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Bachtoberfest will transport crowd to 18th century

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Canadian Mennonite University's Janet Brenneman rehearses with the alumni choir.

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Canadian Mennonite University's Janet Brenneman rehearses with the alumni choir.

It's not always easy to keep coming up with different themes for concerts, recitals and events. Two musical organizations in the city are smartly borrowing from two of October's most beloved traditions -- Halloween and Oktoberfest.

How do they incorporate concert repertoire into these events that don't usually bring music to mind?

The successful five-year old Professor Bach Project, a brainchild of singers and voice teachers Rose van der Hooft and Mel Braun, will be presenting Bachtoberfest: An Evening in Leipzig on Saturday. They've selected some favourite sacred and secular works by Bach, but have added an unusual twist by throwing in some "Breezy Bach," reminiscent of the Swingle Singers' jazzy takes on Bach pieces, and even some mouth percussion la Bobby McFerrin.

Sorry, there is no beer involved.

The concert is held in partnership with the Canadian Mennonite University and begins (more on that later) in CMU's Laudamus Hall, 500 Shaftesbury Blvd., at 7:30 p.m.

"We've been working on this since the start of the school year. We really hit the ground running," said van der Hooft, voice instructor at CMU and the faculty of music at the University of Manitoba.

The project is unique in its mentorship aspect, with both professional and student musicians collaborating in Bachtoberfest. As well this year, a special 15-member alumni choir has been formed and will be under the direction of Dr. Janet Brenneman, dean of CMU's school of music.

"We look for singers who would benefit from this opportunity," said van her Hooft about the selection process. "We approach them and the response is always enthusiastic. There is a different energy and real excitement in getting professionals and students together."

One might think this would be on the part of the students in particular, but van der Hooft noted that's not the case.

"The pros are just as excited. The students bring a freshness and energy," she said.

The evening is meant to transport listeners to 18th-century Germany. Bach's Cantata BWV 78 Jesu der du meine Seele will be presented in its liturgical setting and include a psalm reading by Bach expert and musicology professor Dietrich Bartel, who will also give some background about the setting. Featured soloists include tenor Terence Meirau and baritone Mel Braun with music provided by a group of 10 instrumentalists and Verna Wiebe on organ.

As was customary upon leaving the Thomaskirche, the church in Leipzig where Bach worked and is buried, the audience and musicians will then retire to Zimmermann's Kaffeehaus (in this case, CMU's Great Hall) for more music and coffee and desserts (included in the ticket price).

Braun conducts a small ensemble in an excerpt from the secular cantata, Hercules at the Crossroads, in the second part of the program, which is decidedly more eclectic. Singers are van der Hooft, mezzo-soprano and soprano Jami Reimer and Anna Bigland-Pritchard. Violinist Rachel Enns will perform a solo work and the chamber choir will switch gears for some well-known Bach numbers including Air on the G String in Breezy Bach style. Baritone Matthew Baron will offer up a twist on some of the Goldberg Variations with beat-boxing interpretations.

So, if you like Bach, this is the evening for you. Admission is $10 or $5 for CMU students.

And for something completely different, head down to the Manitoba Conservatory of Music and Arts for a Halloween lunchtime concert Friday at noon. Voice teacher and tenor Dr. Martin Wilson will do his best to scare you with excerpts from popular musical theatre shows.

"I've chosen pieces that play up the Halloween theme. I'll sing songs from Phantom of the Opera, Jekyll and Hyde, The Secret Garden and some Sondheim shows, Sweeney Todd and Company, as a middle-aged man with commitment issues. That could be the scariest of all," Wilson said with a laugh.

Also planned is a number from Jane Eyre, right after Rochester has been blinded.

"It has lots of pathos," Wilson explained.

Accompanying him will be conservatory colleague, pianist Alina Havyryluk, and Wilson will provide some background about each show between numbers.

The concert will last approximately 45 minutes and is free. Audience members are welcome to bring their lunches. The MCMA is on the second floor at 211 Bannatyne Ave. You can call 204-943-6090 for more information.

gwenda.nemerofsky@shaw.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 23, 2013 D3

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Updated on Wednesday, October 23, 2013 at 8:51 AM CDT: adds photo

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