The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical Music Q&A: What makes for great Bach? Soprano Kendra Colton of Emmanuel Music of Boston talks about her performances this weekend at the Token Creek Festival

September 1, 2011
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By Jacob Stockinger

This is the second year in a row that soprano Kendra Colton, who teaches singing at Oberlin College and who sings with Emmanuel Music of Boston, will perform in an all-Bach program at the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival.

Performances are at 8 p.m. on this Saturday and at 4 p.m. on this Sunday. For more information about the program, the festival in general, ticket availability and reservations, directions, background and photographs, visit:

The program includes: Chorale Prelude (from 18 Chorale Preludes) “Allein Gott in der Höh sei Her”; 
Sonata for Violin in E minor, BWV 1030
; Cantata Arias
 “Die Armen will der Herr umarmen” (from BWV 186), “Ich nehme mein Leiden mit Freuden auf mich” (from BWV 75)
, “Hört, ihr Völker, Gottes Stimme” (from BWV 76), “Gott versorget alles Leben” (from BWV 187); 
Trio Sonata in E-Flat, BWV 525
; Two Chorale Preludes (from Orgelbüchlein)
 “Wenn Wir in höchsten Nöthen sein” and “O Mensch, bewein’ dein Sünde gross”; 
Cantata: “Mein Herze schwimmt im Blut, “BWV 1099.

Performers are Kendra Colton, soprano; 
Peggy Pearson, oboe; 
Rose Mary Harbison and Laura Burns, violin; 
Jen Paulson, viola; Karl Lavine, cello; Ross Gilliland, bass; and 
John Harbison, keyboard.

Here is an e-mail Q&A Kendra Colton (below, in a photo by R.R. Jones) recently gave to The Ear:

Could briefly tell us some background, including when and how you were first exposed to the music of Bach, both hearing it and performing it? Was there a special piece or performer that provided an Aha! moment about Bach?

I grew up in a musical family and cannot remember when I first heard Bach’s music. Bach’s Inventions and Preludes and Fugues were the Bach works I first performed on the piano.  I was a pianist from age 5 all the way through college, so I had a steady diet of Bach before I ever sang anything written by J.S.

My first vocal piece was “Bist du bei mir,” which I sang as a freshman in college, and then an aria from the “St. Matthew Passion.”  In grad school, I learned one of the solo cantatas (“Jauchzet Gott”), but otherwise my vocal experience and exposure was non-existent.  It wasn’t until I began singing with Emmanuel Music in Boston in 1995 that I had my eyes and ears opened to the vast wealth of spectacular music that eluded me for so many years.

Do the cantata arias you will sing at Token Creek have special meaning for you? Is there a theme or unity or reason for choosing them? What is their place in the corpus of Bach’s cantatas?

John Harbison selected the repertoire for the program, so he can answer the question better than I can regarding the specific choice of arias.

All of the arias I will perform I have sung in the context of the church service at Emmanuel.  The arias from Cantatas BWV 186 and 187 were both written for the seventh Sunday after Trinity, and Cantatas BWV 75 and 76 were written for the first and second Sundays after Trinity, respectively.

Two of the arias have solo violin obbligato lines and the other two arias are with solo oboe.  These arias are full of character that illuminates the texts beautifully.  Bach is a master at creating a musical affect that conveys the specific message of each aria.

For you (below, singing at last summer’s festival) , what are the keys to a great Bach performance?

Creating the appropriate effect for the message is the overriding goal.  In technical terms that means finding the “right” tempo, articulating details with clarity and precision within the larger phrases and shapes, and infusing the music with emotional intent.

What do you feel about period versus modern performances of Bach?

I have sung Bach with both kinds of players and usually for me it means that the period performances will be a little less taxing.  Bach’s arias, in general, lie on the high side.

This is your second appearance in as many years at Token Creek. Do you have reactions to the audiences, other musicians, Madison and the festival?

I enjoy the festival very much and I particularly love singing this repertoire with friends who were playing these arias long before I appeared at Emmanuel.

Sharing some of the most beautiful chamber music that remains largely out of the public mainstream by one of the greatest composers is like sharing your favorite book with someone who hasn’t read it.

I know that had I not landed in Boston and joined the Emmanuel Music family, I would not have been exposed to this great music.  I am truly lucky to have the opportunity to learn and to sing these arias. AND there are still cantatas that I have yet to learn.

On a different front, in the Madison area Peggy Pearson and I  (below, in a canoe) had a great day at one of the huge water parks near Madison last year and look forward to finding another adventure during our stay this year.

Is there something more you would like to say or would like readers and listeners to know about, you, Bach and Emmanuel Music of Boston?

For those who do not know Bach’s cantatas but like Bach’s music, you have a world of gems awaiting your enjoyment.  A huge range of emotion and musical invention is there for you to discover.  Come and hear a few samples and decide for yourself.

Posted in Classical music

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