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Bach Cantata at St. Stephen’s to feature SATB Male Vocal Soloists & Period Instruments

February 19, 2011

J.S. Bach

Sunday, March 6, 2011     Cantata Preview at 4:30 PM  | Choral Evensong & Bach Cantata 5 PM

“Wer nur den lieben Gott lässt walten” BWV 93 at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church – 4805 NE 45th Street, Seattle (Laurelhurst)

Early Edition asked Leslie Martin to share with our readers more information about his Choral Evensong and Bach Cantata projects he directs at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church.  The next performance in this series is happening soon, on Sunday, March 6.

 

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A few years ago I almost won the lottery – that is, I chose 5 out of 6 numbers correctly.  That got me thinking – what would I do with my $4 million if had correctly chosen that 6th number?  The immediate answer was, lots and lots of Bach cantatas!

These works were the musical entrée each Sunday in Bach’s Leipzig, and represented the core of his musical output during his first years there from 1723. To contemplate the rapidity of their weekly composition, the quality with which they are crafted, and above all, their sheer beauty, will forever boggle the mind of every mortal musician.

It can certainly be said that all of Bach’s music is a testament to his unsurpassed inventiveness, but in many ways I find that he is perhaps at his creative best when he is performing a marriage between text and music – whether in his monolithic Passion settings, or his weekly cantatas.  Though smaller in scale, the cantatas still have everything found in his larger choral works – a “story line” that evolves through inspiring choruses, soaring arias and duets, dramatic recitatives, and all tied up in a neat bow with a congregational chorale at the end – all of this in a condensed, twenty to thirty-minute package.

For the hearer they are inspiring works of beauty, and for those looking for the thrill of musical discovery, Bach’s cantatas are a veritable treasure chest. Each time I open the score and peek under the hood to see what makes that particular cantata run, I’m always rewarded with new insights through Bach’s vast palate of word painting, pictorial or numerological symbolism, and architectural or thematic cohesiveness within – and even between movements.  I come away thinking, “Ach, mein Gott!”, these are the crown jewels of the baroque sacred choral tradition.

Unfortunately, we have largely excluded these twenty-minute masterpieces from the common musical fare in today’s churches, and they have sadly become one of the best-kept secrets of sacred choral literature. However, it is our intent at St. Stephen’s not only to help people to rediscover the depth and beauty of these works, but also to provide a place to hear the sacred cantata again in its liturgical context, supported by hymnody, psalmody, and scriptural readings that further illuminate the meaning of Bach’s music.

It’s always an exhilarating experience to bring these magnificent works to life through performances with period instruments, and in the original German, where the nuance of Bach’s word painting can be experienced. But what will make the March 6, 2011 performance of “Wer nur den lieben Gott lässt walten” so unique? Following Bach’s own practice in Leipzig – and, perhaps for the first time in the Northwest – this performance will feature only male vocal soloists: Benjamin Richardson, boy soprano; Joshua Haberman, countertenor; Ross Hauck, tenor; Thomas Thompson, bass-baritone.

Can it be true – a FREE Bach and Händel Series with period instruments?

It is at St. Stephen’s. You might even say it’s almost like winning the lottery.

– Leslie Martin

St. Stephen’s welcomes experienced singers to participate in the Evensong Chorus. For more information, please contact Leslie Martin, Director of Music at Les@ststephens-seattle.org, or at (206) 522-7144 ext 307. For directions, or to hear sound files of previous cantata performances, please visit the Evensong page at www.ststephens-seattle.org.

Leslie Martin is Director of Music at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Seattle, and adjunct professor of organ, harpsichord and keyboard harmony at Seattle Pacific University.

 

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