Bach is back!

Annual Bach festival returning to St. Peter’s by-the-Sea

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On Sunday, March 20, the Island Symphony Orchestra and St. Peter’s by-the-Sea Episcopal Church will present the Bach Festival featuring the winners of the Lillian and Maurice Barbash J.S. Bach Competition, Lun Li and Tianyou Ma.

The annual Bach festival was founded in 2019 by the children of Lillian and Maurice Barbash. The competition honors the couple for their lifelong support of the arts on Long Island. The Barbashes served together on the boards of the South Shore Symphony and the Suffolk Symphony in the 1960s. In 1979 ,they helped start the Long Island Philharmonic and in 1976, Lillian founded the Islip Arts Council and led the council for 31 years. Maurice died in 2013 and Lillian died in 2020. The competition is for string players ages 16 to 30. Entrants must perform works by Bach for unaccompanied string instrument. Both modern and baroque bowed instruments are eligible. The winner of the competition is awarded $5,000.

This year, two winners were selected: Lun Li and Tianyou Ma. Ma, a 21-year-old violinist, is from Shenzhen, China, and began playing at the age of 3. He has studied at the Elder Conservatorium in Adelaide, the Yehudi Menuhin School, and is currently a student at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, where he studies with Pamela Frank and Shmuel Ashkenan. In 2018, Ma was the top prize winner in the Menuhin Violin Competition. Ma said he was excited to get to share this experience with Li, a friend that he knows from the Curtis Institute, where they overlapped for two years.

Li is a 25-year-old violinist is from Shanghai, China. Li recently graduated from the Curtis Institute of Music with a bachelor’s degree. Li won the 2021 Young Concert Artists International Audition and has participated in masterclasses with Arnold Steinhardt, Midori Goto and Pierre Amoyal. He is currently pursuing a master’s degree at Juilliard.

Li said he is excited to perform with Ma and that the night before the final round of the competition, he and Ma ran through their repertoire with each other and commented and encouraged each other. As joint winners, both Ma and Li received $5,000 awards.

Eric Stewart, the conductor of the Island Symphony Orchestra, said he is so excited to hear the two winners play. He had previously heard them play during the final round of the competition.

“I can’t overstate how excited I am,” Stewart said. “Hearing them play was stunning… the way they drew the pieces to life that they played. It was not just that they had a complete command of the pieces from a technical perspective, but they truly conveyed in a way that was personal to both of them. It was really just astonishing to watch.”

Stewart, who has been the conductor of the orchestra since 2018, said the group is excited to put on a concert. The all-volunteer group meets once a week and usually prepares for five to eight weeks before a performance. During the pandemic, the orchestra was sidelined and instead of performances turned to an innovative idea: interviewing accomplished musicians for members to watch.

On March 20, however, the group will be playing together at St. Peter’s by-the-Sea. Mark Engelhardt, the church’s associate for administration, liturgy and music, said the group uses the church as a rehearsal space and that he is thrilled that the festival is back. Due to the pandemic, this is only the second Bach Festival. Engelhardt noted that the church has great acoustics, which makes for a great listening experience for the audience.

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