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Vancouver Bach Festival

by Marion Van Driel

Johann Sebastian Bach fans will be delighted to know that JS is coming to Vancouver in August. Well, maybe not Bach himself, but a veritable ‘who’s who’ of performers showcasing his timeless musical works. Early Music Vancouver (EMV) is pleased to present the Bach Festival from August 2 – 12 with a variety of concerts – 10 in all – being performed at Christ Church Cathedral and the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts. Headlining the festival is Bach’s Mass in B Minor at the Chan Centre on August 5. It’s been three years since a summer classical music festival of this kind has come to downtown Vancouver.

Tour-de-Force Pieces

Christina Hutten, one of a handful of female harpsichordists in Canada, will be involved in two of the concerts: accompanying a quartet of singers on organ as they sing Schubler’s Chorales, and a week later, Sonatas and Partitas on harpsichord, along with Soile Stratkauskas on wooden flute and baroque violinist Tekla Cunningham. The trio will play a collection of six pieces written earlier in Bach’s life, with the opening partita thought to be a collaboration between JS Bach and his son, Carl Philipp Emanuel. “What’s fascinating about these pieces is that Bach manages to compose (contrapuntal) music in multiple voices to be played by a single melody instrument,” Hutten laughs. “So it’s really something to wrap your head around as a player. These are really tour-de-force pieces.”

Resurgence of An Old World Instrument

Hutten has performed in churches and concert halls all across Europe and North America, with a special interest in early music and the harpsichord, an Old World instrument that came into being during the renaissance era, but gained prominence in the baroque period. Old World music saw a resurgence of interest during the 1960s, with builders starting to replicate the instrument.
Vancouver boasts its own world-renowned harpsichord builder in Craig Tomlinson (one of two builders in Canada), although for these concerts, Hutten will be playing a “gorgeous copy of an 18th Century harpsichord,” which was a private donation to EMV.

Never Say Never

In some ways, it surprises Hutten that she’s playing organ and harpsichord. She grew up in Ontario, where her mother was a church organist who started giving her young daughter organ lessons. Not long into her musical studies, Hutten switched to piano with a professional teacher. As children often do, Hutten decided the organ was not her instrument – it was “kind of nerdy … that’s what my mom did, and I really never had any intention of playing organ.” She pursued her undergrad studies on piano.

However, Hutten recalls that when she was in Grade 12, the local centre of the Royal Canadian College of Organists put on a summer pipe organ camp for pianists to become acquainted with the organ. “I don’t know…I got hooked,” she laughs. She gives credit to the organists who were so enthusiastic and made it fun. “I think a really good instrument is hard to resist,” she admits. In her second year, Hutten began taking organ as her second study, and never looked back.

Influencing Her Faith

Hutten grew up listening to classical music, and started playing Bach on piano, but it wasn’t until she started on the organ that she played his sacred pieces. “There’s a kind of seriousness and genuineness of expression that I find in Bach that’s special,” she says.

Hutten’s spiritual life is enhanced by the music she plays – a significant part of why she’s attracted to Bach and his contemporaries, and why she’s chosen to follow her calling. She readily admits that this vocation is not an easy one to make a living at, but for her “it’s a way of making an impact as a Christian.” The relatable music lets her share her faith in a way that’s not bombastic.
Hutten looks forward to a flexible career that includes teaching, instrument maintenance, performing at various venues, and collaborating with other musicians. “The opportunities that I’ve had up until now have made this career path worth it for me,” she concludes – an enviable position in which to be, indeed.

Hutten’s noon hour concerts are scheduled for August 3 and August 10 at Christ Church Cathedral. For more information about the Vancouver Bach Festival, visit www.earlymusic.bc.ca/series/summer-festival/

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