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The founder of the Bach Concerts, Edgar Shann

Only the oldest members  of our concerts’ audience – who are still fortunately numerous – are able to remember the admirable musician, Edgar Shann (1919-1984), oboist born in Zurich, educated at the conservatory in Zurich and Paris, holder of prestigious awards. Edgar Shann set up in Grandvaux at the beginning of the fifties, and as first oboist actively contributed to the raising of the Orchestre de Chambre de Lausanne. He was invited furthermore by his friend, Aurèle Nicolet, solo flutist of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, to regularly participate in the event of  “Bach weeks” in Ansbach, little picturesque town in Bavaria, where the best Bach interpreters have been meeting each year. We mention among them Yehudi Menuhin, Aurèle Nicolet and Adolf Scheerbaum, because they performed together with Edgar Shann the Branderburger Concerto under the direction of Karl Richter.

This enthusiastic experience and the strong friendship to his friends gave the idea to Shann, to create in the neighbourhood of his home which he loved so much, in this admirable temple of Lutry  a series of concerts exclusively dedicated  to Johann-Sebastian Bach. The programme of the first concert on November 17, 1957 fortunately was registered, and shows indisputably the affiliation Ansbach-Lutry: the invited soloist was Karl Richter, and the work played was the Goldberg Variation. The same work which was performed by the German harpsichordist at his debut in Alsbach! We mention only for a small story, that in the very last moment a podium had to be built in the temple of Lutry by a carpenter Aviolat from Grandvaux (a benevolent friend from the early times) and that Richter’s fee not well known yet, was a swatch! This anecdote is rich in every sense; because it shows two characteristics of the Bach Concerts being valid nowadays as well: the benevolent friends ready to help and the permanent lack of money! We would like to mention among the collaborators of these heroic times who were active prior, during and after the concerts – excuse us for possible omission – the pharmacist of Lutry, André Baatard, the lord-mayor and horticulturist Barnard Rickli, the lawyer François Jomini, the very much devoted and humble caretaker of the Temple of Lutry, Madame Marguerat And not to forget the cohort of the young benevolent ushers, enthusiastic bench carriers, most of them former students of Edgar Shann in the Gymnase de la Cité!

Also the engaged soloists were the friends and close relations of Edgar Shann: Karl Richter, André Luy, George Malcolm, Ernst Haefliger, Kurt Widmer, Herta Töpper, Hans-Heinz Schneeberger, Peter-Lukas Graf, Aurèle Nicolet, and still many more; luckily, the records make us possible to enjoy these great artists. From time to time among them were also the friends of Edgar Shann from his childhood; Rudolf Baumgartner and Edmond de Stoutz, who came to Lutry as directors of their ensembles, the Lucerne Spring Festival and the Zurich Chamber Orchestra. Most of them performed the first time in French speaking Switzerland. But the soul, the frame of our concerts in these heroic times were the Bach Ensemble of Lutry, instructed by the musicians and colleagues,  Edgar Shann’s  friends at OCL and later at OSR.

Sitting on the first chair, Árpád Gerecz, first violin of OCL, neighbour and friend of Edgar Shann in Grandvaux, was able from the point of his bow to wonderfully assure the cohesion of the Bach Ensemble. André Wachsmut-Löw, solo violin of OCL, was one of the most faithful musician to Lutry. Her daughter, Christiane Jaccottet, whose talent at harpsichord became rapidly known over our borders as well, assured in general the continuo of the sonatas. She gave in Lutry her first and last concerts. Evoking the name of this great  deceased artist, we should immediately say how Edgar Shann was able to find and promote “our” talents, e.g. Michel Corboz, Guy Bovet, Lionel Rogg, Elisabeth Speiser, Pierre Wavre, François Guye, Ayla Erduran, and so many more. All these artists wrote in our golden book how delighted they were to perform in Lutry.

For them the essence was the music of Johann-Sebastian Bach, the friendship between them, and they were also very generous concerning the fees. In this way Shann could resolve the financing of the concerts without any sponsors and subvention. We have to add, that hearing  the wonderful voice of his oboe in the cantatas and the trio sonatas, was one of the biggest attraction of the concerts in Lutry!

During the 21 concert seasons Edgar Shann restricted himself rigorously to the repertoire of Bach. The programmes harmonically alternated chamber music, choral works and organ works (since the restoration of the organ of the temple by Flüglister). As an example we mention the programme of the 1970-71 season, and nowadays it is hard to believe, that these concerts became  possible with very limited financial means.

First concert: three Brandenburg concertos by the Bach Ensemble of Lutry, second concert: three cantatas with 8 soloists directed by Michel Corboz together with his Vocal Ensemble. Third concert: 4 concertos for violin, two violins and three violins given by the Zürcher Kammermusiker directed by Brenton Langbein. Fourth concert: chamber music by the Bach Quatuor Zürich. Fifth concert: sonatas for violin and harpsichord by Karl Richter and Otto Büchner. The violinist from Zurich played with a curved bow, precursor of the precursor baroque appearing on the horizon. Sixth concert: 3 motets by the Choeur Pro Arte of André Charlet and the Trombone Quatuor of Geneva. Seventh concert: three further Branderburg Concertos by the Bach Ensemble. This example convinces us of the care Edgar Shanne  gave to forming his programmes, and why the Bach Concerts had been considered by this immense artist himself, as an outstanding work of his life.

Due to a  certain exhaustion  with a presentiment of his untimely end in 1984, Edgar Shann transferred the responsibility of the Bach Concerts , as a precious torch, for the 1979-1980 season, , to his faithful second, Árpád Gérecz.