Monday, June 6, 2011

Victoria Bach Festival offers more than Johann Sebastian

Artistic Director Craig Hella Johnson and concertmaster Stephen Redfield
following a performance of Mendelssohn's violin concerto, 2009.

by Valerie Cowan

Victoria might not be the biggest town in Texas, but it certainly packs a musical punch during the month of June with the annual Victoria Bach Festival. From June 7 to 11, musicians from around the country will entertain guests of all ages from a wide variety of towns and musical backgrounds.

With about 40 percent of attendees coming from outside Victoria, “the Victoria Bach Festival is a source of pride in the community,” said VBF Executive Director Nina Di Leo. “It’s been 36 years that Victoria has welcomed musicians from all over the country to our city to make music.”

Five-time Grammy nominee Craig Hella Johnson took on the position of artistic director in 1992 and has since expanded the program from a university-sponsored, local event to a nationally recognized organization with affiliates including Conspirare, Johnson’s own choral ensemble, as well as the Houston Masterworks Chorus, Austin Chamber Music Center, and Texas State Chorale.

“It has blossomed from a mostly community-based organization to one that includes musicians coming from around the country,” said Di Leo. “It has also grown in the breadth of composers and genres of music represented. Now we celebrate not only the genius of Johann Sebastian Bach but also the work of composers throughout the ages.”

Johnson also initiated the festival’s New Young Artists program, which provides an opportunity for highly talented musicians at the start of their careers to take the stage. Johnson and his creative team, which includes New Young Artist Coordinator Faith DeBow and Chamber Music Coordinator Michelle Schumann, choose the young musicians through a series of applications and auditions. The New Young Artists program has hosted 43 blooming musicians since its genesis in 1992.

This year’s young artists include baritone Dashon Burton, flutist Hilary Janysek, and soprano Nicole Greenidge. The three will perform a formal concert during the evening of June 7. The following afternoon, they will host a family-friendly musical presentation at the Victoria Public Library.

“It’s fun to see young musicians who, the night before, were performing in concert dress in the concert hall and the next day are on the floor in the library engaging the children… making classical music an approachable form in a familiar environment,” said Di Leo.

Family drum circle led by David Hillendahl
at the Victoria Public Library, 2009.

The library also holds the Big Bang Rhythm Party on Saturday afternoon during which members of the percussion section of the Victoria Bach Festival Orchestra will lead a percussion and rhythm workshop that’s fun for all ages.

This year’s performance lineup also includes The Fifth Wheel, an evening of quintets performed by members of the Victoria Bach Festival Orchestra; a Latin American- and Spanish-infused performance by the Texas Guitar Quartet; and Kick Up Your Heels, international dances for small ensembles presented by the Artisan Quartet and VBF artists.

Headlining the Victoria Bach Festival on Saturday evening will be Roberto Sierra’s Missa Latina ‘Pro Pace” (For Peace). Under the direction of Johnson, Victoria Bach Festival Orchestra will combine forces with Chorus Conspirare Symphonic Choir to create an ensemble of nearly 200 musicians. This Caribbean-influenced piece will feature soprano Heidi Grant Murphy and baritone Nathaniel Webster.

For the first time, the Victoria Bach Festival will hold the week’s finale at the brand new Victoria Fine Arts Center. The approximately 1500 seat facility was built by the school district as part of a bond.

“It’s a beautiful new facility that just opened this past spring, said Di Leo. “We’re very pleased to be performing there for the first time.”

As executive director, Di Leo finds the Victoria Bach Festival experience very rewarding.

“It’s really kind of a big family that comes together every June,” said Di Leo. “I love to see the engagement of young people, and I love to see the city come alive with music for a week every June.”

Ticket prices to attend VBF’s evening performances range from ten to thirty dollars, and student and senior discounts are available. The daily afternoon programs are free. For more information on tickets and performances, visit

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