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:
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:
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.
By Jacob Stockinger
The Ear admits it: He is more of an armchair traveler than a true explorer of the globe and its many cultures and cultural events.
But that approach has its compensations. At least it gives me a certain satisfaction that my carbon footprint is smaller than many “eco-friendly” people and “greens” who say they worry about global warming and climate change but think nothing of hopping on a jet to travel thousands of miles.
But if I were to go on big trips, I might well plan some of them around the many wonderful classical music festivals that have sprung up in the area, the regional, the nation and the world.
Here is a link to 10 “can’t miss” classical music festivals. They include the always intriguing Bard Festival (below) that takes place near New York City on the Hudson River and in a concert hall (below) designed by celebrated architect Frank Gehry. Here is a link to the list on the terrific blog “Deceptive Cadence” on NPR:
The New York Times has a more international list that includes the Salzburg Festival (below top) in Austria and the self-consciously hip Bach Festival (below bottom and at the bottom in a YouTube video) in Leipzig, Germany:
The Ear also found it helpful to Google “2014 summer classical music festivals.” He found quite a few festivals that were not listed in the other guides.
Of course, you still have to pay attention to the local media for word of local music festivals. This month, for example, the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society (below) kicks off its annual three-weekend season of chamber music on Friday, June 13.
In July, to offer another example, the Madison Early Music Festival (MEMF) will take place at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music. This year it is devoted to Italian music from 1300 to 1600, and will take place July 12-19. MEMF (below) made the New York Times listing last year, if I remember correctly, but not this year.
And then in late August the annual Token Creek Chamber Music Festival, which takes place in a renovated barn (below), will happen. The 2014 season is the 25th anniversary season. Specific programs of composers and works are not listed, although performers and concert titles or themes are given. The site says to check back soon for details:
ALERT: Today at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall of the Overture Center is the final performance of the all-Beethoven concert by the Madison Symphony Orchestra under John DeMain. It features pianist Yefim Bronfman (below) in TWO piano concertos (Nos. 2 and 5 “The Emperor”) plus the Symphony No. 1 and “The Creatures of Prometheus” Overture. Here are links to two rave reviews of the concert by Madison Magazine critic and blogger Greg Hettmansberger and by Isthmus critic John W. Barker, who also guest blogs for The Ear. It sure sounds like a NOT-TO-BE-MISSED concert. See you there!
By Jacob Stockinger
It has been a very busy time musically in Madison, with a lot of previews to post, which often supplant reviews since The Ear thinks previews are more useful than reviews to most listeners and performers. And this coming week and weekend are even worse. So much music, and so little space!
But here are some “outdated” capsule reviews, impressions really, with accompanying afterthoughts that come to The Ear as he listened and later thought about what he had heard:
MADISON SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA AND TRUMPETER TINE THING HELSETH
It seemed a curious, even odd theme for a Valentine’s Day program. But BRASS – not romantic love — marked the Valentine’s Day weekend performances by the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below), although ending with the “Rosenkavalier” suite by Richard Strauss did indeed prove an inspired choice to combine brass and love. Plus by all accounts, the concert sold very well. It sure got standing ovations. In short, it may have seemed odd, but it worked.
The “Doctor Atomic” Symphony by the contemporary American composer John Adams (below), who put the instrumental work together from his own opera score, was powerful, and also fit the brass bill, with great solos by MSO trumpeter John Aley, and was impressive to hear –- though also hardly romantic.
Given conductor John DeMain (below) and his stupendous taste and talent for choosing great singers who are also affordable, I kept thinking: How I would like to have heard some great singers perform familiar and unknown love arias from operas by Mozart, Rossini, Verdi, Puccini, Saint-Saens, even Wagner. Now those would be symphony tickets to throw in with a box of chocolates and a bouquet of roses. But The Ear has been informed that such concerts often do not sell well and might also be seen as competing with the local opera company.
All that said, I thought that the guest soloist, Norwegian trumpeter Tine Thing Helseth (below), proved an inspired, if unexpected, choice. She showed an uncanny power for playing softly. Brass instruments are not easy to control with little breath and with soft tone. But she did both beautifully in two concertos by Franz Joseph Haydn and Alexander Arutiunian. She clearly has the lung power to blow down the Walls of Jericho. But what impressed and seduced me was her quietness, which nonetheless possessed rich tone and unwavering pitch. That is a rare talent, and one to be cherished — and brought back to Madison!
Maestro Andrew Sewell (below) has a never-failing knack of finding terrific music that has been overlooked but is actually very good, if not revolutionary or pioneering.
Sure, at his last concert I too, like the rest of the audience, loved what he did with the Jupiter Symphony of Mozart –- not too hectic, clear voicing, propulsive energy even with all the repeats. And the talented and congenial soloist Joshua Roman proved an irresistible highlight in Haydn’s Cello Concerto in D major.
But the real surprise of the night was the 20th-century Concerto Grosso by Vittorio Giannini (below), who taught composition at the Juilliard School and the Manhattan School of Music and then established the North Carolina School of the Arts. What a discovery! I want to hear more by this guy.
And Sewell will soon unwrap another surprise this week –- and I expect, as usual, that it will be modern music that is accessible and tuneful, not R&D Music (that’s short research and development) that sounds like jet noise or broken plumbing. Could that help explain why he gets full houses?
Sewell and the WCO will probably do so again THIS COMING FRIDAY NIGHT at 8 p.m. in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center. That is when he and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra combine the famous famously listenable and lovely Violin Concerto (with guest soloist Karina Canellakis) by Felix Mendelssohn and Franz Joseph Haydn’s “Clock” Symphony (Symphony No. 101 of his 104 symphonies) with “Elements” by American composer Michael McLean (below, and with a sample of “Elements” in a YouTube video at the bottom). Sounds like another MUST-HEAR concert to The Ear.
PRO ARTE QUARTET
Well, the headlines and chit-chat went rightfully to the world premiere of Belgian composer Benoit Mernier’s commissioned String Quartet No. 3, which sounded fiendishly difficult and seemed based largely on technical stuff like trills, tremolos and glissandos instead of themes and infectious rhythms. And the Pro Arte Quartet, artists-in-residence at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music since 1940 and celebration its centennial, played it with impressive aplomb and apparent ease.
“Do you like the music?” someone asked me right after the performance.
I think the better question is: “Does the music like me?”
Think about it: What is the composer’s responsibility to you the listener, and what is your responsibility to the composer (Mernier, below), especially if he seems to ignore you?
I also loved the rarely heard and beautifully performed viola quintet by Anton Bruckner and particularly the contrasts between Sally Chisholm’s viola and Samuel Rhodes’ viola (the two are below side-by-side). If you liked the combination –- and what is not to like with the darker hued voice of the viola –- be sure to try the viola quintets by Mozart and Brahms, which I would also like to hear the Pro Arte do more of.
But for old-fashioned me, the star of the evening was the Haydn Quartet, Op. 20, No. 4. It just cleaned out your ears and was proof again that, at its best, the genre is indeed still as it was described by Haydn himself when pretty much invented in the 18th century: A conversation of equals. And did the Pro Arte ever play it with accuracy, clarity and texture. It sparkled like a diamond. The string quartet may have evolved, changed or morphed over the centuries, but it has simply not gotten any better than Haydn.
So: Is there any chance that we night get of a multi-year Haydn cycle by the Pro Arte, which decades ago in another avatar or configuration of players started to record the complete Haydn quartets in the famous Abbey Road studio in London for RCA. They have done Beethoven and Shostakovich cycles. What about Papa Haydn? And if not a complete cycle of the 68 or so quartets, how about a fairly comprehensive survey or at least a very large sampler of Haydn’s early, middle and late styles?
PIANIST CHRISTOPHER TAYLOR
What more can you say about the award-winning, audience-approved star talent pianist Christopher Taylor (below) who teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music and concertizes around the world, and his stunning solo recital this year?
I loved the “War” Sonata No. 6 by Sergei Prokofiev, a great piece that he performed greatly with both riveting energy and heartbreaking lyricism. I also loved the encore — Scott Joplin’s “Pineapple Rag” –- as a contrast and change of pace.
But I have to be honest: I have heard enough of the Liszt piano transcriptions of Beethoven’s symphonies. Trust the genuine original! Accept no substitutes!
The next day I listened to a recording of the same work by a real orchestra — the Gewandhaus Orchestra of Leipzig under conductor Riccardo Chailly. What a difference when the “Eroica” is played with real brass countering, with jarring dissonance, real strings; when it is real tympani drumbeats rather than bass tremolos on the piano. Ludwig (below) simply had more of IT – whatever musical genius is — than Franz.
The real “Eroica” Symphony doesn’t — and shouldn’t — sound so much like a Hungarian Rhapsody or a Transcendental Etude. In their day, these transcriptions served a purpose and they stretched the resources of the piano, or at least, of pianists. Now, they strike The Ear as precious, more of a sideshow of amazing and ingenious pianism and not much little else aside from some strokes of minor genius here and there by the Paganini of the Piano.
From one of those transcriptions I learned something and I enjoyed it. But now that makes three down (symphonies numbers 3, 4 and 5) for Taylor. I, for one, sure hope we don’t have the other six to go. How much more I would have preferred to hear this supremely talented pianist and gifted musician in some serious and original piano repertoire –- maybe a late Schubert sonata, or a Bach partita, or a Chopin ballade, or a Schumann cycle. I want to hear Christopher Taylor in something that puts depth over display, substance over style.
Am I alone in that wish?
MIDDLETON COMMUNITY ORCHESTRA
Guest reviewer John W. Barker covered this recent concert of the mostly amateur Middleton Community Orchestra (below), which featured music by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Johannes Brahms and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, thoughtfully and thoroughly for this blog.
All I would add is a lesson that every teacher knows: Students with lesser abilities rise to meet high expectations. That is why symphony orchestras and chamber orchestras should book the best soloists they can get and afford: The Ear is convinced that the level of playing and performing usually rises to match the soloist and fosters cohesion.
With the MCO, it was two lifelong friends and award-winning, UW-Madison trained string players -– violinist Eleanor Bartsch and violist Daniel Kim (below) who soloed and who seemed in complete synch, down to the timing of their trills, during Mozart’s sublime Sinfonia Concertante.
Their playing was superb, and the amateur orchestra rose to meet them and give them the beautiful support they deserved. And with Mozart there is no place to hide, so flaws or mistakes are quickly revealed.
Well, now it is on to another busy week of concerts.
Where, I wonder, will the music lead The Ear this time?
By Jacob Stockinger
This Sunday night, Nov. 3, at 7 p.m., tomorrow night, you can hear some of that sublime music performed by the same boys choir that Bach himself (below) directed from 1723 to his death in 1750 at the Saint Thomas Church in Leipzig, Germany. (The choir was founded in 1212. For more information, visit www.thomaskirche.org)
Luther Memorial Church (below), 1021 University Ave., will host the St. Thomas Boys Choir of Leipzig during the first U.S. concert tour of its 800-year history. The choir will sing from the church’s rear balcony, just as it performs at St. Thomas.
The program includes music of Bach (Cantata Nos. 196 and 150; and the Motet “Singet dem Herrn”); and Antonio Vivaldi (“Magnificat” and “Gloria”). All are masterpieces that have survived the test of time.
For tickets and further information go to: www.luthermem.org
Tickets are available for purchase online on the Luther Memorial website at www.luthermem.org via Brown Paper Tickets. You can select your seats from a seating chart of the church’s nave at $20, $30 or $60. (Below is the Luther Memorial Church interior.)
But the music is about more than beauty, if you listen to John Eliot Gardiner (below), the distinguished British conductor of the Monteverdi Choir who has recorded all the surviving cantatas (about 100 of 300 were lost) after performing them around the world.
This week, Gardiner published a book about Bach: “Bach: Music In the Castle of Heaven” (Alfred A. Knopf). It promises to be as important to Bach scholarship and studies as works by Harvard scholar Christoph Wolff, Albert Schweitzer and Philipp Spitta.
Gardiner also did a long, insightful and informative Q&A with Tom Huizenga, the director of NPR’s terrific classical music blog “Deceptive Cadence.”
The surprising interview includes sound snippets as examples, drawn from Gardiner’s extensive discography. And Gardiner even suggests which single cantata if the best one to listen to if you can only listen to one. (Can you guess which one? It is at the bottom in a YouTube video.)
It would be perfect to read or listen either before the St. Thomas Boys Choir concert or after.
Here is a link:
By Jacob Stockinger
This Saturday morning will see the second of three FREE performances of the impressive and custom-built Overture Concert Organ (below) to be hosted by the Madison Symphony Orchestra during Dane County Farmers’ Market Saturdays.
The 45-minute concert will take place at 11 a.m. at Overture Hall of the Overture Center, 201 State Street. (The last free organ concert is on Saturday, Aug. 17.)
No tickets or reservations are needed for these 45-minute concerts featuring Wyatt Smith this weekend, and later Sam Hutchison and 14-year-old newcomer Adrian Binkley.
A complete list of Overture Concert Organ performances is at www.madisonsymphony.org/organperformances .
This Saturday morning, the award-winning organist Wyatt Smith (below) returns to the stage at 11 a.m. with J. S. Bach’s Toccata in F Major (played in Bach’s own St. Thomas Church in Leipzig, Germany, in a YouTube video at the bottom) and an intriguing selection of virtuosic movements from Kurt Knecht’s “Missouri Sonata” and Louis Vierne’s popular work, the Symphony in D. The talented Smith just received full tuitio to do a master’s degree at Yale University.
(On Aug. 17, audiences will receive a special treat at 11 a.m. in Overture Hall with the debut of a young rising star from Waunakee, Wis.
Fourteen-year-old organist Adrian Binkley (below) is a student of MSO Principal Organist Samuel Hutchison. Adrian is already an experienced recital artist and plans to study organ performance at the Interlochen Center for the Arts in Michigan next fall. Both he and Samuel Hutchison will perform at this concert.
The Free Farmers’ Market Concerts are generously sponsored by the Pleasant T. Rowland Foundation and are presented in partnership with Overture Center for the Arts and 77 Square. Support for all Overture Concert Organ programs is provided by the Diane Endres Ballweg Fund with additional support from Friends of the Overture Concert Organ.
With a gift from the Pleasant T. Rowland Foundation, the Madison Symphony Orchestra commissioned the Overture Concert Organ, which is the stunning backdrop of all MSO concerts.
As curator for the instrument, Samuel Hutchison (below) is responsible for organ programming and education events. In addition to the Free Farmers’ Market Concerts, the instrument is featured in the MSO Christmas and April 2014 concerts along with three Free Community Hymn Sings and a Christmas Carol Sing.
Subscribers to the 2013-14 Overture Concert Organ season (NOT the same as the Farmers Market organ concerts) receive a 25% discount. For information and to subscribe, visit: http://www.madisonsymphony.org/organseason
The Madison Symphony Orchestra engages a wide range of audiences in classical music through a full season of concerts with established and emerging soloists of international renown, an organ concert series, and diverse educational and community engagement programs and activities. MSO’s Music Director John DeMain is celebrating 20 years with the Madison Symphony Orchestra this season.
Learn more at www.madisonsymphony.org
By Jacob Stockinger
Hurry up! It’s time to set your alarm clocks and tune in your radio.
This Thursday morning from 5 a.m. to 8 a.m. on WORT-FM 89.9 FM, Madison’s community-sponsored radio station (below is a photo of WORT’s funky headquarters in Madison) will honor the 328th birthday of Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750).
What makes it special is that radio host Rich Samuels (below), who is also a sound engineer, has recorded local performers — some prominent an professional, others more amateur — playing and singing works by Bach in their own homes and studios. He will premiere and feature those recordings during the special birthday broadcast.
Here is a link to the 1-minute promotional Samuels recently did for WORT.
You may recall that Samuels wrote earlier to The Ear to announce the performance possibilities, which I see as a wonderful way to take up where Wisconsin Public Radio faltered by canceling Bach Around the Clock after the departure of former music director Cheryl Dring for an Austin, Texas-based radio station.
Here is a link to the original post by and about Samuels’ project:
And here is a link to the background about BATC 3 and the unfortunate decision abput BATC 4 by WPR:
And who might you expect to hear? Samuels recounted some of the local Bach fans whose recorded performances will be highlighted:
Writes Samuels (below): “You’ll hear some familiar voices on the promo (though not all of those whose performances will be heard.) I’m working up to the wire on this: the last music will not be recorded until Tuesday, March 19 on account of schedule conflicts (the last entry will be soprano Rachel Eve Holmes (below top) who, with oboist Kostas Tiliakos and pianist Thomas Kasdorf (below bottom), will be performing the aria “Sich ueben im Lieben” from the “Wedding” Cantata No. 202 (in a YouTube video at bottom).
The exact order of performers, Samuels adds, won’t be determined until the last minute.
But the remaining performers include organist Bruce Bengston (Luther Memorial), pianists Renee Farley, Karlos Moser (below top) and Tim Adrianson; harpsichordist Trevor Stephenson (below middle), mezzo-soprano Kathy Otterson (below bottom, with pianist Michael Keller and a violinist to be determined when I see who shows up at a recording session at Christ Presbyterian); alto Ena Foshay (speaking on behalf of the Isthmus Vocal Ensemble); saxophonists Dennis Simonson and Pete Ross.
I asked Rich Samuels, a transplanted Chicagoan, about how he came by the idea, the inspiration, if you will, for the local Bach celebration, which The Ear thinks is great and deserves a BIG SHOUT-OUT! as well as donation to WORTs recent pledge drive.
Here is his answer: “This week’s effort is a belated sequel to the video piece I did on March 21, 1985 on Chicago’s WMAQ-TV on the occasion of Bach’s 300th birthday.
“My introduction to Bach (below) came as a kid when I went to the Wilmette (Illinois) Public Library and checked out the 3-LP box set of the Brandenburg Concertos issued in 1952 on the Westminster label. The performance was by the London Baroque Ensemble conducted by Karl Haas.
“I became enough of a Bach fan to make a pilgrimage in the spring of 1990 (during the waning days of the German Democratic Republic) to the Thomaskirche in Leipzig, Germany, and the birthplace of Bach in Eisenach. I also stopped off at Sanssouci in Potsdam, where Bach, on a new-fangled fortepiano, improvised on the theme devised by Frederick the Great.”
And since the results were so good for the first attempt in Madison, what about the future?
“Hopefully, I can do another Bach tribute next year, perhaps on the eve of his birthday when I have a show scheduled.
“It would be nice to find a multi-generational ensemble willing to perform the six Brandenburg concerti. And perhaps someone could also write a fugue, making use of the idioms and instruments of the 21st century.”
And what about those who can’t or won’t listen to the early broadcast this Thursday? asked The Ear who hopes the local performers will be rebroadcast, perhaps on another show, in a more popular time slot?
Samuels says: “I’ll eventually upload all of the specially recorded segments with local performers to my personal website, although that will probably take some time, given the list of uncompleted tasks that presently faces me.”
I hope he lets me know, because then I will pass on word to you.
In any case, here is a link to his website with its extensive index:
So tune in and drop in and help celebrate the 328th birthday of Johann Sebastian Bach – the Big Bang of Western classical music!
By Jacob Stockinger
One of the delights of each concert season for the past few years has been to hear J.S. Bach’s cantatas performed by the early music group the Madison Bach Musicians (below), founded and led by Trevor Stephenson, a keyboardist and conductor who trained at Cornell University under the renowned keyboardist Malcolm Bilson.
Stephenson opts for the much smaller ensembles (below) that scholars now say was closer to Bach’s original groups than for larger choruses. As a result the music has a transparency that moves the mind and stirs the heart.
This weekend features two performances at Grace Episcopal Church on the Capitol Square at 116 West Washington Avenue: At 8 p.m. on Saturday night and on Sunday afternoon at 3:30 p.m. Both performances are preceded at 7:15 p.m. and 2:45 p.m., respectively, by a lecture given by Stephenson, who is a thoroughly engaging, accessible and witty explainer.
Soloists are UW-Madison trained soprano Emily Birsan and bass David Govertsen, both of whom currently sing at the Lyric Opera in Chicago. The countertenor, Joseph Schlesinger (who now lives in Chicago) has toured Europe for many years as an early music specialist; the tenor, Daniel O’Dea is outstanding and is working on his DMA at UW under Jim Doing.
For more information, visit madisonbachmusicians.org or phone 608 238-6092
Advance ticket prices are: $20 General, $15 Students/Seniors (over 65). Tickets at the door: $25 General, $20 Students/Seniors. Cash or checks only. Make checks payable to Madison Bach Musicians. (Only cash or check are accepted; no credit cards.)
Advance tickets can be purchased at Orange Tree Imports; Farley’s House of Pianos; A Room of One’s Own; Ward Brodt Music Mall; and Willy Street Co-op, East and West locations.
Trevor Stephenson (below) recently talked to The Ear about the Bach cantata project and the upcoming performances:
Why do you focus on the Bach cantatas and what are MBM’s plans for the cycle?
I like the Bach Cantatas because in them he brings everything to the table—they are the ultimate fusion of his spirit and intellect: a tenacious, enduring faith joined with an astonishingly original musical craft.
More than 200 of Bach’s Cantatas have survived (though he wrote probably more than 300) and somehow every one of them is unique—cut from a fresh block of marble.
Since many were written during a period when he was composing one per week, you could say with a good degree of sureness that Bach (below) really did re-invent himself every week!
Can you walk us a bit through each piece and tell us what to listen for?
On this concert we’ll perform “Jesu, nahm zu sich die Zwoelfe” a Cantata Bach composed specifically for his audition at Leipzig in early 1723. As we all know, he did get the job, and upon moving to Leipzig that year, plunged into his most intense period of Cantata creation during the next four years.
This Cantata begins with Jesus calling together the 12 disciples to tell them that they will all travel to Jerusalem “so that what has been written of the Son of Man will be fulfilled.” The disciples do not comprehend what Jesus is saying (primarily, that he will be crucified).
At that point the narrative really ceases and the soul takes over (in the guises of an alto solo, an extensive bass recitative (by David Govertsen, below), and a tenor aria) all developing the idea that one should now truly try to understand what the disciples at that time could not—that Jesus’ love for humanity was boundless, and that through his example we should strive to live properly and fully.
The melodic writing and texture of this Cantata foreshadows the St. Matthew Passion which Bach would complete just four years later and which he may have been working on already; indeed the narrative part of the St. Matthew Passion also opens with the scene in which Jesus unexpectedly announces the departure for Jerusalem.
And the other cantata?
Also on this program, we’ll perform BWV 32 “Liebster Jesu, mein Verlangen” (Dear Jesus, my longing). Composed for the first Sunday after Epiphany in January of 1726, it opens with one of Bach’s most elegant arias in which the soprano and obbligato oboe lines weave about each other in what seems like a miraculous improvisation—though of course Bach writes everything out in careful detail.
This is certainly one of my, what we call, “desert island” pieces–if you were sent to a desert island and could only take a few pieces, what would they be?
We’re delighted that baroque oboist extraordinaire Luke Conklin (below) —a graduate of the Juilliard baroque program, and now working on his doctorate at Indiana—will be joining us on this program. Bach lavishes some of the most expressive writing in the Cantatas on the baroque oboe, with its very warm and textured timbre. Luke will play several solos in the Cantatas we’ve selected for this concert.
We are also thrilled to be playing these Cantatas at Grace Episcopal Church (below, with exterior and interior photos, on the Capitol Square), which is a wonderful setting for this music both spiritually and acoustically. The sound there is reverberant and clear. The music carries, mixes, and reflects all around and yet you can still understand the words. Many spaces have one quality or the other, but Grace has both!
Where are you in the Cantata cycle and what are future plans?
With the concerts coming this weekend, Madison Bach Musicians will have performed 15 of Bach’s Cantatas (plus the B minor Mass in 2008 and the St. Matthew Passion in 2009).
Right now that puts us on a pace of about two each year (this is our eighth season).
But public interest in, and support for the project is growing quickly. In addition, the number of wonderful instrumentalists trained on baroque instruments and singers trained in the baroque style has risen dramatically even in the past decade.
So, we anticipate being able to increase the number of Cantatas we perform each year. We hope to present many, many more!