BACH – We Are FAMILY· 2020 Leipzig Bachfest

95th Bach Festival of the Neue Bachgesellschaft

»BACH – We Are FAMILY« – how did you come up with this title?

When we first started planning, we had a vision of a celebration like the ones the Bach family used to hold in Thuringia. Once a year, this extensive family of musicians met together somewhere to make music together and sing the legendary quodlibets. Today, the Bach family is a global one. All over the world, there are people who for their love of Johann Sebastian Bach come together in Bach societies and choirs. In 2020, the oldest of these, the Neue Bach-Gesellschaft, will be celebrating its annual Bach Festival with us – as it does every five years. But this time we have also invited all the other ›family members‹ too, that is, all the Bach groups we could find around the globe: more than 250 of them! The response exceeded all our expectations. Some 50 Bach choirs and ensembles will be making the pilgrimage from every continent to Leipzig to take an active part in the festival. And so we can already proudly and joyfully announce that the 2020 Bach Festival will be the largest family festival ever celebrated by the global Bach community. That fits in perfectly with the title »BACH – We Are FAMILY!«, because it stands for this wonderful feeling of belonging that binds us all together. Love of Bach’s music knows neither geographical, cultural nor confessional boundaries. And that will be demonstrated continually – and in continually different ways – on the eleven days of the festival.



The programme is two-pronged. On the one hand, famous Bach interpreters will perform works by the entire Bach family in more than 30 concerts. The focus is naturally on Johann Sebastian Bach, but we will also be exploring the works of his ancestors of significance to him – taken from the »Old Bachian Archive« – and those of his sons. The second prong is provided by the numerous visiting choirs, who will be performing in concerts and matins services. But the most wonderful thing about it is that they epitomise our festival theme in a cycle that will span the entire Bach Festival: 33 Bach choirs from 15 countries – from New Zealand to South Africa and Paraguay – will perform all 66 cantatas from Bach’s annual cycle of chorale cantatas in 18 concerts and a variety of church services in the original venues in Leipzig, and the audience is invited to join in the hymn arranged by Bach at the start and end of each and every cantata. Never in any festival has an entire annual cantata cycle been performed. The fact that it will be happening now, like this, is a magnificent symbol for the uniting force of Bach’s music.


Besides the performance of the entire annual cycle of cantatas, are there any other highlights?

Indeed there are! In a further five-concert cycle, we will be investigating the »roots« of J. S. Bach in many different ways. World-famous interpreters such as Ton Koopman, Frieder Bernius and Václav Luks will, together with their ensembles, present works by the older Bach family and important models for J. S. Bach in the context of his own, impressive early cantatas and motets. Reinhard Goebel, Christophe Rousset, Gotthold Schwarz and others will be exploring the musical relationship between Bach and his sons, the »Fruits« of Bach. But there will be no lack of cycles devoted to J. S. Bach alone. On two successive evenings, the St. John and St. Matthew Passions can be heard in St. Thomas’ Church, performed by the Bach institutions, Gaechinger Cantorey and the J. S. Bach Foundation of St. Gallen. And Andris Nelsons’ Bach debut promises to be an exciting one, when he conducts the B Minor Mass in the closing concert.


And what does the programme of chamber music look like?

Plentiful and varied! And there again, there are some Bach Festival debuts that were long overdue. First and foremost that of Angela Hewitt with the Goldberg Variations – the first woman to be awarded the Bach Medal! I’m also looking forward to the two concerts by Mahan Esfahani and the return of Pieter Wispelwey, this time with Bach’s gamba sonatas. In addition, Bach’s great collections »senza basso« can also be heard in four atmospheric night-time concerts: the cello suites, with the outstanding Jean-Guihen Queyras and Amandine Beyer’s enchanting interpretations of the Sonatas and Partitas. With her, we once again have an artist-in-residence who has recently developed a very special style of Bach interpretation!


Will there be a contribution to the major Beethoven anniversary?

That goes without saying, and in a domain in which Beethoven is perhaps closest to Bach, whom he said he would rather call »sea« (a pun on the German word »Bach«, meaning »stream«): his church music. In the opening concert, the Thomanerchor and Gewandhaus Orchestra will perform Beethoven’s Mass in C Major. This will be followed by the Missa Solemnis at the Opera and lastly »Christus am Ölberge«.


With such a full main programme, will there be time for ›secondary‹ events, the concert trips to Leipzig’s environs and BachStage on Market Square?

Of course, mainly thanks to the wonderful fact that so many Leipzig institutions and sponsors come under the Bach Festival umbrella. Besides the Opera, with its fantastic ballet productions, and the Gewandhaus, they also include the composers’ houses: with them we’ll be kicking off the laid-back Bach Festival Lounge on three evenings. Our main sponsor, Sparkasse Leipzig, has again made a diverse crossover programme possible with BachStage on Market Square – that includes an experimental performance of the St. John Passion, in which thousands of visitors will sing the chorales together, and the spectacular Flying Steps. The BachGames in the central railway station are set to be just as colourful. The concerts and organ trips – this year a great cooperative venture with the »Thüringer Bachwochen« and the »Köthener Bachfesttage« festivals– will take visitors to numerous ›dream venues‹ for Bach fans. And the researchers at the Bach Archive and numerous special guests – including a genuine descendent of Bach – will once again be doing all they can to answer all the questions about Bach and his family in the admission-free lecture series.


That sounds like a huge programme, more extensive than ever before. Do you foresee any risks?

Yes, it really is a very extensive programme: 153 events and perhaps more varied than ever before. But since we’re expecting 50 Bach choirs alone, we’re anticipating far larger visitor numbers than usual. So my only worry is this: that we won’t be able to satisfy the demand for tickets for many of the concerts. But one thing is certain: we will do everything we can – to offer an extraordinary experience to every Bach pilgrim from near and far. Because here again, the motto is: BACH – We are FAMILY!