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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University October 30, 2006 | Vol. 36 No. 9
A Ticket to Hell and Bach

Graduate student Felix Hell challenged himself to learn all of Bach's organ works. His 10-concert marathon begins on Friday.
Photo by Will Kirk / HIPS

By Greg Rienzi
The Gazette

Felix Hell was 7 years old when he first heard the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, Prelude in C major from Well-Tempered Clavier, played by his father on the piano during a holiday gathering. The chords and notes he heard that day instantly captivated the young Hell, like a sailor called by a siren.

"I was just absolutely fascinated by its sound, never having heard classical music before. I heard this piece, having no idea it was Bach, and I was just blown away," said Hell, a graduate student at Peabody. "I said, 'Hey, Dad, I would like to learn how to play it.' He told me, 'You are going to have to take lessons, learn all the notes, and maybe one of these days you'll be able to play it.' I said, 'That would take way too long. I'd like to play it right now.'"

During the course of three days, the determined Hell taught himself to play the song down to the last note. A career was born.

Fourteen years later, the German-born Hell's love of Bach has not waned. In fact, you might say it's insatiable.

Hell, who took up the organ at age 8 and has performed all over the world, will this week give a four-day, 10-concert marathon performance of the complete organ works of Bach. The first concert will be at 2 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 3, in the Peabody's Leith Symington Griswold Hall, the location of all 10 performances.

The prolific German composer Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) was a renowned virtuoso organist, teacher and an expert in organ construction and design. He composed more than 250 works for the organ.

Donald Sutherland, who is coordinator of Peabody's Organ Department, said that Hell, like Bach, is a gifted musician, a dynamic performer and one who certainly does not lack in ambition.

"For someone his age, just taking on learning all of Bach's organ works would be a huge undertaking, but to be taking on a marathon performance of these works is definitely unusual," Sutherland said. "He really is a brilliant performer. He has flair and a little bit of showbiz, but it's not at all shallow. Rather, he's a very thoughtful and careful musician who has a maturity well beyond his years."

Hell said that he was inspired to do a marathon performance of Bach's organ works by the other musicians who have done so. He said he also wanted a reason to challenge himself and learn the entire catalog, which has long been an ambition of his.

Each performance will contain a diverse and representative collection of Bach's organ pieces, Hell said, so that those who go to just one concert will get a true sense of Bach's musical gifts. Those who go to all 10 performances might be among the lucky few to receive one of a limited number of stickers that read "I've been to Hell and Bach."

The performance times for the Bach marathon are Friday, Nov. 3, at 2 p.m. and 5 p.m.; Saturday, Nov. 4, at 2 p.m., 5 p.m. and 8 p.m.; Sunday, Nov. 5, at 10 a.m., 2 p.m., 5 p.m. and 8 p.m.; and Monday, Nov. 6, at 7 p.m.

Tickets for each performance are $18, $12 for seniors and $10 for students with I.D. Discounts are available for the purchase of three or more concerts by calling the Peabody Box Office at 410-659-8100, ext. 2.


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