The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Madison Bach Musicians perform Bach’s “St. John Passion” this Friday night and Saturday night in authentic early music style

April 11, 2017
Leave a Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

The Madison Bach Musicians (below), which specializes in authentic period performances of early music, will perform Johann Sebastian Bach’s “St. John Passion” this coming Friday  and Saturday nights, both at 7:30 p.m., in the Atrium Auditorium of the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive.

On both nights at 6:45 p.m., MBM founder and music director Trevor Stephenson (below) will give a free pre-concert lecture on the “Structure and Performance History of the St. John Passion.” In his remarks, Stephenson said he will discuss the question of anti-Semitism in the famous work.

(NOTE: Stephenson and some of the players will also be on Wisconsin Public Radio’s “The Midday” with Norman Gilliland TODAY at noon.)

At the end of Part I, the Rev. Michael Schuler of the Unitarian Society will give a talk focusing on “Theological Reflections on Bach and the St. John Passion.”

This is only the second time the work has been performed in historical style in the state of Wisconsin. For more information and explanation, see the story in the Wisconsin State Journal:

http://host.madison.com/wsj/entertainment/music/st-john-passion-to-be-performed-on-all-historical-period/article_0e6e3d51-c03e-5803-9230-faed6a48ed1d.html

Tickets are $28-$33 and are available online, at Orange Tree Imports and at the door. Ticket information is at www.madisonbachmusicians.org

Trevor Stephenson writes the following about the work and the performance:

Bach was 38 years old when he composed the monumental St. John Passion during his initial year of employment in Leipzig, 1723-24. The work was first performed at the Nikolai Church during the Good Friday service on April 7, 1724.

As was the custom, no concerted music had been played in church during the previous six weeks of Lent, and the airing of the St. John Passion ― music of unprecedented complexity, lasting for over two hours — must have had an overwhelming effect on the fresh ears and devoted souls of the parishioners.

From its outset—with the whirling gear-like figures in the strings beneath the moiling of the oboes—the St. John Passion has an otherworldly aura of a story that has been foretold. Bach’s genius is in how he balances this inevitability with a sense of forward dramatic thrust: the passion story must happen, has already happened, but it also must be played out in real-time by living people, step by painful step. Time is at once both linear and circular. (Below is the manuscript for the “St. John Passion.”)

I believe that the objective of Bach (below) in setting the St. John Passion was to tell as vividly as possible the story of Jesus’ cruel earthly demise while at the same time tempering this vividness with frequent textual reminders, as well as an overarching tone, that convey the firm belief that Jesus’ Passion had not only been prophesied long before his birth but that Jesus’ suffering and death on earth was the only solution for the forgiveness of humanity’s sins.

 

The Evangelist John is our guide for the story of Jesus’ arrest, trial, crucifixion and burial. John sings his narration in the dry and angular recitative style, addressing the audience directly. He summarizes some scenes and introduces others, which are then played out in present-tense tableau format by various characters: Jesus, Peter, Pilate, Court officers, the angry mob.

Bach uses two techniques to pause and comment upon the narrative: first, with arias for solo voices and instrumental obbligato, that employ freely-composed poetry to reflect upon the story in a personal way — like the thoughts of someone observing the action; and second, by chorales which use tunes and texts that would have been familiar to Bach’s parishioners to elicit a broader communal response to the passion story. Many of the chorales are like a spiritual balm, providing moments of much needed rest throughout the work.

For the upcoming April 14 and 15 concerts of the St. John Passion on Good Friday and Holy Saturday ― the Madison Bach Musicians has endeavored as much as possible to recreate the early 18th-century sound world of that first Leipzig performance in 1724. MBM will use a 17-member baroque orchestra, conducted by UW-Madison bassoonist and performance-practice specialist Marc Vallon (below, in a photo by James Gill).

The orchestra will play entirely on 18th-century style instruments:

  • Gut-strung violins, violas, cellos, and bass played with baroque bows which facilitate articulation and phrase grouping
  • Early 18th-century single-keyed wooden traverso flutes and single-keyed wooden oboes―uniquely warm-sounding and clear-toned. Plus the baroque ancestor of the modern English horn, the tenor oboe da caccia
  • A baroque chamber organ with wooden pipes tuned in 18th-century Well Temperament
  • And specialty instruments—even by 18th-century standards. The viola da gamba, featured during the tombeau– or tomb-like Es ist vollbracht (It is fulfilled) aria heard after Jesus’ death; and two violas d’amore, delicate and velvet toned, replete with sympathetic strings for a haunting after-glow of sound. (You can hear that aria in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

These instruments will join with 10 outstanding vocalists—specialists in singing both solo and choral baroque repertoire.

Internationally recognized, and Grammy Award winning tenor, Dann Coakwell (below, in a photo by Mary Gordon) will sing the part of John the Evangelist.

The Passion will be sung in its original German; but an English translation of the text will be projected in supertitles scene-by-scene throughout the performance.

MBM is thrilled to be presenting this masterwork in the Atrium Auditorium (below, in a  photo by Zane Williams) at First Unitarian Society, a space beautifully suited to early music. The sightlines are superb, and the acoustics offer a great balance of clarity, crispness, and spaciousness.

Seating is limited, so advance ticket purchase is suggested.


Classical music: “Out of the Shadows: Playing the Jewish Archive” runs from Sunday through Thursday at the UW-Madison, one of only five venues around the world for this ambitious project to rescue Jewish music endangered by World War II and the rise of the Nazis.

April 30, 2016
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Talk about world-class honors.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison is one of only five venues worldwide — and the only one in the United States —  selected to host, perform and participate in “Playing the Jewish Archive: Rediscovering Jewish Music, Literature and Theater.”

The ambitious project, launched by the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom, is designed to rediscover and revive Jewish and Yiddish music, and culture in general, that were threatened with extinction by World War II and the rise of Hitler and the anti-Semitism of the Nazis in Europe during the Holocaust.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A preview of the project happened last fall. Here is a link to a previous two-part posting about that event:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2015/08/26/classical-music-the-uw-madison-and-the-bach-dancing-and-dynamite-society-will-hold-free-events-this-coming-sunday-to-help-bring-neglected-jewish-music-and-culture-out-of-the-shadows/

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2015/08/27/classical-music-the-bach-dancing-and-dynamite-society-will-perform-a-free-concert-this-sunday-afternoon-to-help-bring-neglected-jewish-music-out-of-the-shadows-of-history-part-2-of/

Out of shadows poster

But this time the ticketed events (usually $10, $5 for students) – which start this Sunday, May 1, and run through Thursday, May 5 — are longer and more ambitious.

Programs and concerts will take place at the UW’s Mills Hall, the Wisconsin Union Theater, the First Unitarian Society of Madison Meeting House and the Overture Center among other places.

Local performers include the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society; the Madison Youth Choirs; the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) the UW Concert Choir; the Pro Arte Quartet; and others.

Performing the Jewish Archive images

Here is a link to the preview and complete day-by-day programs of composers, works and performers that is on the website of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music. It also has information about obtaining tickets and a lot of background and context:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/performing-the-jewish-archive-may-2016-events/

And here are two links to other stories in Isthmus and the Wisconsin State Journal, which also highlight the pivotal role that Teryl Dobbs, a professor of music education and the department chair of music education at the UW, played in securing this prestigious as well as historically and artistically important event for Madison and the UW-Madison:

http://isthmus.com/music/jewish-culture-in-spotlight-yiddish-music/

http://host.madison.com/wsj/entertainment/music/global-jewish-music-project-comes-to-madison/article_2db64114-21c1-55ba-b639-c35bc43c2ce8.html

Finally, here is a link to a list of the many programs and performers with times and venues:

http://isthmus.com/events/performing-the-jewish-archive-may/

 


    Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 1,093 other followers

    Blog Stats

    • 1,721,646 hits
%d bloggers like this: