Reviving Bach’s Cantatas for Today’s Audiences: Choral Arts Philadelphia’s Concert Program Continues February 15

Members of Choral Arts Philadelphia during a pre-concert warm-up, alto and bass section. Photo by Sharon Torello.

Johann Sebastian Bach’s cantatas have inspired a variety of presentations by choral, theater, and opera directors, but rarely do audiences have an opportunity to experience a complete cycle of cantatas in their originally intended format. Choral Arts Philadelphia’s ongoing Center-funded project 1734–1735: A Season in the Life of J.S. Bach offers just that, with the recreation of 18 of Bach’s cantatas, performed in an arc spanning the Christian church calendar and secular seasons.

Next up in the series is a February 15 concert featuring renditions of Cantata 14: Wär Gott nicht mit uns (Were God not with us) and Cantata 147: Herz und Mund und Tat und leben (Heart and Mouth Deed and Life), and a talk by artistic director Matthew Glandorf on “The Power of Bach’s Cantatas.”

In the project’s program book, Hannelore N. Rogers writes of Bach’s remarkable creative output: “Bach’s grueling workload might have felled a less determined man – a cantata every Sunday and Christian feast day – a cycle of about 60 a year. During his tenure in Leipzig, he produced five such cycles, of which only the first three have come down more or less intact.”

Glandorf says that Choral Arts decided several years ago to make the sacred cantatas of Bach the chorus’ primary focus. “Although we perform other music, this unique repertoire and focus on one composer gives our singers a unique opportunity of specialization that also informs the other repertoire we perform, while creating a unique sound that distinguishes Choral Arts from other choruses in the region,” Glandorf explains.

“I believe the music and the themes upon which they touch clearly still speak to audiences today—themes such as love, death, loss, faith, life’s trials and joys, but to name a few,” he says. “J.S. Bach is universally considered one of the most influential composers in the history of western music. The fact that the majority of his output is rarely heard is a great opportunity. I think the marriage of pairing the cantatas in a seasonal context in the format of short, mid-week concerts is a way to keep this wonderful repertoire alive and relevant beyond its liturgical conception.”

All concerts take place at 7 p.m. at St. Clement’s Episcopal Church, and are pay-what-you-wish with a suggested donation of $20. Learn more.>>

>>Mark your calendar for Eastertide, the final installment of the concert series, April 19 and 26.

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