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Bach's faith a key piece of his music.

Byline: The Register-Guard

Can we listen adequately to the music of Johann Sebastian Bach if we don't share his full religious faith?

That question lies at the heart of a presentation that will be given next week by pianist and music scholar Robert Levin, who, with his wife, Ya-Fei Chuang, will make several appearances at this year's festival.

"Bach has been sometimes called the fifth evangelist," Levin said in a phone interview from his office at Harvard University, where he is a professor of music. "What the lecture is going to seek to do is show how his faith and his worldview and his music are all essentially facets of the same thing."

Illustrating his points at the piano keyboard, Levin will give this year's Hinkle Distinguished Lecture, titled "Theology, Cosmology, and Intellectual Rigor: Bach's Musical World View." It will be at noon July 1 in the Hult's Soreng Theater. Admission is free.

Bach's music is so inextricably linked to his faith that the two cannot be separated, Levin says.

"The sound of the music is so astounding in its revelatory powers that even those who are irreducible atheists cannot help but understand the extraordinary way in which the music opens up the eyes or the ears or the spirit of listeners," he says.

"Bach's towering intellect is put in the service of the messages he sends to us. And those messages are defined, decisively, by his spirituality."

Despite this grounding in religious faith, Bach's music does not lower itself to easy, predictable emotion.

"He is not a composer who employs bathos. He is not a sentimental composer," Levin says.

Levin's own intellect is wide-ranging. In discussing Bach's music, he quickly begins talking about the role of art.

"People think of art as an imitation of life," he says. "Yes, you can certainly say that. But there is another way of looking at art, not to regard it as an imitation of life but as a design for living. It gives us a sense of longing.

"There are moments of overwhelming power to stir our life. Art becomes more of a frame of reference: It's a process of opening up our eyes to what human existence can be."

Levin doesn't just talk the talk.

He and Chuang will perform with cellists David Adorjan and Dane Little and horn player Richard Todd at 7:30 p.m. July 2 in Beall Hall. The program that includes Robert Schumann's Andante and Variations in B-flat and "Carnaval," as well as Johannes Brahms' Sonata for Two Pianos.

The husband-and-wife pianists also will perform in Tuesday night's "Bach and Brahms" concert at 7:30 p.m. in Beall Hall and at the 40th anniversary gala concert at the Hult Center on July 3.

LECTURE

What is the role of faith and intellect in Bach's music?

Who: Robert Levin, concert pianist and Harvard University music professor, talks about "Theology, Cosmology and Intellectual Rigor: Bach's Musical World View."

Where: Hult Center's Soreng Theater, Seventh Avenue and Willamette Street

When: Noon July 1

Admission: Free
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Title Annotation:Arts and Literature
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jun 24, 2010
Words:507
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