Your intrepid blogger has had an extremely busy fall, especially so working on other projects within the Bach Choir universe. I have been remiss in not updating, but hope to touch on a few happenings from the fall, and preview the big Christmas Concerts soon to happen!
The 2019 Gala – The Theatre of Early Music – The Coronation of George II
We hit all our attendance goals and vastly exceeded our fundraising goals, both cherries atop an exquisite sundae of spectacular music-making, high drama, and much pomp and circumstance. I tarried in purchasing our tickets, and then ended up sitting near the rear of St. John’s marvelous neo-gothic edifice. Given the way Daniel Taylor’s superb choir made their way around the space to create a variety of stunning sonic and aural experiences for the audiences, this actually worked out rather well for us. So many favorite moments in the beautifully constructed and magnificently executed program: Fanfares from natural trumpets, the Theatre’s skilled singers veiled from the audience as they sang Gibbons from a concealed location, a rousing offering of Parry’s I was Glad, including members of the Bach Choir to supplement the ranks of the Theatre, zesty period instrument playing, including ruddy and commanding punctuations from timpani, a stellar performance of John Tavener’s Hymn to the Mother of God, with the choir tackling Tavener’s harmonic canon from opposite sides of the nave, and King George, himself, portrayed by Bill Coleman, who had to remain in character and listen to lots of music, for the full performance. Danny’s introduction to the performance was full of his trademarked wit and enthusiasm, and the audience responded rapturously to a program of great delight and depth. What a treat!
Bach at Noon and Bach to School
At a recent meeting of the Board of Managers, we were discussing The Choir’s fiscal performance (all is very well), and a somewhat shocking (to me) data point came up. 42% of our yearly expenditures goes to non-ticketed events, that is, performances under the aegis of our educational or community engagement programs, like Bach at Noon and Bach to School. I confess, I had assumed that number was more like 20-30%, but the 42% is a powerful testament to our organization’s mission, the extravagant generosity of individual, corporate, foundation, and government funders, and a point of pride for all of us who see the tremendous value in sharing the beauty and power of music, and Bach’s music in particular, with those in our community and the wider world.
To that end, all of the third graders in the Easton School District, all of the fifth graders in the Allentown School District, and many third and forth graders from Catasauqua were recently treated to Bach to School, an hour-long choral/orchestral performance given by volunteers from The Choir as well as members of the Bach Festival Orchestra. The program is developmentally tailored to each audience, and includes excerpts from the Mass in B-Minor, a couple cantatas, a few instrumental works, with Greg’s trademarked illuminating introductions to the pieces. We receive scores of thank you notes from the students. They are at once touching, deeply amusing, and very dear (in fact, they were the genesis of The Choir’s book, Dear Mr. Funfgeld, a compendium of tributes on the occasion of Greg’s 25th anniversary at the helm). All involved report that this fall’s Bach to School performances were wonderful.
Likewise, Bach at Noon has had capacity audiences and much shared nourishment in the rich feast of Bach’s music, throughout the fall. On Tuesday, January 14th, we’ll mark the fifteenth anniversary of the inauguration of the Bach at Noon concerts with a repeat of the original program, including Bach’s First Brandenburg Concerto and the Epiphany cantata, Sie werden aus Saba alle kommen, BWV 65, a splendid musical evocation of the Magi’s journey. It promises to be a wonderful moment in the life of The Choir!
Good news and bad news: The Bethlehem Christmas Concert is sold out (this is kind of good news), but, never fear, there are seats still available in Allentown for the Saturday performance, on December 7th. The acoustics of the First Presbyterian Church of Allentown are wonderful – less reverberant than Bethlehem, but with the trade-off of crystalline clarity, and a visceral sense of projection. These performances will mark a Bach Choir first: the Christmas portion of Handel’s Messiah! All fall, we’ve been deconstructing the music, removing all the extra layers of varnish, shedding the neo-Victorian sentiment, and bypassing all the bad vocal habits that are often brought to bear in this, the most popular oratorio of the repertoire. What has emerged is something fresh and full of energy and delight. We have a dream team of soloists, and we’re pairing the Handel with music from his exact contemporary, JSB! The Magnificat, BWV 243, makes an excellent partner to Christmas Messiah. both works find their composers in fine text-painting form, from comfort and devotion to joyful pomp, intimacy to ecstatic music of the spheres. Rehearsals have been lots of fun, even as our leader has been rather painstaking and exacting in bring this music to life. If you’re on the fence about this concert – do join us! Greg’s Handel is always polished and engaging, and the Magnificat promises lots of powerful music-making. We hope to see you next weekend!