Berkshire Eagle Preview 2-12-2012

TO BACH THROUGH YOGA  

–By Andrew L. Pincus for The Berkshire Eagle  2/11/2012

PITTSFIELD – Bach and yoga offer different avenues to spiritual experience. Organist Christa Rakich combines them.

Joined by soprano Miranda Bergmeier, Rakich will perform a recital Sunday afternoon for the Berkshire Bach Society. It will be a Berkshire debut for Rakich as an organist, but not as a devotee of yoga. Since 1998, she has found a “spiritual home” at the Kripalu Center in Lenox, where she trained to become a yoga teacher.

Yoga has affected her playing “quite profoundly,” she says.

“It’s added depth and breadth, and it’s allowed me to approach the music with a sense of calmness and openness. You know, it can be kind of difficult to tell whether that’s the result of yoga or the result of aging, but I find that my approach to performance especially involves a lot of deep breathing and focus and joy.”

Physical flexibility is another benefit. Rakich recalls having had yoga teacher friends come up to her after concerts and ask about her footwork at the organ pedals: “Were those some asanas you were doing up there?”

The program, titled “The Inner World of Feeling: Sense and Sensibility in the Music of J.S. Bach,” will take place at 4 Sunday in St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church. Anticipating the season, it will feature the Passiontide (Lenten) and Easter sections of the “Little Organ Book,” along with other Bach selections.

Bach’s organ book, Rakich points out, is organized by liturgical year, with chorale preludes – so called because they introduce hymn tunes to be sung by a congregation – for Advent, Christmas, Easter and other seasons. To introduce each of the 13 selections to be performed, Bergmeier will sing a sample of the hymn on which it is based.

Bach “was a church musician and the church, of course, had standard hymns that were sung for specified occasions – Christmas carols, Lenten hymns, etc. – just as we do today,” Rakich said from her home in Bloomfield, Conn. “So these were melodies that would have been very familiar to any churchgoer, and in the 18th century, of course, everyone was a churchgoer.”

One of the other works to be performed in Bach’s “Piece d’Orgue,” his only work titled in French, Rakich said.

Why French? “It’s just a mystery,” she said. “He may just have been in a French mood that day.”

Rakich, who was co-chair of the organ department at New England Conservatory in Boston until it was recently shut down, has done similar programs with other singers. When the Bach society requested a concert with a singer here, she chose Bergmeier. The two women had just performed a different program at the Big Moose Bach Festival in Berlin, N.H., where Bergmeier lives, and Rakich found her partner’s “gorgeous voice” just right for baroque music.

After earning a master’s degree at the conservatory, Rakich taught there for several years. She left to serve on the faculties of Westminster Choir College and the University of Connecticut, as assistant university organist at Harvard, and as artist-in-residence at the University of Pennsylvania. She returned to the conservatory in 2003. She teaches Kripalu yoga in Connecticut.

Among her recordings is “Deferred Voices,” a collection of organ music by women composers. The selections include the Prelude in F by Fanny Mendelssohn, Felix’s older sister, and a “Prelude on an Old Folk Tune” by the eminent Bostonian Amy Beach, plus pieces by less-known figures.

(The possibly apocryphal story goes, Rakich recalled, that Felix was supposed to write a processional for Fanny’s wedding to painter Wilhelm Hensel, but procrastinated. So Fanny took matters in hand and wrote the Prelude in F as her own wedding march.)

A February organ concert is an annual event for the Bach society. It is supported by the Berkshire chapter of the American Guild of Organists.

In the program announcement, Rakich promises: “The program paints an aural picture of Bach’s world and faith, highlighting the personal drama of his music, as it depicts profound joy and deepest sorrow.”