Inside look: Bach’s Mass in b minor
On March 24th Bach Collegium Japan will deliver a complete performance of J.S. Bach’s masterful Mass in b minor in Hill Auditorium. While this concert has always been a calendar highlight for us Bach enthusiasts, the natural disasters that shook the pacific region on March 11th have made the need for musical catharsis more important than ever.
If you haven’t heard, UMS committed to donate 50% of ticket purchases from March 16-24 to the American Red Cross Japan Earthquake and Pacific Tsunami Relief fund, an organization chosen by Bach Collegium Japan. I imagine the members of the Collegium will hope their performance of the Mass is as cathartic to this tragedy as the New York Philharmonic’s 2002 performance of Beethoven’s Symphony no. 9 was in response to the September 11th terrorist attacks.
The Bach Collegium could not be better suited to strike a universal chord than with the music of J.S. Bach, one of the most widely beloved composers in the history of Western Music. Local Bach lovers are many and passionate, and it is likely Hill Auditorium will be packed to the rafters. The Mass in b minor is one of Bach’s most transcendent compositions, insofar as it contemporaneously united Bach’s staunch Lutheranism with the textual backbone of the Catholic mass service.
Symbolically re-contextualizing the Mass in b minor like this is not far-fetched, particularly because the work’s first performance was at a charity concert in Hamburg 36 years after Bach died. Obviously, the Mass was meant to be part of a Catholic church service, but its immense length and the fact that Bach completed it only a year before his death prevented the work from achieving its intended purpose. The Bach Collegium Japan’s historical period instruments will present the Mass within an aural context akin to Bach’s own time and may even sound more ‘authentic’ than the first complete performance of the work in 1859 seeing as conductors in that period often re-orchestrated much older works to suit their modern ensembles.
The Mass in b minor is an enormous work lasting over two hours in length. It has four main sections that essentially consist of alternating chorus and small group or solo movements. Many parts of the work are well-known as excerpts, so try not to experience the complete Mass as a sort of ‘connect-the-dots’ from one familiar movement to the other. Although full of minute details, I believe the Mass has a pretty clear long-term emotional arc similar to the non-Bach work I mentioned earlier: Beethoven’s Symphony no. 9.
Beyond its trademark choral writing, Beethoven’s Symphony no. 9 uses an expanded brass section in its final, glorious movement and the Mass in b minor undergoes a similar coloristic journey from beginning to end. The first Kyrie sets a very dark, dense tone for the works thanks in large part to a general absence of brass instruments in the orchestral accompaniment. Plaintive, mournful movements such as the choral Kyrie, Qui tollis peccatta mundi and solo Qui sedes ad dexteram and Benedictus prominently feature flute or oboe obligatto (solo) parts against the individual singers or highlight these instruments against the larger vocal ensemble. Beginning with the Et ressurexit movement halfway through part 3 of the whole work, the trumpets and horns play a larger and larger role in the choral movements which are more triumphant in tone.
Of course, there are exceptions to the ‘rule’ I’ve laid out – prominent brass parts in the early Gloria in excelsis and Quoniam to solus sanctus movements and reflective minor keys of two of the final four movements – but, to my ears, there is a clear evolution in instrumental color from beginning to end of the Mass in b minor, just like Beethoven’s Symphony no. 9. This is a powerful development on the composition’s largest scale: there is a transformation from the penitent darkness of the opening Kyrie to the mature confidence of the calmly glorious Dona nobis pacem, which closes the work.
From an emotional standpoint, I cannot yet imagine the power of the angelically soaring trumpet parts as the Dona nobis pacem (“Grant Us Peace”) drives to its final cadence, culminating both Bach’s masterpiece and the communal prayers the audience and performers. Bach Collegium Japan’s 3/17 performance in Grand Rapids was certainly reported to be a cathartic event, with a special meaning captured in this final movement. As I already noted, 50% of the proceeds accrued between March 16-24 will be donated to disaster relief, providing a spiritual and tangible act of support for the victims and survivors of the devastating earthquake.
UMS to Donate Proceeds from Bach Collegium Japan Concert to Earthquake Relief
The University Musical Society will donate 50% of all new ticket purchases to the Bach Collegium Japan concert on Thursday, March 24 in Hill Auditorium to the American Red Cross Japan Earthquake and Pacific Tsunami Relief fund.
Bach Collegium Japan and its conductor Masaaki Suzuki arrived in the United States on Monday for a five-concert tour of Bach’s Mass in b minor, which will be performed in Hill Auditorium on Thursday, March 24 at 8 pm. The group is the third Japanese ensemble presented on the UMS program this season.
Officials from the Bach Collegium Japan identified the American Red Cross as the fund that they would like to support. UMS will track all ticket sales from March 16-24 for the Bach Collegium concert and donate 50% of the ticket price to the American Red Cross Japan Earthquake and Pacific Tsunami Relief fund.
“Our hearts go out to everyone in Japan and locally who is dealing with the aftermath of this terrible tragedy. We have seen first-hand the incredible healing power of music. Nevertheless, we also wanted to do something concrete to signal our support for the many Japanese artists whom we’ve presented over the years,” said UMS President Kenneth C. Fischer.
Masaaki Suzuki, the ensemble’s music director, said, “This has been a very difficult time for my country. We are extraordinarily grateful to all of those in the United States who are offering their support.”
Half of the cost of every ticket purchased between now and the concert on March 24 will automatically be designated for the earthquake relief fund. For further information, contact the UMS Ticket Office at 734-764-2538 or www.ums.org.
10/11 Divine Voices Series Announced
The Divine Voices Series celebrates the choral music tradition with three concerts at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church and one in Hill Auditorium.
The Route of the New World:
From Spain to Mexico
Jordi Savall and La Capella Reial de Catalunya
with Hesperion XXI
Tembembe Ensamble Continuo
Thursday, September 30 | 8 pm
St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church
“The term ‘early-music superstar’ is surely an oxymoron. But in the most understated of repertory, on the most subdued of instruments, and in the most self-effacing way, Jordi Savall comes close to being one.” (The New York Times) Jordi Savall is an exceptional figure in today’s music world. For more than 30 years, he has been devoted to the rediscovery and performance of neglected musical treasures as soloist and director of three ensembles, two of which join forces with Mexico’s Tembembe Ensamble Continuo for this concert. For the past 15 years, Ensamble Continuo has explored the relationship between Mexican Baroque music and traditional Latin American instruments. This concert will trace the movement of music from Spain to the New World, bringing together ensembles from Spain and Mexico, and fusing Hispanic baroque and guitar music with contemporary jarocho and huasteco traditions.
The Tallis Scholars
Peter Phillips director
Thursday, November 4 | 8 pm
St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church
Widely considered “the rock stars of Renaissance vocal music” (The New York Times), The Tallis Scholars were founded in 1973 by Peter Phillips, who remains their director nearly 30 years later. Through recordings and concert performances, they have established themselves as the leading advocates of Renaissance sacred music throughout the world. Named after the composer Thomas Tallis, the ensemble is widely recognized for the purity and clarity of its sound, which serves the Renaissance repertoire, allowing every detail of the musical lines to be heard. For this return appearance, The Tallis Scholars juxtapose works of Renaissance England with the contemporary Estonian composer Arvo Pärt, whose minimalist style finds inspiration in Gregorian chant.
Benjamin Bagby director
Thursday, January 27 | 8 pm
St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church
For more than 30 years, the Ensemble Sequentia has set the standard for the performance of medieval music (from the period before 1300). After 25 years based in Cologne, Germany, the group has re-established its home in Paris, with a new program of vocal music from Notre Dame de Paris providing the impetus for this program. For centuries, Parisians and visitors to Paris have been thrilled by the imposing Cathedral of Notre Dame, whose massive towers and elegant flying buttresses dominate the Ile de la Cité. While today the area around the cathedral contains many of the trappings of a popular tourist site, in the 12th century, the cathedral of Notre Dame was situated within its own “campus” that enclosed nearly one-third of the island and housed an autonomous mini-state with its own laws and enforcement, free from the secular power wielded by the French king. Within this city within a city was the high altar, where the best young male vocalists in Europe were heard on important feast days, where the most innovative musical minds gave expression to new ideas in thrilling sonic structures that echoed the dynamic new architecture taking shape around them. This program draws from medieval vocal music from Paris in the 13th century.
Bach Collegium Japan
Masaaki Suzuki conductor
Thursday, March 24 | 8 pm
Founded in 1990 by Masaaki Suzuki with the aim of introducing Japanese audiences to period instrument performance of great works of the Baroque period, the Bach Collegium Japan comprises both orchestra and chorus. The group has developed a formidable reputation through its recordings of J.S. Bach’s church cantatas, and returns to Ann Arbor after its 2003 St. Matthew Passion in St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church. Widely regarded as one of the supreme achievements in classical music, the Mass in b minor was composed over a period of 25 years and assembled in its present form in 1749, the year before Bach died.
J.S. Bach: Mass in b minor
Divine Voices packages (all four concerts) are $132 for general admission tickets or $172 for reserved tickets.
We’d love to hear your thoughts on the 10/11 Divine Voices series. Have you been to a previous performance by any of these ensembles? Each of them has performed in Ann Arbor in the past.
UMS Announces 10/11 Choral Union Series & Piano Series
The University Musical Society is pleased to announce its 132nd Annual Choral Union Series, with 10 concerts in Hill Auditorium. The series includes:
Valery Gergiev, conductor
Denis Matsuev, piano
Sunday, October 10 | 4 pm
Gergiev’s long association with the Mariinsky Theatre — including 10 UMS appearances, most recently the five-concert cycle of Shostakovich symphonies —has raised the ensemble’s profile to the point where it is now widely regarded one of the most dynamic and exciting ensembles on the world stage today. The fiery Russian pianist Denis Matsuev has received worldwide acclaim for his rare combination of technical virtuosity and deep musicality since his stunning victory at the 11th International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow in 1998. “His technique is phenomenal: blistering passagework, steely chords. Perhaps he is the new Horowitz.” (London Times)
Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 3 in d minor, Op. 30
Mahler Symphony No. 5
Venice Baroque Orchestra
Robert McDuffie, violin
Wednesday, October 27 | 8 pm
The Venice Baroque Orchestra was founded in 1997 by harpsichordist Andrea Marcon and is recognized as one of Europe’s premier ensembles devoted to period instrument performance. For this UMS debut, they perform music of their home city — Venetian composer Antonio Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons — paired with an “American Four Seasons” by Philip Glass featuring violinist Robert McDuffie, who has worked closely with Glass over the years and who made his UMS debut with the Jerusalem Symphony in 2008.
Vivaldi The Four Seasons, Op. 8 (1723)
Glass Violin Concerto No. 2: “The American Four Seasons”
Murray Perahia, piano
Wednesday, November 10 | 8 pm
Anyone who has heard one of Murray’s Perahia’s previous 11 UMS appearances would have to agree with the assessment of The Los Angeles Times: “Perahia is a marvel.” In the more than 35 years he has been performing on the concert stage, he has become one of the most cherished pianists of our time. “Perahia may be the closest thing to a pure conduit of music — one in which the imagination and skill of the player are entirely at the service of the composer, not the player’s ego…The soul of a poet, the mind of a thinker, the hands of a virtuoso: No wonder audiences love this guy.” (The Seattle Times)
Program to be announced.
Renée Fleming, soprano
Sunday, January 16 | 4 pm
One of the most beloved and celebrated musical ambassadors of our time, soprano Renée Fleming captivates audiences with her sumptuous voice, consummate artistry, and compelling stage presence. In addition to commanding the stages of the great opera houses of the world, she hosts the Metropolitan Opera’s Live in HD Series for movie theaters and television with behind-the-scenes interviews. Her fame is such that perfumes, desserts, and flowers have all been named after her, but those superficial accolades pale in comparison to her devoted following of opera lovers around the world. This great American soprano returns to UMS after her 1997 recital and her 2005 appearance in a concert version of Richard Strauss’s Daphne.
The Cleveland Orchestra
Franz Welser-Möst, conductor
Pierre-Laurent Aimard, piano
Tuesday, February 1 | 8 pm
Founded shortly after the end of World War I, the Cleveland Orchestra has been guided by seven music directors, each of whom has left his mark on the widely admired “Cleveland” sound: Nikolai Sokoloff, Artur Rodzinski, Erich Leinsdorf, George Szell, Lorin Maazel, Christoph von Dohnányi, and Franz Welser-Möst, who leads the ensemble and the French pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard in this performance.
Bartók Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celeste, Sz. 106, BB 114
Schumann Piano Concerto in a minor, Op. 54
Wagner Overture to Tannhäuser
Rafał Blechacz, piano
Friday, February 11 | 8 pm
In October 2005, the 20-year-old Rafał Blechacz, an unassuming young man from a small town in northern Poland, arrived in Warsaw for the 15th International Chopin Competition. His sensational performance won not only the competition, but also all four special prizes for the polonaise, mazurka, sonata, and concerto performance — in fact, one of the judges remarked that he “so outclassed the remaining finalists that no second prize could actually be awarded.” Blechacz was the first Pole to win the prize since Krystian Zimerman 30 years earlier. Notwithstanding his young age, his playing offers poetry, maturity, poise and concentration, as well as a phenomenal and luminous technique. “How reassuring it is to see one so young putting poetry first…we were all on another planet.” (Financial Times)
Program to be announced.
Mahler’s Symphony No. 8
Detroit Symphony Orchestra
UMS Choral Union
U-M Chamber Choir
U-M University Choir
U-M Orpheus Singers
MSU Children’s Choir
Leonard Slatkin, conductor
Saturday, March 19 | 8 pm
In commemoration of the 150th anniversary of Gustav Mahler’s birth and the 100th anniversary of his death, UMS is collaborating with the DSO and Michigan Opera Theatre to present a spectacular, not-to-be-missed performance of Mahler’s monumental Symphony No. 8, also known as “Symphony of a Thousand.” The first performance of this “choral symphony” featured a chorus of about 850, with an orchestra of 171, leading Mahler’s agent to dub to the work “Symphony of a Thousand.” While Mahler himself did not approve of the title, it nevertheless remains associated with this work, which is rarely preformed due to the massive forces required to do it justice.
Bach’s Mass in b minor
Bach Collegium Japan
Masaaki Suzuki, conductor
Thursday, March 24 | 8 pm
Founded in 1990 by Masaaki Suzuki with the aim of introducing Japanese audiences to period instrument performance of great works of the Baroque period, the Bach Collegium Japan comprises both orchestra and chorus. The group has developed a formidable reputation through its recordings of J.S. Bach’s church cantatas, and returns to Ann Arbor after its 2003 St. Matthew Passion in St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church. Widely regarded as one of the supreme achievements in classical music, the Mass in b minor was composed over a period of 25 years and assembled in its present form in 1749, the year before Bach died. “I have never heard period instruments played with such purity of tone, so reliably in tune. The small, precise, dramatically alert chorus breathed fire but also revealed a heartbreaking tenderness.” (The Los Angeles Times)
St. Petersburg Philharmonic
Yuri Temirkanov, conductor
Nikolai Lugansky, piano
Saturday, April 2 | 8 pm
The Russian city of St. Petersburg boasts two world-class orchestras, and UMS has enjoyed a long relationship with each. The St. Petersburg Philharmonic has appeared in Ann Arbor five times under Yuri Temirkanov’s leadership. With a history dating back more than 200 years, the St. Petersburg Philharmonic is embedded with musical history, performing the world premiere of Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis in 1824, as well as Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6, Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 1, and many works by Shostakovich. Pianist Nikolai Lugansky, who won the 1994 Tchaikovsky Piano Competition, makes his UMS debut. A Russian newspaper said of his performance in the final round of competition: “It was like getting sunstroke, a musical shock. Nobody could imagine that the soul of this unpretentious, modest young man, with his ascetic, but also poetic appearance, held such a volcano inside with inspired and resolute control.”
Rimsky-Korsakov Scheherazade, Op. 35
Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 2 in c minor, Op. 18
Genia Kühmeier, soprano
Bernarda Fink, mezzo-soprano
Michael Schade, tenor
Thomas Quasthoff, bass-baritone
Malcolm Martineau, piano
Justus Zeyen, piano
Saturday, April 23 | 8 pm
After nearly a decade in which he composed no vocal music at all, Schumann made a striking return to the genre with the Spanisches Liebeslieder song collection, which combines songs for solo voice with duets and quartets. A generation later, Brahms took the same instrumentation — vocal quartet plus four-hand piano —and composed the Liebeslieder and Neue Liebeslieder Waltzes. These three works serve the centerpiece of a program that also includes Brahms’ composition for vocal quartet and piano, performed by a brilliant quartet of musicians, including bass-baritone Thomas Quasthoff, who last appeared at UMS in a Lydia Mendessohn Theatre recital in 2000.
Schumann Spanische Liebeslieder, Op. 138
Brahms Liebeslieder Waltzes, Op. 52
Brahms Four Songs from Quartets for Four Voices and Pianos, Ops. 64 & 92
Brahms Neue Liebeslieder Waltzes, Op. 65
Tickets for the 10-concert series range from $100-$650. Subscription renewal packets and brochures will be mailed in early May.
In addition to the 10-concert Choral Union Series, five events listed above will be packaged as a Piano Series (Kirov Orchestra with Denis Matsuev, Murray Perahia, Cleveland Orchestra with Pierre-Laurent Aimard, Rafał Blechacz, and St. Petersburg Philharmonic with Nikolai Lugansky). Prices for the five-concert Piano Series range from $50-$310.
Tickets to individual events on the series go on sale on Monday, August 23 (via www.ums.org) and Wednesday, August 25 (in person and by phone).