'Allentown Bach at Noon'
"Bach at Noon," a well-attended free concert series held since 2005 in Central Moravian Church in downtown Bethlehem, makes its debut in downtown Allentown with two events in June and July.
"Allentown Bach at Noon" premieres at noon June 9, St. John's Lutheran Evangelical Church, 37 S. Fifth St., Allentown. A second "Allentown Bach at Noon" concert is set for noon July 14, also at St. John's Lutheran Church.
St. John's Lutheran Church is located steps away from the downtown area of Allentown's Neighborhood Improvement District, site of PPL Center, One City Center (Lehigh Valley Health Network), Two City Center (National Penn Bancshares and Hamilton Kitchen) and an estiimated $1 billion in development.
Bach Choir officials chose St. John's Lutheran Church for its location and stunning sanctuary.
Bridget George, Executive Director of the Bach Choir of Bethlehem, explains the genesis of bringing the popular Bach series to center city Allentown.
"This program ['Bach at Noon'] we do seven times a year in Bethlehem," says George. Attendance averages 800 to 1,000 for each performance with people often lining up well in advance of the 12 p.m. starting time.
"People from throughout the Lehigh Valley and beyond actually come to the Bethlehem 'Bach at Noon.' What they love and what keeps them coming back is the musical excellence of the programs," she adds.
The June performance features J.S. Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 in D Major with Robin Kani, flute, Elizabeth Field violin, and Greg Funfgeld, harpsichord, followed by Cantata BWV 149 "Man Singet Mit Freuden Vom Sieg" ("Let Songs Of Rejoicing Be Raised").
Members of The Bach Choir and Bach Festival Orchestra are joined by soloists Laura Heimes, soprano; Barbara Hollinshead, mezzo-soprano; Stephen Ng, tenor; and Dashon Burton, bass-baritone.
The concert is expected to be about 50 minutes in length.
Says George, "It's a wonderful introduction to the Bach Choir, and Greg Funfgeld [Artistic Director and Conductor of the Bach Choir] talks about the music, which people love. He's a wonderful teacher for people of all ages.
"I think all of those things are what has made it such a brilliantly successful program in downtown Bethlehem. The merchants and the hotels love us on 'Bach at Noon' days."
The Bach Choir of Bethlehem attracts more than 6,500 annually to the "Bach at Noon" performances in Central Moravian Church, Bethlehem. The extremely successful arts and community development initiative has been acclaimed regionally and nationally.
The "Allentown Bach at Noon" concerts are part of the Arts at St. John's series, which presents "Noon-10" concerts in October and April,. and other concerts and arts events at the church, located along South Fifth Street between Hamilton and Walnut streets.
There has been interest and queries for several years about bringing the "Bach at Noon" program to Allentown. With the renaissance underway in center city Allentown, the timing was right to expand the program beyond Bethlehem.
Arts organizations and business leaders have embraced the opportunity to bring "Bach at Noon" to Allentown. St. John's Lutheran Church was instrumental in offering its sanctuary as a venue for the event.
"It [St. John's] seemed to have the perfect spirit and aesthetic for our 'Bach at Noon' programs," George explains.
"St. John's Lutheran Church in the heart of center city Allentown, with its beautiful sanctuary, excellent organ and already established 'Arts at St. John's' series, is the perfect space to expand our 'Bach at Noon' program," George says.
Leaders of the renaissance in center city Allentown responded enthusiastically to a proposal to bring "Bach at Noon" to Allentown.
"The Bach Choir is delighted by the response from Allentown businesses and arts organizations to our proposal and we are especially grateful to the lead sponsors of the premiere 'Allentown Bach at Noon' series: the Rider-Pool Foundation, Air Products, and Center City Corporation," George says.
Bethlehem 'Bach at Noon' programs are held the second Tuesday of each month, January through April, and September through November. This year, the 108th Bach Festival was held on the campus of Lehigh University.
Rather than move regularly-scheduled "Bach at Noon' concerts from Bethlehem to Allentown, a concert was added this month and next month at St. John's, launching a summer series that George hopes to expand to a third concert in August in future years.
The concerts in Allentown are also being performed on the second Tuesday of the month, retaining the traditional scheduling pattern of the Bethlehem series.
"We're sticking with the second Tuesdays because that has been so successful," says George.
"It's easy for people to remember. In addition to getting a lot of audience from downtown Allentown, we will probably attract some of our regular 'Bach at Noon' audience who are always sad when the season comes to an end.
"It's a very special thing," says George, regarding the Allentown concerts. "The choir has not performed in downtown Allentown for many, many years. We already have a great presence in Allentown and contribute to the arts in Allentown in other ways."
In addition to the annual Bethlehem Bach Festival, the Bach Choir concert season in Bethlehem includes Christmas and Spring concerts and a Family Concert. The Bach Choir performs a Christmas concert at First Presbyterian Church, Tilghman Street and Cedar Crest Boulevard, Allentown. The "Bach to School" program reaches fifth-grade students in the Allentown School District.
The Bach Choir premiered its film, "Mr. Bach Comes to Call," in 2007 at Miller Symphony Hall, along Sixth Street in Allentown. For that event, the Bach Orchestra performed Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 in D Major. The Bach Choir did not perform.
For the July 14 "Allentown Bach at Noon," at St. John's, Greg Funfgeld and Thomas Goeman begin the program with Bach's "Concerto for Two Keyboards in C Major," BWV 1061 played on two pianos. Members of the Bach Choir then perform Johannes Brahms "Liebeslieder Walzer" ("Love Song Waltzes"), Opus 52, accompanied by Greg Funfgeld and Thomas Goeman on piano four hands.
"I think it'll be a wonderful contribution just as it is in the Bethlehem 'Bach at Noon' format to the community and economic development of the downtown in Allentown," says George about the about the Allentown concerts.
"We can't wait to be part of that to find a new audience and to expand our contribution to the city of Allentown," George says.
No tickets or reservations are required for the "Allentown Bach at Noon" concerts. There is no reserved seating. A donation will be requested at the door. The concert is open to the public. Doors open at 11:30 a.m. Concert-goers are encouraged to come early to be sure of a seat.
Free parking will be available at a large lot at Lehigh Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, with a 25-passenger shuttle bus transporting concert-goers to the church free of charge. There is also parking at municipal garages at Fourth and Hamilton and Sixth and Linden and at meters along streets in the vicinity. The church is accessible for persons with disabilities.
Information: The Bach Choir: 610-866-4382, ext. 15 or ext. 10; Bach.org