The vison of establishing a monthly Bach concert series in Madison became reality with the formation of a dream team in 2018; Cheryl Bensman-Rowe, Sarah Brailey, Marika Fischer Hoyt, and Paul Rowe joined forces that summer, and Just Bach was born. In the 2018-2019 season Just Bach presented 8 live concerts. In the next season, 9 concerts were planned, but the COVID pandemic caused the cancellation of the final 3 concerts. Just Bach is proud that all scheduled musicians were paid. The third season, which included 8 live concerts and a concluding highlights concert, was presented entirely via video; concerts were recorded and made available on the Just Bach YouTube channel and the Luther Memorial website. The fourth season saw the resumption of live concerts; the concerts were also recorded and posted on YouTube and Luther Memorial websites.

Cheryl Bensman-Rowe and Paul Rowe are the founders and Co-Artistic Directors of the Madison Early Music Festival (MEMF), and longtime Bach artists. Cheryl sang at Bach Vespers, the weekly cantata series at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church and on the Basically Bach series at Lincoln Center, and performances at Symphony Space in New York City and with the Handel and Haydn Society in Boston. Paul has performed works of Bach at Carnegie Hall, Avery Fischer Hall – Lincoln Center, Marlboro Music Festival, Winter Park Bach Festival, Kalamazoo Bach Festival, Bach Society of St. Louis and recorded Bach’s St. John Passion with the Smithsonian Chamber Players.

Sarah Brailey returned to her Wisconsin roots after spending over a decade in New York City, during which time she sang Bach nearly every week at Bach Vespers at Holy Trinity and Bach at 1 at Trinity Wall Street. She has been a soloist in all the major Bach works at Bach festivals and concerts around the world. In 2021, Sarah received both a DMA in Vocal Performance from UW-Madison and a Grammy award along with bass-baritone Dashon Burton and conductor James Blachly for their recording of Dame Ethyl Smyth’s “The Prison.”

Violist Marika Fischer Hoyt played with the Madison Symphony Orchestra and Ancora String Quartet (which toured Germany in 2018) on modern viola, and with the Madison Bach Musicians, Handel Aria Competition, Sonata à Quattro, Great Lakes Baroque, and Bach Collegium of Fort Wayne, IN, on baroque viola. During her four-year tenure as music host on Wisconsin Public Radio, Marika devoted one show each December to Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, broadcasting and giving commentary on many different recordings of this work. At the time of her death in 2023, she was artistic director of Bach Around The Clock. Marika was a driving force for music in Madison and will be deeply missed.

Featured Image photo credit: Barry Lewis
Brailey photo credit: Miranda Loud
Hoyt photo credit: Barry Lewis

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