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Where to hear Bach on BART

Seven free transit concerts mark German composer’s birthday

The BART logo on a sign in Oakland. Photo by Sheila Fitzgerald

German baroque composer Johann Sebastian Bach was probably born 334 years ago this week (there’s some historical disagreement about his exact birthday), and to mark the occasion there will be seven free Bach concerts at BART stations in SF and the East Bay Friday and Saturday.

The Bach In the Subways program started in 2010, when musician Dale Henderson started playing Bach on his cello in New York City subway stations.

The following year more musicians joined in, and the tradition has snowballed to include performances in cities from Dubai to Winnipeg to Hong Kong.

The only rules for Bach In the Subways are that musicians must play Bach (usually on the subway) and that no money be involved in the performance:

1. The music of J.S. Bach is performed anywhere, any time.

2. The performance is open & accessible to all – a musical gift for anyone who wants to hear it.

3. No admission fee is required, no money is accepted by the performers, and no other commercial transactions occur immediately before, during, or after the performance.

4. No musician is ever charged to perform for Bach in the Subways.

Earlier in March, BART announced that it was collaborating with Bach In the Subways to bring free concerts to BART stations—six on Friday, March 22 and one on Saturday, March 23.

Musicians at BART stations have participated in past Bach In the Subways outings, but this is the first time BART itself is getting in on it.

The Bach In the Subways site lists the following Bay Area dates this weekend:

  • 16th Street Station, Friday, 4:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. (guitarist Brent Shaffer)
  • Walnut Creek Station, Friday, 4:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. (violist Rachel Stokol)
  • North Berkeley Station, Friday, 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. (Recorder Quartet)
  • 12h Street Station, Friday, 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. (flautist Makita Staples)
  • Civic Center Station, Friday, 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. (clarinet duo Ivan and Just This)
  • MacArthur Station, Friday, 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. (cellist Julian Fong)
  • Civic Center Station, Saturday, 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. (violinist Luke Chang)

Violinists with Alina’s Music Studio in Vacaville will also play at Nut Tree Plaza from 2 p.m to 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, although that is, of course, not a BART Station.

“Bach’s thousand-plus works enjoyed relatively little appreciation in his lifetime,” according to the British Library.

But the composer’s reputation escalated after his death in 1750. Today his 48 Preludes and Fugues are considered among the greatest by any European composer.

The Google Doodle for Friday also commemorates Bach, inviting users to “collaborate” with an AI programmed to generate music in his style with the notes users provide.