Alexander Schneider’s project aimed to release Pau Casals from his oath in order to celebrate the bicentenary of Bach’s death, the Master’s favourite composer. On the occasion, thought as a one-shot, the greatest European and American interpreters accepted to travel and to give up their fees. The benefits were reversed to Perpignan’s hospital, where numerous Spanish exiles were still treated. Despite the doubts and the reluctances, due to various critical comments, Casals understood that he could not reject such a proposal. Organising a festival, constituting an orchestra, making rehearsals was a dangerous undertaking and Casals perfectly knew the inherent risks. At that moment, the small city of Prades had no decent hotel infrastructures – only thirty hotel rooms available – nor easy road connections with Perpignan. It was mandatory to raise funds, to organise the travels and the reception of the musicians, to advertise, and mostly, to find a place where to organise twelve concerts in three weeks. Alexander Schneider set-up an American Committee to finance the festival while on the spot, many volunteers gathered around Casals who finally came out of his torpor and got a new lease of life. Casals, 73, was giving more of himself that anyone else. During the fifty days of preparation, he directed all the rehearsals with a mixture of paternalism, enthusiasm and serenity, and commented : « Bach is not a rigid mechanic man, as people often believe. He is a sensitive man who indefatigably is drawing from folklore. We must play with his sensitivity ». On June 2, 1950, at 21h 30, there were no seat left in the church of Prades for the inauguration of the Festival and the organisers had to struggle to close the doors.
His Lordship Pinson, bishop of Saint Flour, pronounced the welcoming speech. The crowd was standing in silence. People were holding their breathe, Pau Casals entered, greeted the public, and opened the concert with a musical must, Bach’s Suite for solo cello in G major.
By creating the Bach Festival, Casals wanted to recover the spirit of the Cortot-Thibaut-Casals trio which brought chamber music back to life. To devote a whole festival to Bach was a risky venture. The following editions honoured Beethoven, Brahms, Mendelssohn, Mozart, Schubert, Vivaldi , and then « modern » composers as Ravel and Debussy in the 80s and « contemporary » composers like Penderecki or Gerschwin in the 2000s.