1 May 2024

Unmissable: all six of Bach's Brandenburg Concertos - the 'Shakespeare of classical music' - will be a Festival treat

| Ian Bushnell
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woman with orchestra

Madeleine Easton and the Bach Akademie: “It’s quite an incredible event to be able to hear all six like this.” Photo: Facebook.

Canberra is playing host to a rare musical event this weekend that concertgoers may never experience again.

All six of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos will be performed at two special concerts as part of the Canberra International Musical Festival, which starts on Wednesday (1 May).

The Bach Akademie will perform Concertos 1, 3 and 5 on Saturday night and Nos 2, 4 and 6 on Sunday morning at the Snow Concert Hall at Canberra Grammar School.

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Director and violinist Madeleine Easton says it’s a program not to be missed, calling the six concertos the greatest music the human race has produced.

“They are the Shakespeare of classical music – perfectly constructed, written and balanced, melodious and harmonically pleasing,” she said.

And they are hardly ever played at once due to their technical difficulty and the need to gather together players at the top of their game for such a musical marathon.

“The last time this happened was about five years ago when the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra did all six for their 30th anniversary,” Ms Easton told Region.

“It’s quite an incredible event to be able to hear all six like this.”

Ms Easton said only the best soloists would do for such an event.

She would be bringing Brisbane trumpeter Richard Fomiston to Canberra because he was only one of a handful who could play the solo in the second concerto, while she had booked harpsichordist Neal Peres da Costa a year and a half in advance for the fifth.

“Each and every one of these concertos is exceptionally difficult, but they’re also vibrant, entertaining, fun pieces of dance music,” she said.

“There is a reason why they are so popular and famous because they are just so memorable.”

They are also milestones in the history of music, influencing generations of composers down the centuries.

Ms Easton said Bach ripped up the rule book when it came to the harpsichord, pulling it out of the background and elevating it to the front of the stage.

“The fifth concerto was the first keyboard concerto ever written by anyone,” she said.

“He makes the harpsichord do things that no other composer ever dreamed of.

“He really pushed the boundaries of what was possible on that instrument.”

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Five of the six concertos feature the violin, so Ms Easton probably has the heaviest workload.

“I’m in pretty much every one and each concerto is fiendishly difficult,” she said.

But she never tires of it, finding inspiration in every fresh outing with the music.

“Each time I play it, I find new things in the music, and I interpret it slightly differently,” Ms Easton said.

“It’s like a novel you want to go back to or a movie you watch over and over. You never get tired of it.”

The Canberra International Musical Festival runs until Sunday. To learn more and buy tickets, visit the festival website.

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