Carmel Bach Festival

1999 – 2019
Copyright © 2023 CBH
Next 1K gifBack 1K gif

Americas map: Carmel 11K jpeg
Point Lobos 77K jpeg
Point Lobos

Every northern hemisphere summer, musicians and audience gather in the picturesque town of Carmel-by-the-sea on the Monterey Peninsula, about two and a half hour’s drive south of San Francisco, for the Carmel Bach Festival.

The world-famous Pebble Beach Golf Courses are a mile or two north, and the natural beauty of Point Lobos—described by landscape artist Francis McComas as “the greatest meeting of land and water in the world”—is a few miles south following Highway 1 along the coast through Big Sur to Los Angeles.

The town of Carmel itself was settled in the early 1900s as a Bohemian artist community. Remnants of this quaint beginning remain—there are no footpaths or street lighting, and houses don’t have numbers so they must be described like “Dolores 2 NE 12th”.

2019 marked the 82nd year of the Carmel Bach Festival, and the twenty-first I was asked to oversee the preparation of all the early keyboard instruments for two intensive weeks of rehearsals followed by the two-week and a day performance season. I haven’t always been the only Australian in Carmel: The orchestra was led by Elizabeth Wallfisch for more than fifteen years to 2010, and Sally-Anne Russell from Adelaide was mezzo-soprano soloist here for several years.

More than a month out of every year represents a fair slab of time for anyone. As Carmel turned into sort of a second home for me, in 2004 I decided I should write a bit about what happens here and what I do here: In spite of its longevity, the Carmel Bach Festival is not so well known outside of the United States.

St Matthew Passion rehearsal 66K jpeg
Rehearsal underway in 2004 for the
St Matthew Passion
in the newly-rebuilt Sunset Center Theater

The Sunset Community Center is the focus of the Bach Festival. The city spent USD23 million and several years on the rebuild of the old grammar school hall which had been associated with the Bach Festival from its inception, and we moved into the “new” venue in 2004. The facility is shared by the Monterey Symphony and Carmel Music Society throughout the year, and has the latest in high-tech adjustable acoustic enhancement (LARES—Lexicon Acoustic Reinforcement and Enhancement System) to tweak the ambience of what used to be a hall not terribly well-suited for classical music performance at all.

The format of the Festival program has become well-established over the years, but each year sees its own minor variations. In 2009, the performance season was reduced from three weeks to two. Monday night has always been an opportunity to hear the Festival Strings on original instruments. Much—but not all—of the Festival is performed on modern instruments at A440. Wednesday has traditionally been a Founders’ Memorial Concert in the San Carlos Borroméo de Carmelo Mission and after a break, we returned there in 2013 on completion of the Mission’s roof restoration.

Carmel Mission 48K jpeg
Sunset over the 18th-century Spanish Carmel Mission Basilica

This base program for the evening concerts repeats for the next two weeks, so each main program is performed twice. The Saturday of the final weekend is a celebratory Best of the Fest program, with highlights from the entire program and introduced by Music Director and Conductor, from 2011 onwards Paul Goodwin.

All Saints’ Episcopal Church was the established venue for the Intermezzo Recital Series, with a wide variety of programs held early afternoons every weekday. In 2007 many of these moved to a new venue closer to the centre of Carmel, the Methodist Church of the Wayfarer. (We are now back in All Saints’, but sometimes still use Wayfarer as a rehearsal venue.) Several of these early afternoon performances require an appropriate harpsichord, and occasionally organ in addition. Some years, one or more have used fortepiano. The Saturday recital is usually keyboard free and held in the late morning at Sunset Center Theater. Again, this series of daytime recitals repeats to cover the whole season.

To exploit the space gained in the Sunset Center rebuild, 2004 saw the establishment of the Foyer Recitals. Based around theorbo and now devized by Daniel Swenberg, these morning programs often repeat for the duration of the festival. Keyboard crept into this ideal space for the first time in 2009.

As if that wasn’t enough, there are also different Twilight and Candlelight programs—several requiring early keyboard most years—in various venues including the Church in the Forest at Stevenson School in nearby Pebble Beach, and the wonderful acoustics of the first cathedral in California, San Carlos Borroméo de Monterey.

Carey Beebe tuning in the Carmel Mission 73K jpeg
Tuning the continuo organ for a 2006 performance
in the Carmel Mission

Running concurrently with all this is the Adams Vocal Master Class. In the final week there is always a concert of the four “VBAs”—the young professional singers who were chosen to study under Michael Beattie and the vocal soloists in this master class founded by David Gordon in 1984 to honor the late Virginia Best Adams.

There are also a few family concerts, performance panels and outreach performances as well—some requiring early keyboards each year. Fortunately, each year there are normally at least some other concerts which don’t require my direct intervention: The Monday morning solo Bach’s Organ Music with principal keyboardist Andy Arthur at the Mission, for example.

Many of the concerts are recorded for delayed broadcast on KUSP 88.9FM in Santa Cruz.

Carey in Carmel 2006 66K jpeg
“…the raddest harpsichord technician on earth!”
View from my front yard to Carmel River Beach in 2006,
ready to use my official Festival vehicle on a rare morning off

The actual early keyboard instruments we use at the Festival are all sourced from owners in the Bay Area, packed and transported here by my dearest friend and colleague Kevin Fryer, who keeps reminding me that he was the keyboard technician here for nine years from 1990 until my first summer in 1999 when I was just asked to fill in for him: Neither of us expected at the time that it would become a permanent arrangement! A few years ago, though, I exceeded Kevin’s term, so perhaps the job truly become mine.

The keyboards are chosen in consultation with the performers to match their repertoire as closely as possible. We usually have four or five harpsichords, a fortepiano or three, and two organs—the latter essential to cover the large liturgical component of each Festival, and especially the double orchestra used in the years we do the St Matthew Passion. All the harpsichords and organs are fortunately equipped with transposing keyboards. In some years we have had up to three fortepianos for me to look after. And the modern piano puts in a cameo appearance at one or two performances—with its own modern piano tuner Jim Christopher driving down from San Mateo.

There is a hectic schedule with moves from venue to venue handled by the unionized crew under the supervizion of the Production Manager Doug Mueller. The frenetic activity of the initial fortnight of rehearsals is only exceeded by the mayhem of Opening Week where recitals for the next day often have their required dress rehearsal immediately after the current day’s first performance. I seem to spend my waking time tuning then biking from one venue to the next. (Mari Lynch from Bicycling Monterey is a keen follower, and liked to blog about me each July.) When there’s a moment of respite, I can try to keep up to date with eMail using the wifi backstage.

It’s no California summer beach holiday for me, and it’s not just tuning. Over the Festival period, there’s always the odd maintenance to perform on the keyboards as well. One of my first priorities after arrival is to work through the instruments, ensuring each is in top condition for the demands of the season. Often there are weak lead tuning rolls on the open wooden pipes of the organs to remake so their tuning will stay where put. Harpsichord strings break from time to time, as do older quills on some instruments with such intensity of use. It’s always been my policy to have all the early keyboard instruments returned clean and in better condition than they arrived.

All the keyboards in the 2010 Carmel Bach Festival 56K jpeg
All the keyboards used in the 2010 Festival lined up on the Sunset Center stage for the Keyboard Spectacular

The keyboardists I’ve been delighted to work regularly with in Carmel include Andrew Arthur, Michael Beattie, Keenan Boswell, David Breitman, John Butt, Holly Chatham, Scott Dettra, Scott Allen Jarrett, James Kennerley, Daniel Lockert, Dongsok Shin, Michael Sponseller, Avi Stein, Yuko Tanaka and Gwendolyn Toth. The bios of all the musicians performing on any year can be found on the Carmel Bach Festival website.

Each year, the Festival evolves. In 2009, I was invited to write a feature article for the program book on my activities here. 2010 was the final year of both Bruno Weil and Libby Wallfisch: 2011 saw the inaugural season of our new Music Director and Conductor Paul Goodwin, and Concertmaster Peter Hanson. The most number of tunings I’ve ever had to do on a single day (July 18, 2011) was 14. (Just for fun, for several years I kept a running total on the pop-up Tune-o-meter page.) Not including private functions, I tuned for 40 public performances in Carmel in 2006. As several programs required two or even three keyboard instruments, my tunings made a mammoth total of 222 over the five week period that year, including rehearsals. Perhaps the 2009 Festival was the busiest, though, with a daily average of 6.69 tunings: I can safely say I know of no other festival quite like this in the world…

Carey Beebe

  Sound 1K gif Interview 2007
KUSP’s Roger Emanuels interviewing Carey Beebe at the 2007 Carmel Bach Festival.
Movie thumb 2K jpeg Movie 1K gif 2011 Keyboard Spectacular
A quick widescreen stroll around the Sunset Center stage looking at all the early keyboard instruments used during the two week concert season of the 2011 Carmel Bach Festival.
YouTube logo 2K gif
Movie thumb 2K jpeg Movie 1K gif 2010 Keyboard Spectacular
A wander around the Sunset Center stage looking at all the keyboard instruments used during the two week concert season of the 2010 Carmel Bach Festival.
YouTube logo 2K gif
Movie thumb 3K jpeg Movie 1K gif 2009 Keyboard Spectacular
A lineup on the Sunset Center stage of all the keyboard instruments used during the two week concert season of the 2009 Carmel Bach Festival.
YouTube logo 2K gif
Movie thumb 3K jpeg Movie 1K gif 2008 Keyboard Spectacular
A lineup on the Sunset Center stage of most of the keyboard instruments used during the three week concert season of the 2008 Carmel Bach Festival.
YouTube logo 2K gif
Movie thumb 2K jpeg Movie 1K gif Tower Music @ the Mission
The pagentry of the candlelit banner parade at San Carlos Borroméo de Carmelo Mission, 2008 Carmel Bach Festival.
YouTube logo 2K gif
Movie thumb 3K jpeg Movie 1K gif Tower Music @ the Mission II
For several decades, patrons arriving at evening concerts of the Carmel Bach Festival have been greeted by brass music.
YouTube logo 2K gif
Movie thumb 2K jpeg Movie 1K gif Preview of Intermezzo Number 1 — A short portrait
Preview of Douglas Mueller’s short documentary on Carey Beebe tuning at the Carmel Bach Festival.
Movie thumb 2K jpeg   Intermezzo Number 1 — A short portrait of Carey Beebe
Douglas Mueller’s short documentary on Carey Beebe tuning at the Carmel Bach Festival, as shown at the 2010 Nashville Film Festival and the 2011 Ozark Foothills Film Festival.
Movie thumb 3K jpeg Movie 1K gif Carmel Bach Festival 2001
The Sunset Center has been the primary venue for the Carmel Bach Festival for decades but with a major renovation taking place, the 2001 Carmel Bach Festival had to find a new auditorium. The main building at the Naval Post Graduate School in Monterey, which was once a luxury hotel, was chosen for the 2001 Carmel Bach Festival. In this story we hear what some people, Jesse Read, musician, Carey Beebe, harpsichord maker and tuner, have to say about how the change in venue affects the sound, the audience, and the musicians. Hear it for yourself in a couple of short excerpts from the program.
Movie thumb 2K jpeg Movie 1K gif An interview with Carey Beebe
Filmed at the 2000 Carmel Bach Festival by Endorphin Productions. Carey Beebe has a fascinating and unusual occupation. He constructs harpsichords and travels the world to events like the Carmel Bach Festival to maintain and tune harpsichords. He tells us about the construction and peculiarities of these instruments as we discover the beauty of the harpsichord.

Carmel Bach Festival logo 7K Jpeg

2023 marks my return to Carmel Bach Festival following the COVID-19 pandemic.

Full details of the Festival can eventually be found on the official Carmel Bach Festival web site.

CBH Icon 1K gif Early Keyboard Instrument Gallery
CBH Icon 1K gif Sketches
CBH Icon 1K gif #TinyBach
CBH Icon 1K gif Projects index
CBH Icon 1K gif Site overview
CBH Icon 1K gif Harpsichords Australia Home Page