by Caroline Kuehn
Sitting here writing this article about the International Bach festival before going to see the new Canadian Opera Company production of Handel’s Rodelinda, I am thinking how there’s really been a resurgence of Baroque music here in the city over the last few years! Now classical music concerts go far beyond just that, the classical masters, such as Mozart, Beethoven and Haydn. These are also wonderful composers, but even these greats took the time to honour the Granddaddies of "Classical" music, Bach and Handel!
Now the tradition has been passed on to us, and some prominent musical figures here in the city have decided to do just that, by honouring Johann Sebastian Bach, the master of the Cantata (as well as a lot of other genres of work) by holding the International Bach Festival.
I was lucky enough to attend some of the concerts (or rather festivities) of this weeklong festival. There was a mix of organ music, chamber music, workshops, full orchestral concerts, educational talks and solo works by and about this prolific composer a lot of us learned to call Grandpa Bach. (And he certainly deserves the title of grandfather, not only for musical reasons, but because he had 20 children, and therefore many MANY grandchildren!)
The centrepiece of this whole festival was the Cantata Series, where a different Cantata was rehearsed, discussed, and finally performed every day.
Maestro Helmuth Rilling, a friend and colleague of the festival’s organizing force, Dr. Doreen Rao, director of choral studies and Elmer Iseler chair in Conducting at the University of Toronto, flew to Toronto from Germany just so that he could take part in this wonderful festival. He spoke to the audience in Walter Hall of the Faculty of Music about the works being performed by a mix of professional performers and current students of the Faculty of Music. He was able to give us a little peek into the ingenious world of Bach’s compositions, talking about motivations to write certain sections in specific manners, or using certain excerpts of texts to reflect either joy or pathos. All of the cantatas were well chosen, and extremely well and interestingly discussed and performed.
A Cantata is a work for singers and instrumental ensemble set to a religious text. There can be an alternation of choruses and solos, as was the case in each of the Cantatas performed during the week. the Instrumental ensembles were different every day, some larger ones including many strings and bass parts, and some smaller, including one cantata for 2 recorders, string Bass, and harpsichord. i have never heard recorders sound so soothing and beautiful! The singers did wonderful jobs, there was gentle singing, expressive singing, and most of all, bravura singing, because some of the coloratura sections performed were quite devilish. I was lucky enough to witness countertenor Daniel Taylor perform, in the Cantata "Gottes Zeit ist die Allerbeste Zeit", a funeral cantata. He is one of Canada’s foremost Baroque singers, and definitely lived up to any expectation. The student singers were also excellent, and certainly proved that there is quite a future ahead for Canadian music.
The Cantata "Aus der Tiefe rufe ich, Herr, zu dir", based on the 130th Psalm also had special meaning. It was a text centered around the nation of Israel, and what a treat it was to have an exchange program organized with the Moran Chamber singers of Israel, here in town to perform along with the University of Toronto’s own Macmillan singers and the Elmer Iseler Singers.
Maestro Rilling led the performers through the difficult music with clarity and a soaring, floating ease. It certainly was a pleasure to hear, as testified by the standing ovation!
It really is time that Baroque music is brought into the limelight. this music was prized for it’s beauty, and its feel of dance. It is the type of music that makes you feel cleansed and renewed. Congratulations to the staff and the performers of this year’s International Bach festival, it will be an event remembered for a long time to come.
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