Arts News: Bach Aria Soloists Presents Bach Extravaganza

Bach Aria Soloists continues the group’s 20th-anniversary celebration by going back to their origins with “Bach Extravaganza,” an all-Bach program Feb. 22.

When Elizabeth Suh Lane, BAS’ founder/violinist/artistic director, started the group, there were very few established chamber groups in Kansas City. She was a young mother and, having played in orchestras in Europe and the United States, wasn’t really interested in continuing with an orchestra full time. Her husband got a job offer in Kansas City, where she grew up and her parents lived, but what was a classically trained violinist to do?

Suh Lane looked to an experience a few years prior, when she participated in the Bach Aria Festival in New York. Being immersed in Johann Sebastian Bach’s music changed her. When she moved back to Kansas City, she felt that Bach’s cantata repertoire was “undiscovered” here, so that’s where she started.

Around that time, New York’s Bach Aria Group, which performed and organized the festival, was disbanding. She spoke with their violinist, who said, “You most definitely need to do this.”

Suh Lane started out with a Hauskonzert in a private home, a tradition BAS has maintained every season. “It was really appropriate because composers (of the era) performed and shared their own music at home or at cafés, very casually, so that’s where chamber music all began,” said Suh Lane. Quickly, though, they expanded to community concerts as well.

Through the years, as the membership changed, they augmented the repertoire. “We just started expanding and featuring how versatile all the musicians were in the ensemble,” Suh Lane said. “And I love collaborations, and that’s how we started evolving to be where we are now, where we do have the focus on Bach still at the heart of everything, but then we play the composers he inspired, which is pretty much everybody.”

The current roster includes Suh Lane, Elisa Williams Bickers (keyboards), Sarah Tannehill Anderson (voice) and Hannah Collins (cello).

In thinking about this season, “we decided that we wanted to devote one concert of the 20th season to all Bach. Then we tried to think of what we hadn’t done in all these 20 years, and what we hadn’t done was his concerto repertoire.”

Each piece will feature one of the soloists, and they’ll bring in a string quartet to round out the ensemble. The repertoire includes Soprano Cantata 51, as well as some secular arias, and Concerto for Violin in E minor. Other works will feature harpsichord and cello.

They also bring in music historian Michael Marissen, who has written multiple books about Bach, his music and his life, including 2016’s “Bach & God.” (Christoph Wolff, who has participated twice before, was originally scheduled, but his health prevented him from traveling.) Marissen will add insight, stories and commentary during the performance. The variety of repertoire gives him a wide palette. “He is very nice to talk to and knowledgeable and gregarious . . . he’s used to making it accessible, but at the same time is very erudite,” said Suh Lane.

When Suh Lane started the ensemble, she also chose to run it as a non-profit. “I think a lot of people don’t realize how business-minded we have to be (to be freelance). We are all entrepreneurs.”

“I kind of think of it as my middle child. My son was born about a year after I started it, and then I really had to juggle the whole thing,” she said. Her son has just started college. “It all worked out. It was a good time to start the ensemble, even though there were challenges.”

Bach Aria Soloists presents “Bach Extravaganza” at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 22 at Westport Presbyterian Church, 201 Westport Rd. For tickets and more information, www.bachariasoloists.com.

Libby Hanssen

Originally from Indiana, Libby Hanssen covers the performing arts in Kansas City. She is the author of States of Swing: The History of the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra, 2003-2023. Along with degrees in trombone performance, Libby was a Fellow for the NEA Arts Journalism Institute at Columbia University. She maintains the culture bog "Proust Eats a Sandwich."

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