Setting the Stage: Bach at Noon, November 9th

If the music for the first two Bach at Noons this year were somewhat atypical examples from Bach’s monumental oeuvre (a solo soprano cantata in September, and the first Bethlehem performance of an almost motet-like early choral piece in October), the program for the November performance returns us to the terra firma of familiarity, while setting the stage beautifully for the remainder of the fall season.  The vocal work for the program is No. 140, Wachet Auf,  ruft uns die stimme, one of Bach’s most famous and charming works.  Carol Traupman-Carr introduces this piece, including some analysis and discussion of its musical elements, here.   Written for the 27th Sunday after Trinity, the last Sunday of the church year, what’s striking about this piece is that, rather than a valedictory statement, or a looking backwards at the terrain of the church year, this cantata anticipates the coming new church year with a style that combines the dotted rhythms of a French overture with his more conventional style of placing a chorale (or hymn) melody in the center of a beautifully elaborate accompaniment.  As such, Bach is effectively raising the curtain on a new church year, with Philipp Nicolai’s vivid text propelling the drama forward.  Of note in this piece are the two exceptional arias casting the baritone soloist as Christ and the soprano soloist as the soul of the faithful.  Bach sets them as love duets, the first with a sense of urgent longing, and the second with a playful, almost coy dialogue between the two.  At the center of the piece is the movement for strings, continuo, and tenors, which I’m sure 99% of our audience will recognize upon hearing, “Zion hears the watchman singing.” This cantata is famous and much-loved for a reason – it’s unbelievably beautiful.  There’s a great quote by the editor at the beginning of the edition the choir sings from, Alfred Dürr.  He writes, “It would certainly be wrong to call Bach’s music ascetic and bloodless; all the same, there are few works among his entire output that express such sensuous joy as shines from the cantata Wachet Auf.”   If you’d like a taste of the choir singing this cantata, you may stream it from an NPR story about our 100th Festival in 2007.  The link is on the left-hand side of the page.

Beginning the program will be performances by Greg Funfgeld and Tom Goeman, our Conductor and Assistant Conductor, of the six Schübler Chorales on the large pipe organ of Central Moravian Church.  These pieces, which hold the distinction of having been published during Bach’s lifetime, are keyboard transcriptions of movements of his cantatas.  These, too, are quite charming, and listeners will delight in hearing two exceptional organists bring this compelling music to life.  Among the Chorales is a transcription of the fourth movement of the Cantata No. 140, so we will hear both an organ version and, later in the performance, a version for choir and orchestra.  Also among the Chorales is a transcription of a movement from the recently performed Cantata No. 137, which individuals who attended our Bach, Brass & Beyond Concert will recognize immediately from the end of Sunday’s program.

If Wachet Auf, sets the stage for the liturgical season that follows, this performance will also set the stage for two exciting performances soon to follow:  The Tiempo Libre Bach in Havana Gala Concert at the Zoellner Arts Center on Saturday, November 13th, and our annual Christmas Concerts.  I will be writing more about both soon, but there are thematic links between these three performances that deserve mention.  In the Schübler Chorales, we see that Bach readily adapted his own music for different instruments and settings (his sacred and secular works frequently borrowed from one another).  The Tiempo Libre concert will take Bach from the choir loft to the dance floor.  These Grammy-nominated artists will treat us to an evening of tropical rhythms and the timeless music of Bach combined, a most-exciting prospect!  Also, Cantata No. 140 leads us directly to the repertoire of our Christmas concerts:  two Advent cantatas based on the chorale Nun Komm der Heiden Heiland, and two Christmas cantatas from the Christmas Oratorio. Please join us at all three performances – ticket information for Tiempo Libre and the Christmas Concerts may be found here, and remember to arrive early for Bach at Noon if you want a good seat.  The doors will open at 11:30 am.  See you there!

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