, Rousset says he is not at a melodic disadvantage compared with pianists, including when supporting vocalists. “I think you can sing with a harpsichord, and that is what I try to do. The harpsichord is not just a melodic instrument, it is a harmonic instrument, too, so it can really enrich the solo line, of a singer.”
Rousset says he is delighted to perform in the festival curtain-raiser, and to present works by two of the Baroque era’s most notable exponents. “There is link, in that Bach knew Couperin’s music, copied Couperin’s music, and even transcribed one Couperin piece to the organ. It was a trio originally, and he transposed for organ. He knew Couperin’s music, and he liked it. So that’s the link between them. And Bach also wrote in a French style, and I play [Bach’s] French Overture, which is a beautiful piece of music, and in a French style.”
The two composers also had a rich music backdrop in common. Couperin’s father and uncle were musicians, as were two of his siblings. The Bachs were also one of the classical music world’s great dynasties. Johann Sebastian’s father and all his uncles were musicians, and several of his sons followed in his musical path. In fact, Rousset’s repertoire here takes in some material by one of Bach’s musical offspring, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach.
“The concert is a mirror of two families,” he states.
Elsewhere in the festival program, there are some cross-cultural jazzy offerings by internationally renowned pianist Anat Fort and longtime musical sparring partner, Ethiopian-born saxophonist and vocalist Abatte Barihun (March 19 at the Harmony Cultural Center).
German organist Prof. Hartmut Rohmeyer, who plays the organ at the Lubeck Cathedral in northern Germany, will perform a recital at the Jerusalem Dormition Abbey in the Old City on March 14 (11 a.m.), and there will be a tasty multisensory confluence at Atalya’s House in Ein Kerem, on March 18 (6 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.) when flavorful food meets delectable sounds.
The idea for the cross-disciplinary synergy was conceived by flutist Roy Amotz, who will play to blindfolded members of the two audiences, before the patrons tuck into a five-course meal courtesy of chef Nadav Malin. Prior registration on the festival site is required.
For tickets and more information: *6119, (02) 671-5888 and