The vibrancy of the St. Louis arts community is due, in part, to the variety of artistic disciplines and the willingness of arts organizations to collaborate in new or unexpected ways. Now in its 77th season as St. Louis’ oldest continuous chorus, the Bach Society of Saint Louis is embracing that spirit of collaboration with the 2018 St. Louis Bach Festival, funded by the Arts and Education Council (A&E) through a PNC Program grant.

“Bach didn’t only write his major works. He also wrote smaller, more intimate pieces for smaller venues,” explained Executive Director Melissa Payton. “Our purpose of the festival is to showcase all these works in new and different ways.”

Those smaller venues hosting the 2018 festival events range from Jazz St. Louis (an A&E grantee) to the Saint Louis Art Museum to Ritenour High School. “Some people don’t want to go to concerts in church settings. That small step of getting people into environments that aren’t typical for the Bach Society is big. It gives audiences a chance to realize, ‘This is really cool. I can accept this; I can be inspired by this. I can see this in a new and different way,” said Payton.

After a 20 year hiatus, Bach Society relaunched the festival in 2017 with great success. Its Spiritual Bach concert, featuring soprano Marlissa Hudson and organist Marvin Mills, juxtaposed Bach with African-American spirituals.

“We had over 300 people at that concert. We were worried about whether our core audience would support this, but they did and we also attracted all these new audiences,” remembered Payton. “It was crazy and amazing.”

This year, the festival will pair Bach with live painting and dance through collaborations with the Saint Louis Art Museum and The Big Muddy Dance Company (an A&E grantee), but it will also mash up Bach and jazz.

“Bach won awards for his improvisation, primarily on the organ,” explained Payton of the unexpected pairing. “Jazz is a lot about improvisation.”

To that end, the festival will include a concert at Jazz St. Louis, featuring guitarist Steve Schenkel, pianist Kim Portnoy and vocalist Erin Bode, and two educational concerts at First Baptist Church of Ferguson and The Ethical Society of Saint Louis in an effort to engage younger audiences, too.

“These students don’t get as much exposure to classical music as maybe they could. Giving them another angle of something they already love — music — and giving them access to these amazing musicians, it’s really eye opening for them,” Payton said. “It gives them a new door to open.”

The 2018 Bach Festival is an opportunity for St. Louisans of all ages and backgrounds, regardless of familiarity with the legendary composer, to try something new and to be inspired by a new artistic experience.

The 2018 Bach Festival runs through April 28, featuring both free and ticketed events. Check out the discounts available to A&E ARTS Card members here. Young Friends of the Arts members get a special discount at Bach & Jazz on April 24