Members of The Choir are now on a brief hiatus for the remainder of September, which gives me enough of a pause to sit down and do some writing to preview the 2011-2012, which is already underway. This brief breather was given in recognition of all the hard work that went into preparing for our recent concerts in New York, which included two weekly rehearsals (one more per week than usual) for much of the summer.
October: Because of the hiatus, the next Bach at Noon (on Tuesday, October 11th) will feature a choir-less cantata, sung by Rosa Lamoreaux and William Sharp. These two artists are long-time friends of the choir, and wonderful collaborators. They will sing the Bethlehem premier of Cantata 57, about which I’ll write closer to the date. Charlotte Mattax-Moersch will also be back to play the D-Minor Harpsichord Concert, BWV 1052, last heard in Bethlehem, I believe, in Masaki Suzuki’s performance with his Bach Collegium Japan, at The Choir’s 2006 Gala. As I alluded in introducing the last Bach at Noon, this piece is a real barn-burner, and it will be thrilling to hear Charlotte’s take on it. Prepare for some harpsichord fireworks!
Also on the slate in October is the much-anticipated performance by Grammy Award-Winning violinist Hilary Hahn in our 2011 Gala Concert at Central Moravian Church, on the 15th, at 8 pm. On the program are sonatas by Bach and Beethoven, a piece by Brahms, and some shorter works. At age 31, she belongs to an elite cadre of the world’s finest violinists, and it will be a huge thrill to hear her play in the more intimate confines of Central Moravian’s beautiful sanctuary (she regularly fills halls much, much larger). Tickets are on sale now, and I strongly encourage purchasing them earlier rather than later – her recital will be one of the musical events of the season in the Lehigh Valley and beyond.
November: On Tuesday, November 8th, Charlotte Mattax-Moersch’s mini-cycle of Bach’s solo harpsichord concertos will conclude with her offering of the regal D-Major at Bach at Noon. Charlotte will be playing an instrument by Bethlehem’s own Willard Martin, an internationally celebrated builder, and will be joined by our excellent string players. Also on tap will be a festive cantata for choir and orchestra with brass, winds and strings, No. 129. The last movement, a chorale setting, will be sure to send the audience out with a spring in their step!
Also in November, members of The Choir will be offering our extremely successful educational outreach program, Bach to School, in local schools. More about that soon!
December: The 2011 Christmas Concerts will feature several juxtapositions of brilliant music for Christmas on Saturday and Sunday, December 10th and 11th in Allentown and Bethlehem. The repertoire includes Bach’s infectiously-joyful cantata, No. 40, which includes tour de force parts for two french horns, beautiful arias, and wonderful choral movements. The joyous festivity of Bach will contrast with the music of one of his French forbearers, Marc-Antoine Charpentier. We’ll be singing Charpentier’s utterly charming Messe de Minuit pour Noël, or Midnight Mass for Christmas. This piece uses French Noëls or Christmas carols for its melodies, and Charpentier sets them brilliantly for a French baroque orchestra of flutes, strings and continuo. Our orchestra includes several early French music specialists, and I’m really excited to hear how that expertise will come to life in their accompanying. Charpentier’s music will dialogue across the centuries with four unaccompanied motets for the Christmas season by the 20th century French master, Francis Poulenc. These evocative pieces include Poulenc’s signature jazzy harmonies and gorgeous lyricism. Following the Poulenc, we’ll sing the last cantata from the Christmas Oratorio, with celebratory interpolations from brass and full orchestra. The concert will conclude, as always, with audience carols.
January: January’s Bach at Noon will be our 50th Bach at Noon! Our conductor, Greg Funfgeld, often reminisces about his sleepless night before the first-ever Bach at Noon. He was concerned that there would be a small audience for this new venture. He needn’t have worried – Central Moravian was delightfully full and has been close to or at capacity for all of the succeeding concerts. We’ll celebrate this significant milestone with a reprise of our first program: Bach’s Brandenberg Concerto No. 1, with festive french horns and beautiful orchestral dances, and his epiphany cantata, No. 65, whose evocative opening movement seems to suggest, in music, the experience of riding a camel (I kid you not – I will try to convince Greg to demonstrate). Of course, the regal camel music hints at the journey of the Magi, and this cantata features wonderful choral and solo singing, with beautiful texts and lush accompaniment.
February: February’s Bach at Noon, on Tuesday, the 14th will include a performance of the E-Flat French Suite, BWV 815, for harpsichord, with our beloved conductor at the keyboards. He played the G-Major last year, and this performance is sure to be a treat. Bach’s French suites demonstrate his knowledge and mastery of French compositional style, and this series of dances will be a delight for listeners. The cantata on offer, No. 8, will intrigue listeners with an as yet unanswered musical riddle. The opening chorus features winds and pizzicato strings, and a moment into the beautiful music the flutes begin playing a series of rapid repeated notes that don’t entirely seem random, but also are kind of strange (in the best possible sense). This cantata is, to my mind, a bit of an oddity, and I’ll excited to plumb the depths of its mysteries!
Also in February is the much-beloved Family Concert, at the Zoellner Arts Center on Sunday, February 26th, at 3 pm. This year, we’ll revisit Bach’s relationship with and inspiration for dance, with performers from the Lehigh Valley Charter School for the Arts and Muhlenberg College. Bach and dance fit together like a glove, and The Choir has had many fruitful collaborations with the Paul Taylor Dance Compay, the Repertory Dance Company, and others. This concert will be an excellent introduction to the joy that is Bach’s music for children of all ages, we’ll all delight in watching Greg connect with our youngest audience members.
March: Because of the proximity to the Spring Concert, March’s Bach at Noon (on Tuesday, the 13th) will feature another solo cantata. I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but this program will be absolutely stunning, and I’m looking forward to writing about it more in the new year. It will begin with the trio sonata from Bach’s Musical Offering, a piece that has captured the imaginations of scholars for centuries. It’s unquestionably beautiful, but it’s also an intellectual gold mine – you may want to read James R. Gaines’ classic, An Evening in the Palace of Reason, to prepare for this performance. Then, as if that weren’t reason enough to brave the winter cold, the young bass-baritone Dashon Burton will be singing Bach’s utterly exquisite solo cantata, No. 82. Dashon won an honorable mention in The Choir’s 2008 Competition for Young American Singers (offered jointly with the American Bach Society). He was the soloist in the massed choir performance of the Fauré Requiem last Friday at Trinity Wall Street, and I got to stand about 10 feet from him for the second half of the performance. You will be blown away by his singing, as well as by the gorgeous arias in this cantata. I think No. 82 is in my personal top 5.
Everyone at the March Bach at Noon should buy a ticket for our Spring Concert, which will take place the following Sunday, March 18th, at 4 pm at The First Presbyterian Church of Bethlehem, if they enjoy music of great intellectual and spiritual gravity. Longtime friend of the choir, bass-baritone Christòpheren Nomura will be offering Brahms’ Four Serious Songs, his last composition. Christòpheren studied German lieder extensively with Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, arguably the 20th century’s greatest practitioner of the art form, and can persuasively claim to be an heir to that great tradition of singing. Those pieces will be surrounded by a Bach motet, No. 226, which was said to be a source of great inspiration to Brahms, and Brahms’ own German Requiem. Philip Metzger, writing for the Morning Call, called our 2005 performance of the Requiem, “the concert event of the decade.” It was certainly one of the musical highlights of my association with the choir (I always add the caveat, “thus far,” as each year brings new heights and mountaintop experiences). We’re very much looking forward to performing this piece in a version Brahms wrote for accompaniment by two pianos. Our own wonderful Assistant Conductor, Organist, and Accompanist, Tom Goeman, will be joined by Eric Plutz, Principal Organist of the Princeton University Chapel, at the piano. These two gentleman are practitioners of the art of accompanying at the very highest level, and you will be amazed at the colors and textures you’ll hear in their playing. The Requiem is one of the most unabashedly gorgeous pieces in the entire choral repertory, and this concert promises to be a fabulous afternoon of music. Prepare to be transfixed.
April: Bach at Noon in April will feature Beethoven’s F-Major Cello Sonata, performed by Greg and Loretta O’Sullivan, our principal cellist. Their last collaboration on Beethoven was fantastic and eye-opening, and it will be a treat to see them unleashed on this beautiful music. Bach at Noon will conclude with Cantata No. 130, which is Bach’s essay on the hymn tune known to American audiences as Old-Hundredth, or Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow. Bach’s treatment of this tune is thrilling – the opening chorus is a bravado treatment, with choir and orchestra thrown in the deep end! This concert will be a great close to the season’s Bach at Noon offerings.
WordPress is telling me that I’ve been quite verbose, and this post is already too long (it’s difficult to quell one’s enthusiasm for a season like this). I shall preview May’s offerings in the New Year – the 2012 Bethlehem Bach Festival will be a feast of riches worthy of at least another 1700 words. In the meantime, do visit The Choir’s performance calendar, and start to plan for the acquisition of your tickets to this season’s concerts.