Back to Bach, Properly Tooled, at Hahn Hall at the Music Academy in Montecito

Back to Bach, Properly Tooled, at Hahn Hall at the Music Academy in Montecito

In the agenda according to the UCSB Arts & Lectures’ Hear and Now series, rising young classical phenoms and fresh “now-ish” ideas are granted a spotlight in the warming ambience of Hahn Hall on the Music Academy’s Montecito campus. That general agenda gets twisted only slightly with the arrival of much-acclaimed young harpsichordist Jean Rondeau, on Friday, November 4.

For the evening’s entertainment, the keyboardist dips back into 18th-century baroque annals and presents the complete Goldberg Variations of J.S. Bach. The principal difference here is his period-correct use of the proper tool — the harpsichord of Bach’s day, versus the piano version made famous in the 20th century by Glenn Gould and other grand pianists.

Jean Rondeau | Credit: Clement Vayssieres

Something of a charismatic figure and radical virtuoso well-known for his dynamic live performances, the 31-year-old Frenchman is one of the current bright lights of the global harpsichord scene. He has recorded several albums, including a recent, meticulously faithful rendition of the Goldberg Variations on the Erato label, met with critical hosannas; and 2017’s Bach Dynasty. He has ventured into contemporary music, as well, giving the 2018 world premiere of the solo harpsichord piece Furakèla by the fascinating French keyboardist-composer Eve Risser, whose music deftly cross-talks between classical and jazz.

The iconic Goldberg opus has very much been in Rondeau’s hands and on his mind lately. In the wake of the album’s release, his Santa Barbara debut on Friday is part of a busy U.S. tour with the Variations as his sole focus, culminating in an appearance in the midtown Manhattan classical music temple and proving ground that is Carnegie Hall. 

Last June, Rondeau presented the world premiere of the two-piano and percussionist piece UNDR, co-composed by himself and percussionist Tancrède Kummer, drawing direct inspiration from the Goldberg Variations.

Never mind that a harpsichord recital in Santa Barbara is, in itself, an all-too-rare occasion. The chance to audience with one of the great living practitioners on the instrument, on the theme of one of the premiere jewels from J.S. Bach’s repertoire, no less, is an opportunity not to be missed.

The 7 p.m. event at Hahn Hall also includes a pre-concert talk by Derek Katz, UCSB Associate Professor of Musicology, at 6 p.m. (free to event ticket holders).

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