Father Duggan back for Bach at Pa. Sinfonia ‘Winter Vivaldi’
Nothing promises to warm up a cold January afternoon like the return of Father Sean Duggan, whose guest performance of a Bach concerto on piano is a highlight of Pennsylvania Sinfonia Orchestra’s “Winter Vivaldi” concert Jan. 26.
It will be the 14th year that Duggan has come to Bethlehem to perform in what is his only appearance with Sinfonia this season.
“He’s a master pianist who has won two major Bach competitions and he’s also a Benedictine monk, so there is a fascination about him right there,” says Allan Birney, Pennsylvania Sinfonia Orchestra Music Director, adding, “Most priests don’t play concerts.”
Duggan, a monk at St. Joseph Abbey, Covington, La., is an in-demand piano soloist.
He will play J. S. Bach’s “Piano Concerto in A,” BWV 1055 in the concert, 3 p.m. Jan. 26, Wesley Church, Bethlehem.
“He’s our big soloist,” Birney says. “He’s very personable. He just has a way of playing that brings you right into the core of the music.”
Birney says Duggan first played with the Sinfonia in 1999. Then in 2000, for the commemoration of the 250th anniversary of Bach’s death, Duggan performed the complete cycle of Bach’s keyboard works nine times in various American and European cities, including Bethlehem.
For five weeks during summer 2000, Duggan performed the cycle during 15 recitals at Wesley Church to critical acclaim and “standing room only” crowds that totaled more than 5,400.
“By the time he had finished the concerts, he had a big following,” Birney says. “His Bach concerts have been a hit with people ever since.”
Since then, Duggan has returned yearly to Bethlehem to perform solo recitals and as soloist with the Sinfonia. For the annual “Winter Vivaldi” concerts, he performed the complete cycle of Bach’s keyboard concertos over 10 years and began the cycle again in 2017.
Duggan, who received music degrees from Loyola University and Carnegie Mellon University, and a degree in theology from Notre Dame Seminary, taught music, Latin and religion at St. Joseph Seminary College from 1988 to 2001 and was organist and director of music at St. Joseph Abbey.
He won first prize in the Johann Sebastian Bach International Competition for Pianists in Washington, D.C., in 1983 and 1991.
Before he joined the Benedictine order, Duggan was pianist and assistant chorus master for the Pittsburgh Opera Company. He has performed with many orchestras, including the Buffalo, Louisiana and New Mexico Philharmonic Orchestras, Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, Leipzig Baroque Soloists, American Chamber Orchestra and Prague Chamber Orchestra, and chamber music with many groups, including the Shanghai String Quartet.
From 2001-2004, he was visiting professor of piano at the University of Michigan. During 2008, he was also a guest professor of piano at the Eastman School of Music. He is now associate professor of piano at SUNY Fredonia and a faculty member at the Golandsky Institute, Princeton, N.J. He continues to study the Taubman approach with Edna Golandsky in New York City.
For seven years, Duggan was host of “Bach on Sunday,” a weekly program on the New Orleans NPR affiliate radio station. He is recording the complete cycle of Bach’s keyboard music, which will comprise 24 CDs.
The rest of the Jan. 26 “Winter Vivaldi” concert will feature Baroque chamber ensemble music.
Birney says one of the things that make Sinfonia concerts different is that one person per instrument performs:
“Our ensembles go from five members to 12 members, but it is always with one musician playing each part. That way you hear every little detail and it sounds very good and very clear.”
“Winter Vivaldi” concerts feature chamber ensemble performance by principal musicians of the Sinfonia.
The Jan. 26 concert kicks off with a piece by Antonio Vivaldi that the Sinfonia has never performed: “Oboe Concerto in D,” RV 453, featuring Cheryl Bishkoff on oboe.
“This is a really snazzy one,” Birney says.
Next on the program is “Flute Quartet in E minor” by Johann Quantz.
Birney says the piece features a quartet of a violin, viola, cello and flute but the emphasis is on the flute. The featured performer is Robin Kani on flute.
The third piece on the program is Georg Telemann’s “Flauto (Recorder) Concerto in F,” TWV 51:F1.
Birney calls the piece a “brilliant concerto for alto recorder.” Featured on recorder is Rainer Beckmann.
The concert concludes with Duggan’s Bach concerto.
“We try to get as much variety as we can,” says Birney. “We like to have a good mix of composers, some known well and others not known well at all, so there’s always something different. And we always try to put a major Bach piece in each program.”
After the concert, the audience can meet the musicians at a reception.
Tickets: at the door, Wesley Church, 2540 Center St., Bethlehem; PASinfonia.org; 610 434-7811. Tickets for those 62 and older are available. Students are free. A limited number of economy tickets for any age is available for seating in rear rows and must be ordered by phone by the Friday before the concert.