A Bach Manuscript Is Magnified


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CanoncropHoughton Library at Harvard University has recently examined a Bach manuscript from their collection under a microscope capable of capturing images. Fascinating details of the seventh measure of Canon à 4. Voc: perpetuus (BWV 1073) emerge at high magnification, including bleeding ink at staff lines, individual ink particles and a densely woven network of paper fibers.

Houghton Library – Harvard University

Listening Without Preconceptions


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Mark Padmore

Mark Padmore

By his own admission, Mark Padmore is “not the kind of singer who thinks about my voice all the time,” he said in a recent interview. Which is not to say that Padmore  doesn’t sing well; his airy and exquisitely supple tone is a sonic delight. But the mechanics of producing beautiful sound have never been at the root of his artistry.

What makes Padmore special is instead a quality that he refers to more than once during a conversation as “being in the moment”: an expressive intensity that seeks to revitalize a relationship with a piece of music – both his own and an audience’s – without artifice, and without drawing attention to himself.

“What I’ve tried to do, kind of with everything, is to just be in that moment of really hearing everything for the first time,” he said by phone from New York. “It is actually a huge act of listening and concentration, moment by moment. My voice for this is absolutely at the service of putting across the text.”

The “this” he was referring to was Bach’s St. Matthew Passion (BWV 244b), which he was in New York to perform with the Berlin Philharmonic, in a staging by director Peter Sellars that has become a landmark in visionary programming since its 2010 debut. Sellars’s version – a “ritualization,” as he calls it – is both abstract and charged with meaning, retelling the story of Jesus’ suffering and crucifixion in a way that connects its ancient roots to a contemporary sense of existential urgency.

Padmore has sung the Evangelist’s role hundreds of times, in both the St. Matthew Passion and St. John Passion (BWV 245). DVDs of those productions – Matthew released in 2012 and John just last month – provide potent evidence of Padmore’s ability to transcend the limits of objective narration. In the St. Matthew Passion, the Evangelist becomes the visual center, drawing to himself the characters’ sorrow and scorn as he lies on a coffin-like box in the center of the stage. In the St. John Passion, he stares with sad disbelief at the chorus’s hunger for Jesus’ crucifixion. Throughout both works, his piercing blue eyes could tell the story on their own.

Performing Bach in this way exacts a substantial effort, Padmore explained. “I don’t have any time off in these performances,” he said. “I simply have to follow and be there and be participating, because I think that helps the audience to do the same. If I take time out, then the audience can also relax and allow themselves to just sort of listen to beautiful playing. But if I’m there, really attentive, then I think there’s a kind of a contract that we make: The audience has to do the same.

“I’ve very rarely encountered someone who speaks about the theology or about the meaning of the text,” he said of Sellars. “And I believe that, whatever your religious belief or no religious belief, it’s a piece that should get under your skin. You should not just be able to listen to it and say, this is a beautiful piece of music.”

At one point, Padmore explained that part of what makes the Sellars “ritualizations” of the Passions so successful is their radical ability to strip away a listener’s previous encounters with those pieces, urging them to experience the music without any prehistory. Likewise, Padmore’s ambition, regardless of the piece he is performing, is to help audiences shed preconceptions and allow them to encounter a work afresh.

“One of the problems with classical music repertoire in general is that we tend to know it, often from a favorite recording,” he explained. “And then there’s a danger that people will listen to this music as almost a sort of aide-memoire in performance, and just sort of say, ‘It sounds like the recording I love,’ or, ‘It’s slightly different and a bit annoying.’ But it’s always in relation to memory. And I think in a way what this performance tries to do is to make it something where you forget all of that, you actually live it for the first time.”

David Weininger – The Boston Globe

The Silent Cantata


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SilentcropThe texts of Bach’s cantatas are problematic for many listeners in that they can be unintentionally humorous in their dramatic imagery, anachronistic in their theology or uncomfortable in their admission of guilt. In his “Bach: The Silent Cantata,” Burak Özdemir, born in Istanbul and now living in Berlin, drops the texts from the vocal lines of selected arias, whether they were originally intended for a soprano, alto, tenor or bass, and plays them on his bassoon. Without the text, the cause for the carefully contrived musical figuration falls away, and Özdemir creates an effect that is instructive. Since the music has been freed from the conceptual framework of the Protestant late Baroque, the text no longer dictates what must be thought. Now the listener can spontaneously investigate the music and delve more deeply into its meaning.

Özdemir has chosen relatively obscure sections of Bach cantatas, not the hits, making it unlikely that any listeners will try to sing along and thereby reinforcing the desired effect. But yet, with dialectical sophistication, he has carefully selected the pieces exactly because of their texts. The underlying, secretive affects of the music result in a dramatic progression of despair, loneliness and an eventual envelopment by love itself.

But not all listeners will understand the CD in this way. The quiet, melancholic and complicated pieces are accompanied by strings alone in arrangements that are deliberately less colorful than the Bach originals with winds. These reductions, performed by Musica Sequenza, deserve concentrated listening, and it is worth it, because Özdemir is a great musician with virtuosity far beyond sheer dexterity. With his variety of colors, articulation and vocal expression, his bassoon playing comes close to resembling patterns of speech, and even in the slowest arias, such as Die Seele ruht in Jesu Händen from Herr Jesu Christ, wahr Mensch und Gott (BWV 127) or Bete aber auch dabei from Mache dich, mein Geist, bereit (BWV 115), Özdemir and his ensemble have a rhythmic pulse and a swing that is rarely heard among other instrumentalists who adhere to the principles of historical performance practice.

Kulturradio – Rundfunk Berlin-Brandenburg

Bach in Istanbul


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IstanbulcropOn 16 October 2014, the Kuijken Ensemble will perform at St. Anthony of Padua Church in Istanbul as part of the Turkish capital’s yearly Bach Days.

Violinist Sigiswald Kuijken will be joined by harpsichordist Benjamin Alard and soprano Marie Kuijken in the program “Towards Bach” that will feature works by Castello, Monteverdi, Scheidemann and Purcell as well as Bach’s Sonata (BWV 1019) and the soprano arias Genügsamkeit (from BWV 144), Seufzer, Tränen, Kummer, Not (from BWV 21) and Ich ende behende (from BWV 57).

St. Anthony of Padua Church, a minor basilica, was built in the early twentieth century by the local Italian community. Before he was elected to the papacy, Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli was attached to the church when he was the Vatican‘s ambassador to Turkey.

– Today’s Zaman

The Power of Candlelight


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A non-violent demonstration in Leipzig

A peaceful demonstration in Leipzig, 1989

Travelers to Germany in 2014, especially to Berlin, Dresden and Leipzig, may encounter a variety of celebrations honoring the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Peaceful Revolution, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the path toward reunification of the country. From 9 through 12 October 2014 the “Festival of Lights” will be a highlight in Leipzig, but it is the story behind the festival that must be told.

Many European cities have grand musical traditions. Leipzig is no exception for it is the city of Johann Sebastian Bach. Bach was choirmaster at the historic St. Thomas Church for twenty-seven years. Even without his considerable influence, the church would have had a rich legacy, but Bach’s reputation made it even more notable.

It was at St. Thomas Church, in 1539, that Martin Luther introduced the Reformation to Leipzig. Some two hundred fifty years later, in 1789, Mozart played the church organ there, and in centuries that followed both Felix Mendelssohn and Richard Wagner also performed at the church.

The church choir has been in existence since 1254. During Bach’s time there were fifty-four singers in the chorale. Today the world famous St. Thomas Boys Choir features the voices of eighty boys singing music particularly dedicated to Bach in weekly performances of motets and cantatas during regular Sunday services.

Bach was also choirmaster at St. Nicholas Church from 1723 to 1750. St. Nicholas is nearly a hundred years older than St. Thomas, dating to 1165, and when it was built, St. Nicholas Church was situated at the intersection of two important north-south, east-west trade routes which not only played an important role in Leipzig’s past, but it was also critical to the events that reunited Germany in 1989.

Each November during the early 1980s, young people from all over the region would gather at St. Nicholas Church for ten days of prayer for peace. There had been large demonstrations all over the German Democratic Republic protesting the arms race in those days, but the gatherings in Leipzig were regarded as little more than non-violent prayer vigils. The only places where issues could be openly discussed in Germany were at meetings held in churches, and St. Nicholas was one of those sites.

Soon a youth group from the church decided to increase the meetings by having prayer services every Monday evening. At first there were only a handful of attendees, but before long more people came to demand justice and respect for human rights. Many who participated were non-Christians, but, with no other place to gather, they regularly attended the meetings. They studied the words of the Old Testament and the Sermon on the Mount, and eventually they came to understood two things: that people should discuss urgent problems with each other and that they also needed to meditate and pray to God for support and guidance.

Slowly the movement gathered strength. Each day the church was decorated with flowers. Each night it was filled with the light of hundreds of glowing candles. After a while the government took notice and became concerned. From May of 1989 all access roads to Nicholas Church were blocked by police checkpoints.

Authorities exerted pressure to cancel the peace gatherings, but the prayers continued. Monday after Monday the meetings were held even though many were detained or arrested. Soon it became impossible for everyone to get into the church because the numbers were so great. Yet, still they came.

Early in October 1989, St. Nicholas Church was filled with more than two thousand people inside with thousands more out in the streets. When the prayers ended, the bishop gave his blessing and made an urgent appeal to the congregation for non-violence. As people departed the church, they were greeted by thousands of fellow East Germans standing in the square, standing with candles in their hands.

To carry a candle outdoors requires two hands. One holds the candle while the other prevents it from going out. In order to keep a candle burning it is not possible to carry a stick or a club or a stone.

It was a miracle. When police arrived and surrounded the crowd, they didn’t know what to do. They were bewildered and quickly lost their incentive to fight. For the protesters this was a peace vigil, and they were armed only with candles. Soon the police began mingling and talking with the people. Eventually they withdrew. As one officer said, “We were prepared for everything. Everything, that is, except candlelight.”

The non-violent peace movement lasted just a few weeks more before the government collapsed. Not long after, about two hours northeast of Leipzig, the notorious Berlin Wall went crumbling to the ground.

Bob Taylor – Communities Digital News

Christopher Hogwood (1941-2014)


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HogwoodcropChristopher Hogwood, whose Academy of Ancient Music was a key ensemble in the period-instrument movement, striving to perform early music as the composer intended and as audiences were first presumed to have heard it, died on 24 September 2014 at his home in Cambridge, England. He was 73.

Mr. Hogwood, a conductor, harpsichordist and scholar for whom an “authentic sound” was paramount, co-founded the Early Music Consort, which focused on medieval and Renaissance music, in 1967, but the paucity of information regarding historically accurate performance styles troubled him. The Academy, which he established in 1973 as “as a sort of refugee operation for those players of period instruments who wanted to escape conductors,” initially focused on seventeenth and eighteenth-century music. While praised for their buoyancy and stylishness, his interpretations were also sometimes criticized as dry and unemotional.

One of the group’s significant early achievements was its 1980 recording of Handel’s Messiah, with the soprano Emma Kirkby. Peter G. Davis, writing in The New York Times, said it was “like no Messiah ever heard before in this century,” a performance that embodied the aesthetic championed by Mr. Hogwood: buoyant playing on gut strings with minimal vibrato.

Mr. Hogwood’s more than two hundred recordings include the complete Mozart symphonies and the complete Mozart piano concertos, with the pianist Robert Levin.

Mr. Hogwood, who early in his career played continuo in Neville Marriner’s Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, was once referred to as “the von Karajan of early music” – a reference to Herbert von Karajan, who in addition to being one of the twentieth century’s most important conductors was a famously imperious personality. In a phone interview, the violinist Pavlo Beznosiuk, a member of the Academy of Ancient Music since 1984, disagreed; in fact, he said, “Anyone less like von Karajan is hard to imagine.” Mr. Hogwood, he added, “was very collaborative and always happy to defer to the musicians if they had a better idea.”

During a concert in 2011 at Alice Tully Hall, where he directed Juilliard415, the school’s period-instrument ensemble, Mr. Hogwood announced to the audience, “Instead of standing here, anachronistically waving my arms, I’ll join you.” He then left the stage and took a seat in the hall to listen.

Early in his tenure as the artistic director of the Boston-based Handel and Haydn Society, which lasted from 1986 to 2001, Mr. Hogwood converted the ensemble to an exclusively period-instrument group. The Society’s major collaborations included a staging of Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice with the Mark Morris Dance Group as well as projects with the jazz pianists Dave Brubeck and Chick Corea. Mr. Hogwood had a particular affinity for Mendelssohn and was scheduled to conduct the composer’s Elijah in March 2015 with the Handel and Haydn Society.

In 2008 he became director emeritus of the Academy of Ancient Music, succeeded by the harpsichordist Richard Egarr.

In addition to period ensembles, Mr. Hogwood led orchestras, including the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Chicago Symphony. He also conducted opera, including Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas at La Scala in 2006; among the operas he recorded were Handel’s Agrippina, Alceste, Orlando and Rinaldo. He also conducted the works of more modern composers like Stravinsky, Copland and Tippett.

Mr. Hogwood wrote several books, including a biography of Handel first published in 1984 and revised in 2007, and prepared many scholarly editions of scores, which he used for his own performances, often correcting previously published mistakes.

He held academic positions at the Royal Academy of Music, King’s College London, Cambridge University, Harvard University, Cornell and Gresham College, London.

Christopher Jarvis Haley Hogwood was born in Nottingham, England, on 10 September 1941, the son of Haley and Marion Hogwood. His father was a physicist, his mother a secretary for the International Labour Organization. He studied literature and music at Pembroke College, Cambridge; his harpsichord teachers included Gustav Leonhardt.

Some musicians and scholars now believe that modern instruments allow for greater interpretive possibilities than original instruments – that the wonders of Bach’s music, for example, can be best illustrated on a modern piano. But according to Mr. Hogwood, “the theory that Mozart’s music was simply awaiting the invention of the Steinway is wrong.”

In a recent interview with The Juilliard Journal, Mr. Hogwood said: “You can play things stylishly on the wrong instruments or unstylishly on the right instruments; I hope we’ll get it stylish on the right instruments. It’s just clearing the way so that people hear them as the composer intended, and if he wasn’t a complete idiot, the way he intended is presumably the correct way for them.”

Vivien Schweitzer – The New York Times

Jacques Hnizdovsky


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Woodcut by Hnizdovsky, 1971

Woodcut by Hnizdovsky, 1971

Jacques Hnizdovsky was born in 1915 in Ukraine to descendants of a noble family bearing the Korab coat of arms. Being titled landowners, his parents were exiled to Siberia, but his mother managed to send him a secret message while he was away in boarding school. Realizing that he could never return home, he enrolled at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, but when the Second World War broke out, he quickly transferred to the Academy of Fine Arts in Zagreb. After many difficult years in war-torn Europe and Displaced Persons Camps, Hnizdovsky emigrated to the United States in 1949.

Shortly after his arrival in the US, A. Hyatt Mayor of the Metropolitan Museum of Art chose one of his woodcuts for a Purchase Award at a 1950 Minneapolis Institute of Art print exhibition. It was a turning point in his career. From that moment on, he was determined to make his livelihood as an independent artist and moved to New York City. Hnizdovsky proceeded to create hundreds of paintings, numerous watercolors and pen and ink drawings, as well as over 375 prints. In 1962 he was awarded the First Prize at the Boston Printmakers annual exhibition for “The Sheep,” which was to become his best-known print.

Hnizdovsky’s work can be best described as stylized realism and draws inspiration from Dürer, Ukiyo-e and Chinese painting. While he became most famous for his prints of animals and trees, Hnizdovsky probably created more paintings than prints. His routine was to paint during the day and work on his prints in the evenings. Weekends were reserved for printing woodcuts, linocuts and etchings.

Jacques Hnizdovsky died in 1985 in New York.

– The Hnizdovsky Estate

Bach’s Life Story on Record


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From the series "Tale Spinners for Children"

From the “Tale Spinners for Children” series

Some of my favorite moments in Bach reception history come from commercial children’s recordings and films that tell his life story. I’m especially drawn to ones from the 1950s-70s that make his career trajectory map onto the postwar ideal of the “self-made man.” (This ideal has gained traction lately via Mad Men and the character Don Draper). Both Bach and Draper were orphans who grew up poor, worked their way up purely by the sweat of their brow, became breadwinning family men – all the while keeping a certain undomesticated masculinity that crops up in sexual proclivities, uncooperativeness at work, occasional stick fights, and maybe a stint in jail.

One example includes the Story of Bach LP, which was part of an enormous British series for children featuring biographies of famous historical or fictional characters (such as Beethoven, Chopin, or Rip Van Winkle). In this excerpt, C. P. E. Bach tells the story of his father J. S.’s life, including the part where he becomes an orphan and his brother Johann Christoph offers to put him up for awhile. And although the record is for children, Side B does include a brief reference to Bach’s sexuality when a church official nearly catches him “in the act” with Maria Barbara. Bach assures him not to worry, since she is a cousin. The official replies, “We’ve all heard of those kind of cousins.”

In 1970, AIMS Instructional Media Services released a film entitled Bach Is Beautiful (a play on the era’s “black is beautiful” movement) that gave a similar account of J. S.’s life. Synopsis: Bach was an orphan, had to walk thirty miles just to hear a concert, had to write out manuscripts by hand, and (lacking patrons) provided for his family only by the sweat of his brow. In the film, cartoons of Bach are interspersed with footage of 1960s listeners and performers of his music.

Jessica Wood – Audio of Interest

Bell Records Bach


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BellcropIn his third season as music director, violinist Joshua Bell has begun to record the masterpieces of J. S. Bach with the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields. On the recording for Sony Classical, Bell and the orchestra perform Bach’s Concertos in A minor and E Major for violin (BWV 1041-42), an arrangement for violin and orchestra of the Chaconne from Partita in D minor (BWV 1004), the Gavotte en Rondeau from the Partita in E Major (BWV 1006), also in an orchestral version, and the Air from Orchestral Suite no. 3 in D Major (BWV 1068).

Bell says, “In the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, with many of its members having had vast experience playing with original instrument bands, I have found the perfect partner – an orchestra that, in my opinion, wonderfully balances an authentic style with some of the beauties of modern tradition. It is because I my work with the Academy that I finally felt compelled to begin to record the music of Johann Sebastian Bach.”

“In the past two decades I have had the opportunity to collaborate with a number of early music specialists, and I believe that the early music movement has revolutionized the way the world listens to Baroque music – in a very good way! While I have incorporated in my musical philosophy much of what I have learned from this movement, I have also tried to retain in my approach to Bach some of the modern sensibilities that are so rooted in the way I was taught to play the violin. The result is, I hope, a melding of the old and the new, which I suppose sums up what it is to be a classical musician in the modern world.”

While Bell has said he will still wait many years before recording the Sonatas and Partitas (BWV 1001-6), he offers on this album a provocative interpretation of the crown jewel of the second partita, the Chaconne. “There will be those who say that the Chaconne should only be performed in the way it was intended, for solo violin, but I’m a firm believer in celebrating great music in different ways,” says Bell. “With this new arrangement, we have a new way to listen this masterpiece, and with it we also get a glimpse into the mind of the genius Felix Mendelssohn.” Mendelssohn was instrumental in advancing Bach’s reputation in the nineteenth century, and a piano improvisation based on the Chaconne appeared in 1852. Hearing Mendelssohn’s arrangement inspired friend and peer Robert Schumann to compose accompaniments to all six of the Sonatas and Partitas, and an orchestration by Julian Milone of Schumann’s reworking of the Gavotte from the third partita is also included on the album.

– Sony Classical

A Community of Mindfulness


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Members of the Mevlevi Brotherhood

Mevlevi Order dervishes with Ensemble Sarband

Vladimir Ivanoff, head of the Ensemble Sarband, sat down with Deutsche Welle to talk about “Passio” and “Compassio” – about suffering, passion and empathy, all of which play a central role in music and faith.

Deutsche Welle (DW) In your latest project, European, Arab and Turkish musicians, instruments and traditions come together. What does the title “Passio-Compassio” tell us?

Vladimir Ivanoff (VI) “Passio” translates to “passion” and also to “suffering.” In its medieval sense, “Compassio” means “to perceive” and “to empathize.” With this project, we’re trying to sublimate suffering by way of music, transforming it into mindfulness – mindfulness toward that which is foreign, the other.

That’s why we’ve selected a repertoire with a lot of music by Johann Sebastian Bach from his two Passions. We’re pairing it with early Christian music from the East and Islamic music in the Sufi tradition. That means we have music from two of the three major religions of the book – Islam and Christianity. The three predominant book-based religions detail a path away from suffering: going through the tunnel of suffering in order to arrive at salvation.

DW How does that function in confronting various styles of music with each other?

VI We’re using various pieces of music that treat suffering and martyrdom in the tradition of these great religions. But we’re masking it: Bach is also sung in Arabic and Turkish or played in jazz style. Early eastern Christian song sounds out in jazz or Baroque style as well. Some listeners will be more familiar with parts of the repertoire – but the arrangements make these sound foreign. In turn, listeners may find unfamiliar repertoires more accessible. The alienating effect leads one to think, “Okay, it may be very different, but I can accept that because I’ve noticed that what I thought I knew is entirely foreign to me.”

DW In the project, instruments of various cultures are played, with their widely divergent voices and technical possibilities. How does it fit together?

VI That’s the nice thing about art – in it, you can achieve the impossible. We have a jazz string quartet on stage that also performs as a classical string quartet. On the one hand, we have a Western harpsichord, and on the other, the qanun from the Arab and Turkish realms, which has been described as a Middle Eastern piano. Then we have jazz saxophone along with Arab and Turkish long-necked flutes. Then of course – and very importantly – there is one male and one female singer. Mustafa Doğan Dikmen, our male vocalist, is one of the great specialists in classical Ottoman music and sometimes sings Bach in Turkish. The female singer, Fadia el-Hage, is from Lebanon and studied in Germany. The program reflects her own multicultural background.

DW “Whirling dervishes” accompany the trans-musical encounters in the project . . .

VI They perform dance-like movements, but they’re not dancers. They’re from the Mevlevi Order, a lay association. Since their youth, they’ve met once or twice a week to dress in ritual costume and swirl to music. The goal is to reach a state of absolute inner clarity. At the concert, these Mevlevi dervishes will whirl twice for about twenty minutes uninterrupted to jazz, Bach and Islamic music. As they swirl around, an indescribable feeling of community ensues – also with the audience. That’s what we’re primarily going for with the project: to create a community of mindfulness over the course of two hours. For me, the dervishes are like satellites of brotherly love.

DW So, the message is: mindfulness toward the other – even if the two may not really go together?

VI The Orient and Occident don’t really fit together! If they’re supposed to coexist, then you have to make it happen. But before communication can take place, you need mindfulness and acceptance.

We cannot isolate ourselves anymore. We can’t simply close the door and say, “Everything is good here, and it doesn’t matter what happens out there.” You have to work toward that. The beginning is easy: perceiving and noticing, “OK, there’s something different.” What happens then is up to the audience and to individuals. Ours is a call to work towards something both on the inside and outside. It’s actually a counter mission to all of these peace, love and blah, blah projects that send the message: “You can all go home now in peace; everything’s fine!” That’s not at all so! This year, I had to fight three months for each individual visa for my Syrian, Iraqi and Turkish musicians. Understanding is not greater. We’re becoming a bastion, closed off toward everything else. Fear is on the increase. Each individual has to do something to try and make things at least more bearable.

– Deutsche Welle


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