Now in its 27th season, the Bach Week Festival is the best such celebration outside of Leipzig, Germany, where Bach served for nearly three decades as director of music at Thomaskirche. From the start it’s been held at Saint Luke’s in Evanston, and due to the modest size of the church’s hall the festival focuses on pieces scored for small groups: cantatas, concertos, sonatas, and the like, a pool of several hundred. Every year Saint Luke’s kapellmeister, Richard Webster–also Bach Week’s director since its second year, when he took over from founder and organist Karel Paukert–staffs an ad hoc chamber orchestra with musicians from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Lyric Opera, and other local professional groups; for choral personnel he relies on his church’s Girls Choir and Adult Schola and its Choir of Men and Boys, both outstanding groups that have toured widely in the States and England. As a conductor Webster blends instruments and voices with finesse, coaxing coherent readings of even the most daunting pieces from his motley crew. This year’s festival, which commemorates the 250th anniversary of Bach’s death, spans four concerts over two Fridays and two Sundays, as well as a recital after each Friday’s show. Each concert begins with a Bach piece showcasing Saint Luke’s restored 3,800-pipe organ, built in 1922; on the first Friday, for example, Christine Kraemer will perform his Fantasy and Fugue in G Minor. Since 1982 the festival’s programs have included works by contemporaries or near contemporaries of Bach and by later composers he influenced: this Friday’s concert also features a Telemann piece and Vivaldi’s Concerto in C–which among other things calls for two recorders, two mandolins, two basset horns, two theorbos, and two violins (hence its nickname, “Noah’s Ark”)–alongside one of the Brandenburg Concertos and another Bach for four harpsichords, a lively curiosity that for obvious reasons rarely gets performed these days. Though the first Sunday program opens with a Bach trio sonata for organ, its highlight is Handel’s stirring anthem The Lord Is My Light, which will feature a choir of 64. For the recitals some of the area’s finest violinists–Stefan Hersh, Blair Milton, Mathias Tacke–will play three of Bach’s sonatas and a partita, solo or accompanied by harpsichord. See the Classical listings or visit for a full schedule. Friday, May 5, and next Friday, May 12, 8 PM, and Sunday, May 7, and next Sunday, May 14, 7 PM, Parish Church of St. Luke, 939 Hinman, Evanston; 847-236-0452. TED SHEN

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Wm. Burlingham.