Bach week in Washington

a city always rich in Bach because of noble church organs and many choirs -- will actually begin today at most churches in the regular services.

Major concert observances, though, start this afternoon at 3 at Howard University, with a performance by the University Choir of the Mass in B Minor, that grandest of the works by the composer who was unexcelled at grandeur in music.

The B Minor Mass also will be the principal contribution from the Kennedy Center, where Norman Scribner's Choral Arts Society will perform it twice, once on Wednesday, just before the tricentennial day, and then on Thursday, the 21st, as well. Both will begin in the Concert Hall at 8:30 p.m.

Another ambitious observance on the 21st will be an 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. lunchtime gala, including a cross section of the master's enormous output, at the Western Presbyterian Church, at 19th and H streets NW. Participating groups are to include the Terrace Theater Opera Orchestra, the Paul Hill Chorale, Hesperus and the Levine School Chamber Orchestra.

Bach's magnificent cello music will be heard later on the birthday, in a concert at 6:30 by cellist Anner Bylsma in the Academic Center of George Washington University.

As for Bach's keyboard music, the "Goldberg" Variations are to be played by pianist Bela Nagy at a recital on the birthday, 8 p.m. at St. Vincent's Chapel of Catholic University. This concert is one of four at the chapel including the music of Bach during the week. Nagy will play "The Art of Fugue" there at 8 on Saturday. And there will be student recitals on Wednesday and Friday at 8.

In the Thursday recital at the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater, Israeli piano virtuoso Yefim Bronfman will include Bach's "Italian" Concerto and the D Major Toccata.

There also will be at least two places to go on Thursday for Bach organ music. Hig Mardirosian will perform at 12:35 in Arlington's Cathedral of St. Thomas More. And Lawrence P. Schreiber will play Bach at 12:15 at the National City Christian Church.

On Saturday afternoon the group Musikanten will round out the week with a Bach Birthday Bash at 3 at Anderson House.

And these, one suspects, are just a few of the Bach events between March 17 and March 23.