When Greg Funfgeld shared his plans for the upcoming Bach Choir of Bethlehem season, I was quite tickled with his design for a fantastic year of music-making. One of the wonderful things about his programing is that, in some years, we explore Bach’s musical universe by encountering music that influenced the Kapellmeister, as well as music clearly influenced by his genius. Last year, we encountered, in addition to our beloved JSB, the music of Stanford, Gawthrop, CPE Bach, Stravinsky, Händel, composers of the French Court, Vivaldi, and more! It was fascinating to experience Bach’s reach throughout the ages, and encounter the depth of his influence on a seemingly disparate band of composers. That kaleidoscopic view is much appreciated – with Bach at the center of many colorful prisms (who can forget the Bachian influence heard in Stravinsky’s colossal and evocative Symphony of Psalms?). This dialogue across the centuries enriches our understanding of Bach (and the other composers), and hones and stretches the skills of the performers, all the while exposing performers and audience, alike, to the full breadth of our beloved JSB’s reach.
This season, however, will mark a return to first things, those being the major works of our namesake. It also will be a fascinating opportunity to experience those works in the context of one of Bach’s working liturgical years. We will experience the first three cantatas of the Christmas Oratorio in mid-December, just as we’re all gearing up for the holiday. We will encounter his deeply moving and powerful St. John Passion on Palm Sunday, at the precipice of Holy Week. Finally, in the midst of High Spring, the rhapsodic joy of his Easter Oratorio will be ours to share in the midst of the second year of our re-imagined Bach Festival. Those are the broad strokes; along the way there will be all kinds of opportunities for musical and spiritual refreshment and invigoration. They include a youth choir festival at this year’s Family Concert (I can’t wait for young singers to experience Händel’s riveting coronation anthem, Zadok, the Priest, as well as JSB’s delightful motet, Lobet den Hern), a year-long series of Bach at Noon, including our 75th B@N in Bethlehem on September 15th (including three performances in Allentown, next summer, after the ecstatic success of this summer’s two performances), and the opportunity to hear some of the foremost Bach interpreters of our time, the Bach Collegium Japan, offer a program of instrumental and vocal delights at our Gala Concert. The treasures abound!
The theme of the season is Bach at the Heart, and this was chosen to express something that can sometimes be lost in the technical revelation of Bach’s music: Bach, however perfected his musical gifts were, was composing from his heart, to express the depth and breadth of his faith. As interpreters and listeners in the 21st century of this music, varied in religious denomination and understanding, we may still experience the clarity and focus of Bach’s skills in ways that are fresh and new and full of life-giving energy. I heartily encourage you to take advantage of the opportunity that this season’s journey offers all of us: to experience music lovingly rendered with technical skill and interpretative excellence, but also a rich depth of feeling and tremendous heart. I don’t think any of us who sing or play would be half as passionate about all of this if we didn’t feel, in our bones, in our souls, the rich rewards that come with this enterprise.
For more details about the upcoming season, visit the overview on the Choir’s page by clicking here.