Called “Baroque at the Beach,” the final concert of Bach, Before & Beyond at Old Whalers’ Church on Sunday, May 19, does indeed nod to the sea, because this year, Old Whalers’ is celebrating its 175th anniversary. Of course, local history buffs know that a “house of public worship” has always served Sag Harbor residents, but it was only in May 1844 that the noted architect Minard Lafever finished building the iconic Egyptian Revival (cum Greek-style elements) church on Union Street, 185-foot-high steeple and all — though the three-sectioned decorated tower fell in the Hurricane of 1938.
Designated a National Historic Landmark in 1994, Old Whalers’, also known as the First Presbyterian Church of Sag Harbor, dedicated to serving community interests and needs, seems an ideal place to bring together the arts, past and present. The newly renovated organ, the oldest in a church on Long Island, boasts famous lineage, and the recent restoration of the sanctuary includes a knock-out trompe l’oeil wall behind the altar.
It turns out, as musicians report, that the interior space is great for chamber music, as the May 19 program will demonstrate, says Walter Klauss, the music director at the church and the founder of BBB, “Sag Harbor’s only year-round classical music series.”
Featuring works by George Frideric Handel, born the same year as Bach (1685), the program shows why Handel, who lived in London for more than a dozen years, was such a favorite. His funeral, a massive state affair, drew over 3000 attendees. Though known primarily for oratorios and Italian operas (and of course for “Messiah”), Handel was an incredibly prolific and diverse composer who also wrote arias scored for voice and accompanying instruments.
At its May 19 concert, BBB will showcase a couple of those arias, sung by soprano Sharla Nafziger, an award-winning performing and recording artist who has appeared with major symphony orchestras, choral societies, and festivals around the country. Nafziger, who lives with her husband and young children in Rye, NY, notes, incidentally, that her adorable Havenese puppy Rocco “enjoys listening to me practice, though my cat Cha Cha doesn’t really care.” Regardless, music lovers besides Rocco are in for a treat.
In addition to Nafziger, BBB will also feature Terry Keevil. A graduate of Stony Brook University, Keevil studied music as both a graduate and undergraduate, and lives near the university, where he teaches oboe. He is a member of North Shore Pro Musica, founded in 1980, which aims to “provide innovative performances in various settings, including schools and other community facilities.”
Although Keevil is associated with the oboe (and the English horn), on May 19 he will introduce an instrument that won his heart 20 years ago, and that most people know nothing about: the duduk (pronounced du-DOOK), for which he has composed solo music.
The duduk, which traces its origins to ancient Armenia, is a soft-toned double-reed woodwind made of apricot wood, and proclaimed in 2005 by UNESCO “a masterpiece of the Intangible Heritage of Humanity.” Keevil says he fell in love with its “amazingly beautiful sound” when he heard it played by the great duduk master Djivan Gasparian.
All in all, BBB promises to be a fabulous program, says Klauss, who is a professional organist as well as choir director. In addition to offering a performance of Bach’s “Wedding Cantata,” one of Bach’s few secular cantatas and one eminently suited to the season of spring, love, and renewal, the program includes Tomaso Giovanni Albinoni’s “Oboe Concerto in D Minor,” the most famous of his 12 concertos, and Handel’s “Organ Concerto in F,” composed for organ and orchestras, that in his day often served as an attractive interlude for his oratorios.
Assisting the soloists will be a chamber orchestra of 10 string players, oboe, harpsichord, and organ.
A former long-term Minister of Music at All Souls Unitarian Church in Manhattan, Maestro Klauss noted that for some years toward the end of his life, Herman Melville — who celebrates his bicentennial this year and is the considered the literary patron saint of whaling — was a member of All Souls.
BBB will take place on Sunday at 3 PM at Old Whalers Church at 44 Union Street, Sag Harbor. Tickets are $20. For more information, go to www.bachbeforeandbeyond.com.