Festival Reviews

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Concert review: Perlman fuses art and life and Northwest Bach Festival
By Larry Lapidus / Correspondent

September 1, 2017

Pianist Navah Perlman gave new meaning to the term “recital” on Friday evening at the Hamilton Studio, as part of the Summerfest series of the Northwest Bach Festival.

Her program did, as one would expect, include performances of an attractive group of works for solo piano, but it also promised “little anecdotes from my life, and stories, and … slides in the background,” as she told The Spokesman-Review.

To a veteran of hundreds of normal piano recitals, this seemed both intriguing and off-putting: Intriguing, since Perlman, whom Festival Director Zuill Bailey describes as “one of the greatest people I have ever met,” is also the daughter of Itzhak Perlman, the most famous violinist alive. The prospect of gaining some insight into such an extraordinary family was irresistible. At the same time, one felt the suspicion that family anecdotes and photos might lessen the enjoyment of excellent performances of great works of music.

In the event, such suspicions were completely dispelled by the power of a genuinely creative artist to fuse diverse elements into a new and powerful whole.

The evening began impeccably enough with a vigorous and witty rendition of Scarlatti’s brilliant Sonata in C K. 159. Rather than highlighting her mastery of the piece’s technical challenges – trills, leaps and so on – Perlman concentrated on conveying its character as a courtly spectacle.

The image of a candle-lit ballroom filled with dancers overwhelmed any thoughts concerning fingers and pedals, and made one ready to hear from the artist who could create such strong dramatic ambiance in such a short space of time.

Perlman’s ensuing remarks about her family life did include amusing tidbits about her celebrated father (he loves watching the Mets on TV), but maintained a focus on the progress of the young girl’s understanding of the grounds of her father’s celebrity, and how that interacted with the development of her own self-knowledge and growth as an artist.

Sitting back down at the piano, Ms. Perlman gave a performance of Robert Schumann’s treasured “Arabeske” in C major Op. 18 that fully revealed her truly remarkable gifts as an interpreter.

Schumann’s “Arabeske” is in that class of music that, to appropriate pianist Artur Schnabel’s description of the music of Mozart, is “too easy for children, and too difficult for grownups.”

That is, the music is technically manageable for any intermediate student of piano (Perlman took it up when she was 10), but damnably resistant to attempts by even very famous performers to make sense of it.

Vladimir Horowitz often spoken of as the greatest pianist of the last century, played it all his life, and never managed to achieve the balance of tenderness and bluster – the essential aesthetic coherence – that Navah Perlman did on Friday night.

In constructing “Arabeske,” Schumann alternates the repetition of the opening melody, of a gently melancholic quality, with segments of sharply contrasting nature, much as Rimsky Korsakov binds together the episodes of his symphonic suite “Scheherazade” with recurring violin solos representing the voice of the narrator, Scheherazade, herself.

On Friday night, Navah Perlman was our Scheherazade, knitting together subtle adjustments of tempo and varying voices and moods of succeeding works by Prokofiev, Beethoven, Brahms and Chopin to form narrative sequences of penetrating power.

It was a quiet kind of virtuosity, but nonetheless amazing.

It soon became clear that this gift of narrative knit together both the musical and spoken portions of the program, becoming, in effect, the controlling principle of the evening, and its most remarkable feature.

Perlman’s informal manner in speaking about her life belied the scrupulous care with which she organized autobiographical details, both comic and tragic, into a portrait of an artist under construction.

This was most telling when she related the point in her life at which she began truly to understand how remarkable her father is, and to comprehend that he did not belong only to her and her mother and her siblings, but to the world and to history. That we all experience a similar struggle in objectifying our parents lent an aspect of universality to Perlman’s remarks that matched that of the music she performed.

The two other pianists already mentioned here, Artur Schnabel and Vladimir Horowitz, occupied opposite ends of the spectrum of piano performance in the 20th century, with Horowitz epitomizing the virtuoso school, seeking to astound the audience with unimaginable feats of technical mastery, and Schnabel focusing entirely on performing “music that was better than it can be played,” and conveying its essence to the audience.

We can place Navah Perlman squarely at Schnabel’s end of the spectrum, along with such noted pianists as Rudolf Serkin, Claudio Arrau and Leon Fleisher.

I doubt very much, however, that any of these luminaries could have brought off such a joining of modest informality and superb musicianship as we enjoyed on Friday night. By bringing such artistry to Spokane, Zuill Bailey and the supporters of the Northwest Bach Festival have increased the debt of gratitude we owe them.

All content © 2017 - Spokesman-Review, The (Spokane, WA) and may not be republished without permission.

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Bach Festival finale a fitting end to a season of beautiful music
By Larry Lapidus / Correspondent

March 5, 2017

For Sunday’s finale of the 2017 classics concert series, the Northwest Bach Festival exchanged the geniality of Barrister Winery, which served so well for concerts of chamber music, to the grandeur of the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist. This allowed for not only more players, but for a different class of music, intended for performance in a larger acoustical space.

Returning after an immensely successful appearance at last year’s Bach festival was conductor Piotr Gajewski to conduct four works for chamber orchestra: the Serenade No. 13 in G major, K. 525, “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik” of W.A. Mozart; Cantata BWV 51, “Jauchzet Gott in Allen Landen,” by J.S. Bach; The “Serenade in E minor” Op. 20 by Sir Edward Elgar; and Mozart’s Motet K. 165, “Exsultate, Jubilate.”

The soprano soloist in both the Bach cantata and the Mozart motet was Danielle Talamantes, whose voice displayed not only beauty and power, but the dazzling agility required to negotiate the torrents of embellishment, or “coloratura,” demanded in both works. As remarkable as these performances were in themselves, Talamantes’ achievement was all the more impressive to those who had attended her solo song recital at Barrister Winery just the night before, and heard her mastery of repertoire that made totally different demands on the performer. For a soprano voice of such size and power as we heard on Saturday, in songs of Turina, Granados and Ellington, also to possess such nimbleness and agility is a very rare phenomenon, indeed. The ovation she received made plain that everyone felt fortunate to have witnessed it.

Joining Talamantes as featured soloist in the Bach cantata was Larry Jess, principal trumpet of the Spokane Symphony. Bach is just as demanding of the trumpet soloist as he is of the soprano in this work, and Jess responded with playing of great beauty and virtuosity, matching the singer’s phrasing and joyous spirit perfectly, and displaying a trill that would make most professionals consider finding another line of work.

From the opening bars of the concert, conductor Gajewski displayed the same mix of artistic virtues that made such a strong impression at his last appearance here, most notably his uncanny ability to find and maintain not only an appropriate tempo, but the perfect tempo for every part of every piece he conducts.

This may seem too commonplace an ability to warrant much praise, but yesterday’s concert demonstrated both how crucial it is, and how rare. Combining this gift with a laser-like ear for balance, Gajewski revealed countless felicities in these well-known works that usually go unheard. It appears that he bases his choice of tempo not on the obvious melodic lines, as is typical, but rather on the bass cleff, which carries the harmonic foundation of a piece. Doing this allows the structure of the work to stand out more clearly, and the melodies and their embellishments to emerge with complete naturalness. The result was that even such a chestnut as “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik,” which pours from loudspeakers in every café and metro station in Vienna, emerges as though newly minted, able to awaken us afresh to the miracle of Mozart’s genius.

As a tribute to the late Dr. Elizabeth Welty, whose generosity and unflagging commitment contributed immeasurably to the progress of the arts in Spokane, festival artistic director Zuill Bailey brought his cello to the stage to perform the Bach-Gounod “Ave Maria,” accompanied by the organist of the cathedral, John Bodinger. The performers’ deep spiritual commitment and musical mastery placed the performance above criticism.

All content © 2017 - Spokesman-Review, The (Spokane, WA) and may not be republished without permission.

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Bach festival: soprano Danielle Talamantes brings vocal prowess to festival program
By Larry Lapidus / Correspondent

March 4, 2017

Over the course of six concerts, the 2017 Northwest Bach Festival presented a wide range of music employing a variety of instruments. Only one instrument was notably missing: the human voice. That gap was filled on Saturday night, as Barrister Winery was filled with song by soprano Danielle Talamantes, partnered by Ivana Cojbasic, pianist.

Talamantes selected a program of art songs, i.e. brief poems set to music, by Claude Debussy, Enrique Granados, and Joaquin Turina. She concluded the program with three songs by Duke Ellington, arranged in a manner to show how much they have in common with the art-song tradition.

Talamantes intended that the audience be given translations of all the songs on her program, but a glitch in transmission prevented that. Instead, she spoke with the audience, reading some translations in their entirety and summarizing others. By doing this, she immediately created a bond of intimacy that embraced everyone in the room, and that continued unbroken throughout the evening. In chatting with us, she displayed other attributes that proved fundamental to her character as a musician: superbly clear and beautiful diction, an attractive, well-supported voice, extensive understanding of the background and meaning of the music, and, perhaps most important, an earnest desire to seize the deepest feelings of her audience, and never let them go.

Accordingly, when she began to sing Debussy’s “Chansons de Bilitis,” one felt an unbroken link with what had gone before. The voice was just as lovely, natural and relaxed, and the diction just as clear and pure, always an important quality, but especially in the performance of French song. What we had not heard before, of course, was the playing of Cojbasic, which proved to be more than worthy to accompany Talamantes’ singing. All of the composers on the program were pianists who contributed much excellent music to the repertoire, but none had so radical an impact on the history of writing for the piano as Debussy, who reinvented piano technique and re-imagined what could be accomplished on the instrument. It is no mean praise to say, then, that Cojbasic showed herself to possess complete mastery of Debussy’s challenging writing, and to be an artist capable of unlocking his unique tone-world to an interested listener. On this occasion, the listeners were not merely interested, but spellbound.

The ensuing works on the program allowed Talamantes much wider scope in which to deploy her considerable vocal resources than did the delicately tinted Debussy. Her soprano voice possesses considerable power throughout its wide range. It is the sort of voice capable of taking on the most demanding roles of Giuseppe Verdi and of operatic composers of the “verismo” school, such as Pietro Mascagni (“Cavalleria Rusticana”), Ruggero Leoncavallo (“I Pagliacci”) and Umberto Giordano (“Andrea Chenier”). It was thrilling to hear a voice of this range and caliber interpreting art-song, and, in truth, there was plenty of passion and suffering portrayed in the songs of Granados and Turina that justified an operatic scale of performance. There were, however, a few points at which Talamantes unleashed the full force of her voice that pushed the envelope so far that it threatened to tear.

It was gratifying to see three wonderful Ellington songs receive the respect and loving attention they did on Saturday night: “In a Sentimental Mood,” “Solitude” and “Come Sunday.” Talamantes proved herself to be a compelling and idiomatic interpreter of music in the popular idiom, something that cannot be said of all of her illustrious predecessors who attempted the journey from the opera house to the cabaret. It should be noted, however, that Ellington wrote the first two songs to be danced to, which would require a clear and regular beat. The arrangements of these numbers are so artfully worked, however, that the beat can get lost, and with it, some of the music’s power to touch the heart.

All content © 2017 - Spokesman-Review, The (Spokane, WA) and may not be republished without permission.

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Bach review: Bailey, Bodinger bring Bach’s Gamba sonatas to beautiful life
By Larry Lapidus / Correspondent

February 28, 2017

Though it did not show on the printed program, Tuesday’s concert in the Northwest Bach Festival 2017 series featured an important debut. The program promised a recital by the festival artistic director, cellist Zuill Bailey, and harpsichordist John Bodinger performing the three Sonatas for Viola da Gamba and Harpsichord by J.S. Bach (1685-1750), as well as two pieces of Bach’s music arranged for the cello.

As Bailey explained at the opening, however, we were going to hear a Zuill Bailey significantly different from the one we might have heard even a few months ago.

By his own telling, for the first 20 years or so of his career, Zuill Bailey approached the music of Bach, especially the Six Suites for Cello which form the cornerstone of the repertoire, as a “cello jock.” This is to say that, in playing those pieces, Bailey would exploit the full resources of the cello: its great dynamic range, its rich palette of colors, and compelling emotional power. In his mid-30s, however, he undertook a profound re-examination of his approach to that music, and spent much of the following 10 years in research and study. The result was a radical re-interpretation of the music, which has been captured in a celebrated recording and has opened a new world of musical experience for audiences in Spokane, and throughout the world.

While they share with the Cello Suites all the qualities that make Bach’s music treasurable, the Gamba Sonatas are very different. To begin with, they are not solo works, and the addition of the keyboard part is not incidental, but fundamental to the structure of Bach’s writing. Secondly, while the viola da gamba bears a physical resemblance to the cello, its musical qualities and capabilities are quite different. It has a far smaller dynamic range, especially in the bass, less sustaining power, and quite a different range of color. Furthermore, it is a fretted instrument, while the cello has no frets. While this makes it more challenging for the cellist to play in tune, it also allows him to execute slides and to vibrate the string in a way that imitates the human voice.

It is a risky business. Either the surging eloquence of the cello can overwhelm the keyboard part, or the voice of the cello can be choked back to an inarticulate whisper. Bailey, however, employed his mastery of his instrument to achieve a marvelously well-balanced dialogue with his partner, whose brilliant execution of Bach’s virtuosic writing was never eclipsed. When Bach split phrases between the two players, had one answer a question asked by the other, or invited us to follow a phrase as it ricocheted between them, there was never any sense of strain or sacrifice on either side.

From the standpoint of technique, Bailey accomplished this in several ways. He applied much less pressure to the bow, keeping it closer to the fingerboard than usual, which reduces the volume of a note and reduces its overtones. He also greatly reduced his normal deployment of slides and vibrato, which are devices better suited to music from the Romantic period.

No doubt, Bailey made many other technical changes, but more important was the utter humility with which this huge artistic personality placed himself at the service of the music. Bach wrote nothing more brilliant and full of life than this, and the audience was able to enter into it easily and completely, without having to climb over the egos of its interpreters.

All content © 2017 - Spokesman-Review, The (Spokane, WA) and may not be republished without permission.

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Bach Festival: ‘Three Dancers’ a riveting new work
By Larry Lapidus / Correspondent

February 24, 2017

The roomy recesses of Barrister Winery were filled to overflowing with an audience eager to experience the second of the 2017 Northwest Bach Festival classics concerts.

Festival artistic director, cellist Zuill Bailey, and pianist Piers Lane bookended the evening’s music with two different versions of Frederic Chopin’s Introduction and Polonaise Brillante Op. 3. In Chopin’s original version, the young composer, eager to display his chops, nearly swamps the cello in a torrent of pianist display. Lane played as discretely as the music allowed him, but the extravagance of Chopin’s keyboard writing required that he dominate the stage. Even though he was forced to take a back seat to his colleague in technical display, Bailey left no doubt as to his command of his instrument, displaying from his first notes the uniquely penetrating musicality that has earned him a place on the list of the greatest artists ever to have taken it up.

The program closed with an “edition” of the Chopin piece by the legendary cellist Emmanuel Feuermann, who redistributed Chopin’s musical content, and contributed a significant bit of his own, to make the piece far better balanced. Here, Bailey surmounted Feuermann’s technical challenges with astonishing ease, even throwing in a few of his own. Underlying everything he did, however, was the eloquent lyricism that constitutes his unique voice and sets him in a class of his own.

To start the second half of the concert, Bailey and Lane collaborated in a remarkable performance of Beethoven’s Sonata for Cello and Piano No. 3 in A major Op. 69, a piece as vital, witty and fiercely imaginative as anything Beethoven ever wrote. The two musicians proved to be an ideal partnership, with each showing great individuality and engagement with the music, while dovetailing their parts into an immaculately finished whole. Bailey commands an extraordinarily wide dynamic range, observing Beethoven’s “subito piano” (suddenly soft) commands in a way that startles us, exactly as the composer must have intended. This was most evident in the last movement, Allegro Vivace, which the pair took at an amazing speed. They hurtled toward the conclusion without ever losing focus or blurring a phrase. Lane’s reading of the coda, both witty and mystical, was truly extraordinary, and helped bring down the house.

Fine as the Lane-Bailley collaboration was, the musical centerpiece of the evening was a performance of “The Three Dancers,” a riveting work of 2015 by Elena Kats-Chernin, who was born in Uzbekistan, and now resides in Australia. Inspired by a 1930 painting of the same name by Pablo Picasso, the piece calls for five players in addition to piano and cello: violin (Tana Bachman Bland), double bass (Eugene Jablonsky), accordion (Patricia Bartell), soprano saxophone (Christopher Parkin), and percussion (Marty Zyskowski).

Terrific virtuosity is demanded of every player, though there are no spotlighted star turns, as in the Chopin and Beethoven. Rather Kats-Chernin combines the sounds of the instruments in novel and striking ways, creating composite tones that she uses to explore the powerful implications of Picasso’s painting. At one point, for example, Bartell’s matchless accordion playing is blended with ghostly high harmonics from Bachman Bland’s violin to create an effect both beautiful and sinister. This is in keeping with the back-story of the painting, which involves a love triangle leading to murder-suicide.

“The Three Dancers” is characterized by a stylistic fingerprint that appears in the opening bars: an insistent rhythmic figure repeated metronomically, upon which the composer superimposes slow, fragmentary phrases that strain toward, but never quite achieve, the form of melody. The presence of the accordion immediately suggests the cafes of Paris, over which the dolorous voice of the double-bass introduces a note of dark lyricism. The piece is full of such complex moments; in fact, it is comprised of them. Its dominant tone is one of grim anxiety, but the flashes of gaiety and tenderness prevent even a hint of monotony.

The program booklet assures us that further familiarity with “The Three Dancers” will reveal a tightly-woven structure in nine parts, knit together by signature note-clusters representing five characters in the tragic story. To achieve this familiarity will require repeated hearings, which, if one can judge from the standing ovation that greeted the conclusion of the piece, is just what the audience wants.

All content © 2017 - Spokesman-Review, The (Spokane, WA) and may not be republished without permission.

Bach Festival Feature Story


Badass cellist. Musical missionary. Grammy winner. Zuill Bailey redefines Bach for the 21st century
By Ted S. McGregor Jr. - The Inlander

February 15, 2017

Count Hermann-Karl von Keyserling just wanted a good night's sleep. It was 1,200 bumpy miles from St. Petersburg to Leipzig, where his work as Russia's ambassador to Saxony took him. Once at court, he was among friends, but the times were fraught inside the Holy Roman Empire in 1741. A diplomat's job is to hold things together, yet Europe was being pulled apart by the War of Austrian Succession – the opening skirmish of the Seven Years' War.

Every time the Count's head hit the pillow – nothing. His mind could not stop. Desperate, he had begun to travel with a talented young musician who would play outside his door each night, trying to clear his head. Even that rarely worked, as he played the same blasted pieces over and again.

There was a composer and organist of some repute at court – the cantor of St. Thomas Church, Leipzig's largest. Would he, perhaps, write something new – something calming, yet inventive, to help the Count steal a few precious hours of peace? The cantor met the musical challenge, and the ambassador had his musical companion learn it – all 30 swirling, precise movements. It was an instant tonic.

"He never tired of them," Bach biographer Johann Nikolaus Forkel recounted the tale in 1802, "and for a long time, sleepless nights meant... 'Do play me one of my variations.'"

Apocryphal or not (more on that later), the elements of this tale are still very much with us. The Count's harpsichordist was Johann Gottlieb Goldberg, who is immortalized in the work's title – the Goldberg Variations. And while the War of Austrian Succession is but a misty memory today, the Goldberg Variations remains among the most beloved pieces of music ever written.

Of course, we also know the clever cantor who helped Count von Keyserling grapple with insomnia so long ago. It was Johann Sebastian Bach.


And here we are in Spokane, marking the start of the 2017 Northwest Bach Festival, led by Music Director Zuill Bailey, fresh off winning a Grammy for his solo cello playing. It's a fair time to ask what it is about Bach that still has us listening.

The Goldberg Variations offer the perfect peek inside the Bach mystique; that it may have been a kind of one-off, back-of-the-napkin deal only adds to the legend. Listeners tend to be mostly dumbfounded by it – a "Rubik's Cube of invention and architecture," as one recent admirer put it. Filled with ever-varying melodies and musical canons, all referencing a simple, central aria, it's like music spit out of some elegant supercomputer. Except that it was the product of one man's imagination. It's like looking into the eyes of the Mona Lisa. Or seeing "E = mc²" scrawled on a chalkboard. Pure genius.

Oddly enough, after his death in 1750, Bach's music initially only lived on via his family – a brood of accomplished players. He was laid to rest in an unmarked grave for almost 150 years. Though the likes of Mozart and Haydn studied The Well-Tempered Clavier as if it were the Bible, only decades after his death did his music start to take hold again.

In 1829, Felix Mendelssohn mounted a performance of his epic St. Matthew Passion in Berlin, and the Bach legacy was secure. In the late 1930s, acclaimed cellist Pablo Casals fulfilled a dream to record some sheet music he had bought in a Barcelona antique shop when he was 13. It was Bach's Cello Suites, which had been nearly lost. The recordings were a sensation, launching a Bach revival that powered right on through to the creation of Spokane's Connoisseur Concerts and the Northwest Bach Festival in the 1970s.

Founded by David Dutton and Beverly Biggs, the early Bach Festival featured Baroque-era instruments that Bach would have written for. Later, Stefan Kozinski, associate conductor of the Spokane Symphony, became musical director. He brought a more modern sensibility to the festival, recalls Gertrude Harvey, executive director of Connoisseur Concerts, which produces the Bach Festival.

"Then, around 1992, we did a re-evaluation – we were looking for new direction," Harvey says. Maestro Gunther Schuller had a connection to the Spokane Symphony and the Festival at Sandpoint around the same time, "and we decided to see if he was interested," she says. "Turns out, he was."

Schuller commuted to Spokane from his Newton, Massachusetts, home for the festival from 1993 to 2013, recreating Bach with his originalist sensibilities.

"He fell in love with Spokane," Harvey says. "And Spokane musicians and Spokane audiences fell in love with him."

But Schuller's long, illustrious career was coming to an end; travel was becoming difficult. Harvey knew a transition was looming, but never quite got around to acting on it. Schuller, on principle, did not want to meddle in the recruitment of his replacement. It was going to take a little bit of that Bach magic to find a path forward.

Then one day, Harvey remarked to Schuller that she loved Bach's Cello Suites and that she wanted to get some cello back into the festival. Schuller said there was a cellist he had just seen perform – one Zuill Bailey.

"Gunther told me this man was not only a wonderful musician," Harvey recalls, "but he also had such an engaging way to draw people into the music."

So Harvey booked Bailey to play the 2012 Northwest Bach Festival, and the gears started to turn.

In June of 2015, after 89 years living one of the great American musical lives, Schuller passed away. Without meaning to, one of his final performances was to recruit Bailey to replace him.


As the son of two music educators in Northern Virginia, Bailey's career arc may have been already in the stars. But the speed with which he picked it all up surprised even his parents.

"My mom and dad still laugh about how I would sit up on a stack of phone books as a kid, and when I started to play, I would immediately shut my eyes," Bailey recalls. "Honestly, I don't remember learning to play, just how to refine playing. My parents never had to ask me to practice. They had to ask me to stop."

In fact, he started at age 4 with the Suzuki Method, which mimics the way young kids can learn new languages.

"My childhood changed my life," says Bailey, "with all those arts opportunities at my fingertips. It made me feel safe. It gave me the tools to feel comfortable expressing myself.

"So it makes sense," he continues, "that as the dust settles, I gravitate naturally to making a difference in education – bringing music to people who don't have it."

The year 1977 was big for the young Bailey, as "that's the year when [Mstislav] Rostropovich – arguably the greatest cellist who ever lived – became director of the National Symphony. We kind of turned into cello mecca at that point."

So the cello it would be, and soon enough Bailey was off to the Peabody Institute in Baltimore, then Juilliard on Manhattan's Upper West Side.

What followed was 25 years as a traveling soloist, going wherever the gigs took him – from plane to plane, his cello stowed in the seat next to him. He was living the dream every young musician imagines during those long hours of practice. And he's played some epic venues: Walt Disney Concert Hall, the Kennedy Center, Carnegie Hall; in Austria, South Africa, Jordan, the UK – the list goes on.

But there's a price to all that travel, and slowly it dawned on him that he wanted something different.

"The grass is greener," says Bailey, now 44, "where you water it."

He secured a faculty position at the University of Texas at El Paso, providing him a home base; he's also artistic director of El Paso Pro-Musica and the Sitka Summer Music Festival in Alaska. These posts give him the chance to stay put for weeks at a time, and although he has been offered similar posts in other cities, when the opportunity to lead the Northwest Bach Festival in Spokane came up, "I immediately said yes.

"I felt something that was so right when I came to Spokane," Bailey adds. "My friend Kevin lives here [Kevin Hekmatpanah, cellist with the Spokane Symphony and on the faculty at Gonzaga]. And the moment I met Gertrude, there was a synergy that was rare. Instinct is important; it just felt like home."

"When you just come and play a one-off concert, it's often just the standard, usual thing," says Hekmatpanah. "But when you're the director, you look at the longer arc. Zuill's goal is to have a long-term relationship here and really shape the festival into his vision."

Bailey is already bringing that horizon closer; he's performing and programming here not only during the Bach Festival, but for concert series in July, August and December. And Connoisseur Concerts is now producing shows in Coeur d'Alene and Walla Walla.

"I'll go ahead and make the comparison to Bach here," says Piotr Gajewski, music director and conductor of the National Philharmonic, who will conduct the Festival Finale on March 5. "Zuill works unbelievably hard; he puts himself out there like no other collaborator I have worked with. He's also a fabulous musician, just a joy to play music with."

Bailey's style is very personable and that makes him a little different – perhaps not exactly what you've experienced in a concert hall before. It's who he is, but it's also reflective of the sensibilities of the cadre of classical musicians now coming into their own.

"The generation that Zuill and I have grown up in, it's been a really pivotal time in the world of classical music," says Lara Downes, a pianist who has collaborated with Bailey and has performed at two recent Bach Festivals. "All our teachers thought the world of classical music was coming to an end. So you can walk away, or you can do what kids do and rebel – 'No, we're going to turn this around. We're going to do outreach on our own terms.'

"I really admire Zuill for being able to really redefine what music can be to a community."

My wife, Anne, is on the Connoisseur Concerts board, and we've experienced many musical highs with Bailey front and center, eyes still closed, or telling a funny story about an eccentric composer you've never heard of. We've talked about everything from the comparative benefits of male versus female horsetail hair in bows (there's a difference) to our boys – we have three, and he has two, with the artist Margarita Cabrera, whom he was married to until 2009.

Sure, it's intimidating that he plays a cello made when Bach was a child (a 1693 Gofriller), that he looks like an international man of mystery (the hair, the dapper suits) and the name "Zuill," well, that's just not fair. Despite all that, he's humble – very much the son of two teachers, with a soft spot for that kid out there (maybe sitting on a stack of phone books) who needs to connect to music.


Back to old Count von Keyserling: I took some license with that story, building on the original from Forkel in 1802 and layering on some of the historical record. You should know that in academic circles, whether Bach wrote the Goldberg Variations to help some sleepless diplomat is in dispute.

But the point of the story is to draw a line from all the way back in 1741 to the here and now. We're still celebrating this man and his genius, across centuries and continents. But context matters, too. Artists going all the way back to Bach have been a comfort to us, but we don't always remember the times they lived in.

"Music gives us a connection to our past," says Downes. "We have this idea that classical music, and things from the past, came from some other reality, where there wasn't stress and people weren't overwhelmed. But the world was never a quieter place. Some of the great artists lived through incredibly turbulent times. Chopin was running away from a revolution, but he wrote all this soothing music.

"Today," she continues, "we're all feeling that through this whole mess, we're inundated with so many different things. We're all trying to pull inward to avoid the rabbit hole. Finding some quiet time in the course of our everyday lives right now is essential for survival."

Downes' remark about "this whole mess" of course refers to the times we live in, nervous about the future and worried that our leaders are ill-equipped to maintain peace and prosperity. We're having a collective "emergency of the soul," as Alex Ross put it in his recent New Yorker essay, "Making Art in a Time of Rage."

Three days after John F. Kennedy was assassinated, Leonard Bernstein conducted Mahler's Resurrection Symphony and famously remarked: "This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before."

Music has to be both a place of refuge and a statement of humanity. A nice Bach Festival right about now is just the tonic we need, as we seek out the arts – musicians of all kinds, comedians even – to help us find peace.

"It happens more than you would think," says Bailey, as we discuss the tale of the sleepless Count. "Someone comes up to me after a show and says, 'I can't believe it; I fell asleep.' These are busy, successful people – people who may be stressed out, who may struggle to sleep at night. What is it about a concert that can put them to sleep?

"Music brings harmony to our bodies," Bailey concludes. "Sleep is peace."


Little did he know it, but in 2012, when Bailey first performed in Spokane, he was auditioning to lead the Northwest Bach Festival. At first, Harvey, the executive director, didn't know it either.

The weekend before Bailey's concert that year, the late pianist and composer William Doppmann, who lived in Bellingham at the time, had to cancel. Suddenly, Harvey had a giant hole in her festival.

"They called me," recalls Downes, who lives in California, "and they were like, 'Can you be here tomorrow?'"

After her fill-in performance, Downes went to dinner with the Bach Festival brain trust.

"She said, 'I see you have Zuill coming,'" recalls Harvey. "'You're going to have so much fun with him.'"

Bailey and Downes, it turned out, were longtime friends and collaborators. Harvey pumped her for details, and she shared the innovative things he was doing in El Paso and Sitka.

Soon Harvey saw the outlines of a gift horse and wasted no time. Bailey and Schuller would share the leadership of the 2013 Bach Festival. As a tribute to Schuller, Bailey played all six of Bach's Cello Suites over the course of two glorious hours. In 2014, Bailey took the baton.

How slight a series of accidents led Bailey to Spokane? Harvey just wanted to hear some cello. Schuller had just stumbled across Bailey in Santa Fe. A musician fell ill. His replacement just happened to be a friend of Bailey's.

Lest you think this is all coincidence, and that the magic of Bach had nothing to do with it, consider this: For her fill-in performance, Downes played the Goldberg Variations.

©2017. The Pacific Northwest Inlander. (www.inlander.com)