Tianyou Ma steals the show at the Island Symphony Bach Festival

Fourth annual festival a resounding success

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“When a musician plays solo pieces of Bach, it is almost like you are seeing the inside of their musical soul,” shared music director of the Island Symphony Orchestra, Eric Stewart.

Bach’s music lacks strict indications in the music of how it is supposed to be played; this interpretive quality of Bach’s music allows those who listen to understand how the performer interprets classical music and see into their “musical soul.”

Two hundred and seventy-four years since his death, the fourth annual Island Symphony Bach Festival returned to St. Peter’s By-the-Sea Episcopal Church, in Bay Shore, to celebrate Bach’s musical genius and the interpretive quality of his music. The festival was held on Jan. 28 at 2 p.m., and featured the Island Symphony Orchestra, along with two guest soloists: violinist Tianyou Ma and Stephan Garamy, organist.

Indeed, at the Bach Festival, all attendees were blown away as guest soloist and esteemed violinist Tianyou Ma bared his musical soul during his performance of J.S. Bach’s Violin Sonata No. 3 in C Major, BWV 1005. In listening to his performance, you feel how alive the music really was, giving you a sense of the emotions that Bach may have been feeling, and the way he may have thought about how the music interacts with human beings. Despite the complexity and intricacies of Bach’s music, Ma’s performance exhibited an undeniable humanity to it, which fascinated and dazzled the audience.

“I absolutely love all of his music. Every day when I play Bach, I don’t get tired. When I practice Bach, I don’t get tired or frustrated; I just enjoy working on it,” expressed Ma. “I think that Bach also made me find the meaning inside of why I chose music and violin.”

Tianyou Ma, who is currently pursuing his master’s degree at Juilliard, is the 2021 joint winner of the Lillian and Maurice Barbash J.S. Bach Competition. Each year, the Island Symphony Bach Festival showcases the winner of the Lillian and Maurice Barbash J.S. Bach Competition, a prestigious competition founded by vice president of the orchestra, Susan Barbash.

The competition was founded in 2019 by siblings Susan, Cathy, and Shepard Barbash to honor the legacy of their parents, Lillian and Maurice Barbash, two of Long Island’s most committed art patrons. Lillian Barbash served as executive director of the Islip Arts Council for over three decades, and she organized the New York Philharmonic’s free concert in Heckscher State Park, attended by tens of thousands of Long Islanders each summer.

“I got this sense that she started thinking about how she was going to be remembered. And I had this real impression that she did not want to just be remembered as ‘loving wife, mother, and grandmother,’” explained Susan Barbash. “She wanted to be remembered for all she did as a professional arts presenter. It was a way of honoring them, and doing it while she was still alive.”

French violinist Emmanuel Coppey, winner of the 2023 Lillian and Maurice Barbash J.S. Bach Competition, was unable to get the necessary Visa in time for the festival, and therefore his appearance at the Bach Festival was postponed until next year. Luckily, Tianyou Ma was available to perform.

Featured guest organist Stephan Garamy gave a captivating performance of J.S. Bach’s magisterial Passacaglia in C minor, BWV 582 at the festival. Garamy’s talent echoed through the pipes of the organ and throughout the church with each note of his performance. Garamy has been awarded five American Guild of Organists (AGO) Achievement Awards and is currently the music director and organist at St. Anne’s Church in Brentwood.

The second half of the program was devoted to an impressive performance of Johannes Brahms’s Symphony No. 4 in E minor Op. 98 by the Island Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Eric Stewart. First established in 1971, the Island Symphony Orchestra is one of Long Island’s preeminent community orchestras. The orchestra initially brought their talents to St. Peter’s By-the-Sea in 2020, making this year the fourth annual Bach Festival played in the church. As the orchestra played, the acoustic sound swirled through the resonant church, filling the space with a vibrant sound that transported listeners hundreds of years into the past.