Fishell completes final ‘Sebastian’ performance to a standing ovation
By Peter Jacobi
The ovation, of a standing kind, was sustained across two minutes. Its recipient: the courageous Janette Fishell who, on Monday evening, completed her daunting, 21-concert “Seasons of Sebastian” series.
The series, designed to include all of Johann Sebastian Bach’s music for organ, began in October 2010. Since then, the undaunted Fishell has, indeed, tackled that mountain of manuscripts. The concerts varied in length. Most were about an hour’s duration. The closing event had her at the newly installed organ in Indiana University’s Alumni Hall for an hour and three quarters. That’s a lot of wrist, hand and finger exercise. That’s a lot of legs and feet aerobics.
Consider the task in its totality and enormity: hunting up all the music; determining musicologically what is genuine and what, despite claims and tradition, might not have been authored by Bach; studying the scores and their performance histories; preparing each piece with diligent practice, so to master music of immense challenges; authoring program notes of depth and insight; testing the different organs used (in Auer Hall, in various churches around town, in Alumni Hall); making sure concert and concert site details were taken care of, and — finally — performing, all this, of course, while taking care of teaching duties, faculty responsibilities and running the IU Jacobs School of Music’s organ department.
Monday’s standing ovation was deserved: for Fishell having accomplished the all of her enormous quest and for playing this final “Seasons of Sebastian” concert so consummately.
Fishell had labeled the first concert “A Man for All Seasons,” drawing samples of work from various aspects of Bach’s life. On Monday, her concert was called “My End Is My Beginning,” a way to announce that, once again, she was taking samples from the master’s ever-changing experiences: a Prelude and Fugue from when he was a precocious child; a Fantasia from his schoolboy days; a Chorale Prelude from his young manhood period; his Concerto in A Minor, “after Antonio Vivaldi,” inspired by a composer whose music he greatly admired; a set of six “Catechism Chorales” taken from Bach’s maturity, and — to conclude — the brilliant Fugue in E-Flat Major, BWV 552, surely an ultimate test of an organist’s skills.
To show how seriously Fishell thought about the music she performed, take these two sentences about the final Fugue from her program notes: “The chorale tune is set simply in the pedal. . Overhead, the music soars like an airplane flying through patches of turbulence and smooth air, alternately bouncing around in jagged leaps and sliding smoothly in curving scale passages, until safely arriving at home in a simple brief D major triad.”
And to show her reverence for Bach, to help us understand why she took this amazing musical journey, consider this passage from her notes: “Truly, Sebastian Bach’s music is a gift for all, throughout time and space — one to be savored, given away freely and not jealously hoarded, created anew, at times wrestled with, torn apart, played with and not just enshrined, questioned, proclaimed, whispered, and, most of all, loved.”
We’ve witnessed an extraordinary achievement. For sure, we’ll be hearing more by and about Bach from a zealot in our midst, Janette Fishell.
© Herald Times 2013