Bach at Leipzig

That’s music by Johann Christoph Graupner, an eighteenth century organist and kapellmeister. Graupner was just one of many candidates for the the prestigious post of organist at the Thomaskirche in Leipzig, a job that went to Johann Sebastian Bach.

There was fierce competition among worthy candidates to fill the position. In addition to Bach and Graupner, the Johanns were represented by Johann Martin Steinfdorf and Johann Friedrich Fasch. Georgs were also prominent in the running with Georg Friedrich Kauffman, Georg Lenck, Georg Balthasar Schott and Georg Phillip Telemann

Itamar Moses’ new play at the Bloomington Playwrights Project, “Bach at Leipzig,” brings these characters to life in well crafted, involving and very funny evening of theatre in a production directed by Mike Price.

Moses’ characters range from the darkly mysterious Telemann of Ernest Bernhardt through the thoughtfully avuncular Fasch of S.G. Stratigos, the deviously inventive Lenck of Mark McIntylre, the stolid passion of Frank Buczolich as Graupner, on to the babbling of Phil Kasper as Steindorf, the adolescent angst of Justin Roberston as Schott, and the block-headed innocence of Hal Kibbey as Kauffman.

“Bach at Leipzig” is rooted in history but it’s trunk branches and leaves are all creations of Itamar Moses. As the candidates vie for position alliances are forged, intrigues are planned, pockets are picked, letters are forged, competitors are drugged, kidnapping is arranged, and even assassination is contemplated. Throughout the play wild flights of language filled with mock poetry and puns abound. In addition to the on-stage action, the audience gets insights into each of the characters in monologues, as they narrate portions of their letters home from the fray.

It did seem to me a weakness of “Bach at Leipzig” that after the competition is decided and the tension has been drained, Moses’ was too much in love with his characters. The play continued with a thoughtful wrapping up of each of the competitors’ lives when it might have ended on a dramatic high note.

A wonderful feature of the production is the drama and flexibility of live organ music. Jan Van Horn and Dianna Davis of A-Chord Music alternate at the keyboard. Janice Clevenger’s costumes were all of a piece with a period flavor and yet with detail and color distinguished each character.

Itamar Moses’ “Bach at Leipzig” plays Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings, and Sunday afternoons through the twenty-fifth. There will be a special afternoon performance on Monday, May the 26th , as a featured part of the Bloomington Early Music Festival.

George Walker

After completing an M.A.T. degree in English at Indiana University, George Walker began announcing for WFIU in 1967. Along with regularly hosting classical music shows, he interviews artists and reviews plays and operas.

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