The 2023 Bach Bowl was played at the Schwartz Center in Atlanta. (ECMSA)

2023 Bach Bowl: ECMSA tackles Goldberg Variations for a winning play

Emory Chamber Music Society of atlanta
February 12, 2023
Schwartz Center for Performing Arts
Atlanta, GA
William Ransom, piano; Julie Coucheron, piano; Sergio Gallo, piano; Robert Henry, piano; Elizabeth Pridgen, piano; Brent Runnels, piano; Alexander Wasserman, piano; Geoffrey Haydon, jazz piano; Peter Marshall, harpsichord; Jens Korndörfer, organ; John Easter, portative organ; Emily Daggett Smith, violin; Yinzi Kong, viola; Guang Wang, cello; Josh Bynum, trombone; Kevin Lyons, trumpet; James Naigus, horn; members of the Glenn Memorial Chancel Choir.

Johann Sebastian Bach: Goldberg Variations, BWV 988

Mark Gresham | 15 FEB 2023

The Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles football teams squared off on Sunday evening for Super Bowl 57 at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, where the local kickoff time was 4:30 p.m. For us in Atlanta, two time zones east, the game started at 6:30 p.m. ET. That allowed plenty of time for finding some other kind of pregame activity than watching talking heads on the television screen. And it’s always at that time, every year.

Hence the origins of the annual Bach Bowl, presented by Emory Chamber Music Society of Atlanta. The concert starts at 4:00 p.m. each Superbowl Sunday and ends in plenty of time for the audience to get home to watch the Superbowl.


J.S. Bach with football

Bach, ready for game day.

This year, the Bach Bowl focused on the Goldberg Variations, BWV 988, Johann Sebastian Bach’s famous keyboard composition comprised of an aria played at the beginning and end and a set of 30 variations between them; 32 sections total, each composed over a singular 32-bar bass line.

But rather than one keyboardist, ECMSA’s approach on Sunday involved a large team of performers and a variety of means.

Eight pianists (one of them jazz piano), two organists (one portative), one harpsichordist, a string trio, a brass trio, and a small vocal ensemble all took turns performing the variations in a round-robin event.

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The variety of performers and the several transcriptions outside the realm of keyboards demonstrated one well-known fact: the relative indestructibility of Bach’s music. It not only stands up well across a range of interpretations and musical abilities but also seems to flourish.

More than anything, it was fun to bring together a diverse group of musicians to share and celebrate Bach’s music in a team sporting event like this one.


About the author:
Mark Gresham is publisher and principal writer of EarRelevant. He began writing as a music journalist over 30 years ago, but has been a composer of music much longer than that. He was the winner of an ASCAP/Deems Taylor Award for music journalism in 2003.

Read more by Mark Gresham.
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