Grete Pedersen
Grete Pedersen is Carmel Bach Festival’s artistic director and principal conductor | Courtesy of Carmel Bach Festival

Change has come to the Carmel Bach Festival (CBF), whose hallmark has been longevity. The festival celebrates Johann Sebastian Bach, who turned 339 this March. Carmel Bach was born in 1935; among its leaders were Sándor Salgo (1956–1991) and Bruno Weil (1992–2010).

But now, as the festival is preparing for its 87th season, running July 13–27, there are new faces in leadership. Grete Pedersen, the first woman to serve as CBF’s artistic director and principal conductor, started last year, and Nathan Lutz just became executive director, succeeding the long-serving Steve Friedlander, who died three months ago.

New to the festival as he is, Lutz nonetheless connects to Carmel’s fabric:

“My childhood bass teacher, Derek Weller, has been performing in the Bach Festival for 25 years. I grew up hearing about the amazing music-making that happens here every summer. In fact, Derek was the one who told me about the [open] position. To be here now, as the executive director, is surreal.”

Nathan Lutz
Nathan Lutz: “My headshot was taken in Dallas this spring by Sylvia Elzafon, a Dallas photographer whose father owns a gallery in Carmel — very small world!”

Lutz previously served as director of operations and education programs at the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and before that worked in the administration of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra; he began his career as a double bass fellow with the New World Symphony in Miami.

“I’ve been living on the Monterey Peninsula for three months now, and I have enjoyed getting to know the area and people. Bach Festival supporters are fiercely loyal and dedicated to the musicians who come from all over North America and Europe to perform every summer. The word everyone keeps repeating is ‘family.’”

Artistic Director Pedersen says of the season:

“I am thrilled to return to Carmel this summer for my second season. The atmosphere and shared experiences we have are unique. I am looking forward to collaborating with the incredible musicians on J.S. Bach’s St. John Passion, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, and works written by living composers such as Missy Mazzoli.”

Lutz adds, “Grete likes to use themes to program each festival. This summer the theme is ‘Passions.’ Opening night will feature Bach’s St. John Passion, and Grete had the beautiful idea to perform this work in six different languages: English, German, Hebrew, Arabic, Spanish, and Norwegian.

“There are two other passions programmed this summer; Arvo Pärt’s Passio, which uses the text from [the Gospel of John], and David Lang’s The Little Match Girl Passion. The other work that anchors this theme is Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, which will feature the full forces of the Festival Orchestra, Chorus, and Chorale.”

For the complete CBF schedule, visit the festival’s website.

Among the guest soloists in 2024, Lutz is especially “thrilled to welcome prize-winning pianist Eric Lu this summer. Not only will he be performing [Edvard] Grieg’s epic Piano Concerto with the orchestra, but audiences will have the opportunity to hear him perform a solo piano recital as well.

“We also introduce tenor Andrew Staples to audiences this summer. Staples has sung with the top conductors and orchestra across Europe and has a career directing for the stage and film.”

Eric Lu
Eric Lu is one of the soloists featured in this year’s festival

At a time of financial problems for performing arts organizations everywhere, CBF is no exception. One of the challenges that confronted Lutz on arrival was a $307,000 deficit, according to the last published financial report for the organization, which showed revenue of $2.6 million and expenses of $2.9 million for fiscal year 2022. Lutz’s response:

“The Carmel Bach Festival has a healthy endowment that allows us to weather certain economic challenges. We have incredibly generous supporters. The Emile Norman Charitable Trust has donated $350,000 to the festival this summer. Mr. Norman was an incredible artist who lived in Big Sur and attended the festival for decades.

“The Carmel Bach Festival is charting a course over the next decade that prioritizes sustainability. Government funding is on the decline, and our customers’ habits have changed post-pandemic. We are strategizing ways to entice new patrons while embracing our most loyal supporters. The festival has all the ingredients to be a national destination for music lovers, but to many we are a ‘best-kept secret.’”