The past week has been quite busy for the Bach Choir! On Tuesday, we had our second Bach at noon of the fall season, and we were treated to two wonderful performances of Bach and Mozart. Members of the Bach Festival Orchestra offered Bach’s utterly delightful Sixth Brandenburg Concerto, BWV 1051, with much panache. This piece is composed for two violas, three celli, and basso continuo, and is dense with beautiful counterpoint and the rich sonorities of the lower strings in the orchestra. I was trying to think of a fitting analogy for the simultaneous density and beauty of this piece, and what came to mind was a child’s ant farm. That is, a very small space, but one that is quite busy. The Sixth Brandenburg is entirely within the space of a few octaves, but the counterpoint is extremely active, and each instrumentalist, in turns, and in smaller ensembles within the larger whole, has an opportunity to dance. And, dance they did! It was a charming performance – exceptionally elegant and with much zest.
Following the Bach, a few more players were added to the mix to join Laura Heimes for a performance of Mozart’s ecstatic Exsultate, Jubilate, K. 165. Greg likened the motet to Bach’s stunningly virtuosic cantata for soprano solo, BWV 51, Jauchzett Gott in allen landen, and the comparison stands, though, at the 17 years of age Mozart had reached when he composed K. 165, it’s unlikely he heard BWV 51. There are many similarities between the two, however – both begin with a festive aria, have a more contemplative aria in the center, and conclude, attacca, with a overflowingly joyous Alleluia. I’ve now had the privilege of hearing Laurie sing both, and it’s clear she owns both pieces equally. She remarked to Greg that both are written so beautifully for the voice, that they feel quite natural to sing. We mere mortals may quibble with that assertion, but there was no question that Laura’s voice was made for the piece, and her singing was filled with color, nuance, and a deceptive effortlessness. She received an extremely well-deserved standing ovation at its conclusion.
The big week continued with the events leading to the 2013 Gala Concert, an appearance of the Fisk Family, that is, Eliot Fisk, his wife, Zaira Meneses, and their daughter, Raquel Fisk. Though I was not able to attend, I’m told that Friday evening’s Guitar Aerobics and the Poetry of Technique workshop was a stunner, with many local guitarists taking the stage to perform and enjoy an opportunity to learn from Eliot. Whenever we present Eliot, he’s eager to make a contribution to our educational outreach, whether with school visits, or this workshop. He’s an exceptional pedagogue, in addition to his utter virtuosity as a performer.
For benefactors, the Gala included a marvelous dinner, followed by an auction of assorted items to benefit our educational outreach programs. The auction was a grand success, which helps us continue to offer a large and ambitious program of educational outreach, including Bach to School, visits to schools by Festival artists, and our annual Family Concerts (this year, we’ll be offering the world premiere of a children’s opera, Young Meister Bach, composed by the Bach Festival Orchestra’s principal bassoonist, Chuck Holdeman, with a libretto by the Choir’s own Bill Bly). The excitement of the successful auction added to the energy in the room as the Fisk family took the stage. The Morning Call’s Steve Siegel captured the magic of the evening beautifully in his review. We brought one of my youth choir members to the concert, and she was quite taken with the performance. I was stunned by the beauty and resonance of the guitars in the hands of Meneses and Fisk, and everyone marveled at the skill of 12 year old Raquel. You can see the family making music together on their last selection, Contrapunctus I, from The Art of the Fugue, in the video above. What a grand and memorable evening!
A few words about the work of The Choir: we’ve now had several rehearsals, and we’ve been working to master the insanely melismatic notes of Bach’s Cantata BWV 19, which we’ll be singing at Festival this year. This piece is one of three composed for the feast of St. Michael and All Angels, and all three are gems. We heard one of the others last year at Bach at Noon, and it’s been a while since BWV 19 has been heard in Bethlehem. In fact it’s been since 1975, much too long, but I can certainly understand a reluctance to program it – it’s quite a romp. Likewise, we’ve been looking to the Festival with two intense rehearsals on the first Kyrie from the Mass in B-Minor, a piece whose contrapuntal, emotional, and spiritual complexity always merits a fresh look. We’ve also had eyes, ears, and voices set to our spring performance of Haydn’s Creation, as we’ve now encountered several choruses. We’re greatly enjoying getting to know this piece, which had it’s American premiere right here in Bethlehem (though long before the Bach Choir was established). Last, but certainly not least, we’ve enjoyed working on repertoire for our Christmas Concerts, which will include choir and audience favorites from our Christmas in Bethlehem recordings, as well as selections from our upcoming Analekta release, A Child’s Christmas in Bethlehem. We’ve also been delighted to welcome several gifted new singers, who are already making their aural mark on the ensemble. Rehearsals this fall have uniformly been a joy, and we’re so eager to share that joy with our audience. The Choir is also looking to our first round of Bach to School concerts in November, as well as a performance of Cantata BWV 78 at the November Bach at Noon. This work runs the emotional gamut, but also includes Bach’s unbelievably cheery duet, Wir Eilen mit schwachen, sure to be a crowd-pleaser. The Mozart sonata that was delayed from our September performance will also be on the program. Plan to join us!