The gamba family on stage

Many of us are familiar with the viola da gamba: CBS's performances of Bach's St. Matthew Passion prominently featured one in the tenor aria "Geduld" and the bass aria "Komm süßes Kreuz."  But have you ever seen a treble gamba or an alto gamba?  Join us this weekend to see all the different members of the gamba or viol family on stage.

For more about viols, watch this video from the Viola da Gamba Society of America about the pardessus de viole, a treble gamba: https://vdgsa.org/pgs/mp4/chancey.mp4

Charpentier with 5 gambas!

The program for A Charpentier Showcase includes works written for chorus and soloists with strings, typically violins and violas, and perhaps one viola da gamba.  But our ensemble is five gambas and two flutes.  We asked Paul Flight, why five gambas?  He writes: "Truth be told, I heard Jordi Savall's Le Concert des Nations performing the music with gambas, and I liked the delicate timbre of the viols.   I think the addition of two flutes gives a lovely smoothness as well."

Listen to this excerpt and see what you think:  Maestro Savall leading the soloists and players in Litanies de la Vierge https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7MMn-nnsBbY&t=2160s

 

 

Program Notes: A Charpentier Showcase

PROGRAM NOTES

Marc-Antoine Charpentier (1643-1704) was a French composer of the Baroque era.  Exceptionally prolific and versatile, Charpentier produced compositions of the highest quality in several genres. His mastery in writing sacred vocal music, above all, was recognized and hailed by his contemporaries.  And yet, his music was also controversial during his lifetime; he had as many vociferous detractors as supporters. What is most striking to modern listeners is probably the transparent emotion expressed in his music, giving it an extraordinarily modern sensibility. He is best known for his noble and often achingly poignant religious works, but his secular love songs dazzle with their simplicity and unmannered charm, and other works reveal a wicked wit.

Charpentier was born in or near Paris. He received a good education and entered law school in Paris when he was eighteen, but he withdrew after only one semester. He spent several years in Rome, probably between 1667 and 1669, and studied with Giacomo Carissimi. There he acquired a solid knowledge of contemporary Italian musical practice and brought it back to France.

Upon his return to France, Charpentier began working as house composer to Marie de Lorraine, Duchess of Guise, who was known familiarly as "Mlle de Guise." She gave him an apartment in the recently renovated Hôtel de Guise. For the next seventeen years, Charpentier composed a considerable quantity of vocal works for her, among them Psalm settings, hymns, motets, a Magnificat setting, a mass and a Dies Irae for the funeral of her nephew Louis Joseph, Duke of Guise, and a succession of Italianate oratorios set to non-liturgical Latin texts. Throughout the 1670s, the bulk of these works were for trios. Then, about 1680, Mlle de Guise increased the size of the ensemble until it included thirteen performers. In the pieces written from 1684 until late 1687, the names of the musicians appear in the margins of Charpentier's manuscripts—including "Charp" for himself beside the haute-contre (high tenor) line. 

During his years of service to Mlle de Guise, Charpentier also composed for "Mme de Guise," Louis XIV's first cousin. It was in large part owing to Mme de Guise's protection that the Guise musicians were permitted to perform Charpentier's chamber operas in defiance of the monopoly held by Jean Baptiste Lully.

In 1679, Charpentier was singled out to compose for Louis XIV's son, the Dauphin. Writing primarily for the prince's private chapel, he composed devotional pieces for a small ensemble composed of royal musicians, an ensemble that, with Mlle de Guise's permission, could perform works he had earlier composed for the Guises. By early 1683, when he was awarded a royal pension, Charpentier was being commissioned to write for court events such as the annual Corpus Christi procession.

By late 1687, Mlle de Guise was dying. Around that time, Charpentier entered the employ of the Jesuits.

Stained glass, Sainte-Chapelle, Paris

Stained glass, Sainte-Chapelle, Paris

From late 1687 to early 1698, Charpentier served as maître de musique (music master) to the Jesuits, working first for their collège of Louis-le-Grand and then for the church of Saint-Louis. Once he moved to Saint-Louis, Charpentier virtually ceased writing oratorios and instead primarily wrote musical settings of Psalms and other liturgical texts.

Charpentier was appointed maître de musique for the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris in 1698, a royal post he held until his death in 1704.

 

Salve Regina, H. 24

Salve Regina (Welcome, Queen) utilizes triple choirs (two full choirs and a trio) and recalls the stylistic elements of the oratorio, as Charpentier skillfully manipulates the musical texture by combining and separating the three choirs, and using the small choir in the most dramatic gestures of the piece, especially in the astounding “Ad te clamamus section,” with its powerful dissonances that describe a painful descent into a “valley of tears.”

 

Nisi Dominus, H. 150

Psalm 127 (Unless the Lord built the house, those who built it labored in vain) has been set by many composers; its colorful imagery invites the composer’s imagination.  Written for four voices and light accompanying instruments, the work is introduced by a tenor solo.  The “Vanum est vobis” section is a treble duet that seems to pay tribute to Monteverdi with its lively rising lines on the word “surgite” (arise).  This is followed by a quiet four-part setting alluding to sleep, and then jumps vigorously into the words “Ecce heriditas Domini filii.” A bass solo then leads into the final triple meter “Beatus vir” and the rousing final doxology.

 

Litanies de la Vierge, H. 83

Litanies de la Vierge (Litanies of the Virgin) was composed under the auspices of Mlle de Guise. This work, also known as the Litany of Loreto, is represented in a volume of nine different settings, scored for a variety of vocal and instrumental forces, taking advantage of the personnel added by Mlle de Guise after 1680.  This particular setting requires six voices, two viols, and continuo.  The voice parts are notated with the names of the performers, including Charpentier’s name for the haute-contre (a very high tenor part, found in many French Baroque vocal works, sung in our performance by the altos).   With the exception of the opening and closing chorus, directed towards the Holy Trinity and towards Jesus (the Lamb of God), the remaining seven verses request the intercession of the Virgin Mary, and praise her mystical qualities and spiritual virtues.  The settings alternate between trios of the upper three voices, the lower three voices, and the full chorus, and also move between stately homophony and elegant counterpoint.

 

Missa “Assumpta est Maria” H. 11

Missa “Assumpta est Maria” (Mass “Mary is taken up into heaven,”) the last of Charpentier's many mass settings, is considered his greatest work in the genre. It was first performed at the Sainte Chapelle in Paris, probably during the Feast of the Assumption in 1699. Its grandeur suggests that it accompanied considerable ecclesiastical display. Charpentier's decision to place the climax at the Creed's affirmation of belief in "one holy, catholic, and apostolic church" would have had political resonances at a time when tensions between church and monarchy in France were high.

Throughout the seventeenth and much of the eighteenth century, the mass sung in France remained outside the stylistic currents affecting other forms of secular and sacred music. Most of the masses that could be heard in Paris and in the provinces during the reign of Louis XIV were either plain-chant or polyphonic, sometimes written decades previously and adapted to the taste of the day by instrumental accompaniments.  Consequently, the eleven vocal masses left by Charpentier assume an exceptional brilliance, written in a much different “concertante” style. The manuscript indicates that early performances separated its sections with motets, instrumental music, and organ improvisations.  The mass ends, as did all masses written for the French king, with a short “God Save the King.”

 

Motet pour les trépassés, H. 311

The text of Motet pour les trépassés (Motet for the Deceased) comes from the book of Job. This text was often used for funeral services. The writing is for double choir, interspersed with trios and soloists.  The middle section is quite dramatic; the translated text is “Oh my Lord, why have you made me a target?”  The setting is recitative-like, starting out with a solo voice and then joined with others. The cries of “Heu” sound like cries of pain.

 

Following the motet is the “Agnus Dei” from Messe Pour Les Trépassés (Mass for the Deceased). It is written for double chorus in concertante style. The writing is hushed and simple. The first and third “Agnus Dei” are sung by the full choir. A low trio is assigned to the middle verse, which is distinguished by longer vocal lines with elegant ornamentation.

– Patricia Jennerjohn

Program Notes: Jul, Jul—A Scandinavian Christmas

Jul, the Scandinavian Christmas holiday, is celebrated throughout December and traditionally until St. Knut’s Day on January 13. The main celebration and the exchange of gifts takes place on Christmas Eve, December 24. St. Lucia’s Day is celebrated during Advent, on December 13. It is a charming holiday that celebrates a Roman saint who wore candles on her head to light her way as she carried food to persecuted Christians in hiding. A wish for light and warmth is understandable at this time of year in the dark and cold of Scandinavia.

The Christian Christmas celebration was incorporated into the old Norse tradition of a mid-winter festival that celebrated the recent harvest and looked forward to spring.  The Norse festival was well known as far back as the fourth century; the merging of that festival with Christian traditions occurred in the eleventh century.

A central aspect of the pagan Germanic celebration of midwinter was to eat and drink well, and in modern times is represented by the Julbord—a buffet, eaten at lunchtime. This may include herring, gravlax (salmon which has been cured in sugar, salt, and dill), smoked salmon, and other cold meats, cheeses, salads, pickles, and different types of bread. There will also be warm, savory foods such as meatballs, sausages, meat-stuffed cabbage rolls, jellied pigs’ feet, lutefisk, and oven-roasted pork ribs. Vegetables such as potatoes and red cabbage will also be served. The dessert of the Julbord might be a selection of sweet pastries, cookies, and other home-made sweets. To wash all that food down you can have some glogg, which is sweet mulled wine, and coffee to finish off the meal. Another holiday dessert is a rice pudding with raspberry jam or cinnamon, usually eaten during the evening after people have exchanged their presents.

Scandinavia has contributed many traditions that we see celebrated in the United States, such as Advent wreaths, candles, and calendars. Christmas seals were first seen in Denmark.  And the Scandinavian culture in turn adopted other European Christmas traditions, such as the German Christmas tree and the Dutch Santa Claus.

The musical traditions are equally charming. Scandinavian national music, often based on folk songs, blends cheer and melancholy into a unique sound. Perhaps this reflects the extremes of their climate—midnight sun at midsummer and darkness at midwinter. We present a broad range of music from this culture, from simple folksong arrangements to sophisticated Classical, Romantic, and modern settings of traditional and modern texts.

Bereden väg för Herran (Make way for the Lord) is a hymn with lyrics written in 1812 by Frans Michael Franzén,. Describing Jesus coming into Jerusalem, it is a popular Swedish Advent song.

Himmelriket liknas vid tio jungfrur (The kingdom of heaven is like unto ten virgins) is a traditional Advent song from Värmland, an area of western Sweden that borders on Norway. It uses the tale of the wise and foolish virgins to urge us to prepare properly for the coming of Christ.

 

Carl Nielsen (1865-1931)   A Danish composer, Nielsen’s interest and background in folk music had special resonance for Danes, and this was intensified during the nationalistic movements of the 1930s and during World War II, when singing was an important basis for the Danes to distinguish themselves from their German enemies. Thus, while outside Denmark Nielsen is largely thought of as a composer of orchestral music, in his own country he is more of a national symbol. These two sides were officially brought together in Denmark in 2006 when the Ministry of Culture issued a list of the twelve greatest Danish musical works, which included three by Nielsen.

Towards the end of 1923, Nielsen composed three Christmas carols, all of which were published just before Christmas of that year. They were originally for solo voice and orchestra, and were later set as SATB arrangements. The settings are fresh and uncomplicated, and preserve the folk nature of the songs.  We present two of them here.

Hjemlige Jul (Secret Christmas)

Himlen mørkner stor og stum (Heaven’s gloom a world apart) 

 

Ludvig Norman (1831–1885) was a Swedish composer, conductor, pianist, and music teacher. Together with Franz Berwald and Adolf Fredrik Lindblad, he ranks among the most important Swedish symphonists of the 19th century.

Jordens oro viker (Earth’s concerns give way to peace)   Although not explicitly presenting a Christmas theme, this motet does create an atmosphere of peace and serenity, much needed during this dark time of the year. Set for double chorus, it is sturdily homophonic, building to resonant climaxes, and resolving peacefully on the words “The heavens will explain all.”

Staffan var en stalledräng (Stefan was a stableboy) is a traditional song with many verses, from Mockfjärd, a tiny town in the center of Sweden. It is the tale of a stableboy who rides off in pursuit of the Christmas star, making sure that he is well fed and supplied with brandy for his year-long journey.    

 

Edvard Grieg (1843-1907)

Hvad est du dog skjøn (How fair is thy face)   Grieg’s Fire Salmer (Four Hymns), Opus 74, for baritone soloist and mixed choir, was his final composition, composed in the second half of 1906. He adapted melodies from L.M. Lindemann’s collection Older and More Recent Norwegian Folk Tunes, an anthology upon which he drew heavily throughout his career. These motets are particularly notable for their harmonic inventiveness: Grieg is very adept at adapting the modes of his source material—neither major nor minor—and at harmonizing it in a manner which sounds and feels authentic. The language of the texts is an interesting puzzle in itself.  Called “Bokmål” or “Riksmål,” it is actually more Danish than it is Norwegian, and reflects the centuries during which Norway was, effectively, a colony of Denmark. It seems that the musical aspect, the tunes themselves rather than the words, is what interested Grieg: “These melodies are so lovely that they deserve to be preserved in an artistic costume,” he wrote in his diary on September 15, 1906.

Ave maris stella (Hail, star of the sea)   Norway has a long relationship with the sea and sailing, so this text has great meaning for this country. This beautiful and serene setting of the Marian hymn is well known and beloved. Originally set for voice and piano in 1893, Grieg later made this arrangement for SSAATTBB chorus in 1898.

 

Henrik Rung (1807-1871) was a Danish composer, singing teacher and conductor. Rung was born in Copenhagen. In 1851 he founded the Cæciliaforeningen, serving as its chairman from 1851 to 1871.

Kimer, I klokker (Ring out, ye bells)   Nikolaj Grundtvig wrote this hymn text in 1856. The following year, in 1857, Rung composed the melody (and later published a version for four voices). He wrote melodies for many of Grundtvig’s hymns, despite the fact that he was not a church musician. 

 

Ivar Widéen (1871-1951) was a Swedish organist and composer. Widéen was greatly inspired by the music of Richard Wagner, Edvard Grieg, and August Söderman. He had a prominent role in Swedish choral music. He was principal conductor of the Småland Sångarförbund (choral society) and led that choir at annual national choir festivals. 

Gläns över sjö och strand (English title: Star of Bethlehem)   These words are the opening lines of a poem written by Viktor Rydberg, appearing in his novel Vapensmeden

 

Trond Kverno (b. 1945) is a contemporary Norwegian composer. He received degrees in church music, music theory, and choir direction from the Oslo Conservatory of Music, now the Norwegian Academy of Music, and was a professor of music there. He is known for his liturgical compositions. Church music has spearheaded major new developments in music in Norway throughout the post-war period, in terms of both musical innovation and institutional renewal. 

Ave maris stella, another setting of this hymn by a Norwegian composer, notable for its complexity and dynamic range. Quiet lyrical passages alternate with vigorous sections in irregular rhythms.

Corpus Christi Carol is a Middle English hymn (or carol), first found in a manuscript written around 1504. The original writer of the carol remains anonymous. The earliest surviving record of the piece preserves only the lyrics and is untitled. It has survived in altered form in the folk tradition as the Christmas carol “Down In Yon Forest.” The text is not specifically on a Christmas theme, yet a number of composers (including Benjamin Britten) have associated this work with Christmas. Kverno’s melancholy setting translates the Middle English into Norwegian.

 

Hugo Alfvén (1872–1960) became known as one of Sweden’s principal composers of his time. Alfvén’s music is in a late-Romantic idiom. His orchestration is skillful and colorful, reminiscent of that of Richard Strauss. Like Strauss, Alfvén wrote a considerable amount of program music. Some of Alfvén’s music evokes the landscape of Sweden.

Julsång (Christmas carol) was written in 1934 for the Siljan District Choir. The setting is simple, yet subtle and unusual harmonic shifts give it a unique color.

 

Ivar Widéen

På krubbans strå (In the manger straw) is a sweet and understated setting of a hymn from the Swedish Psalm Book, addressing Jesus in the manger.

 

Gustaf Nordqvist (1886-1949) was a Swedish composer, church musician, and professor. He served as organist at the Church of Adolf Fredrik in Stockholm 1914–1949 and as a teacher of harmony at the Stockholm Conservatory 1925–1949. 

Jul, jul, strålande jul (Christmas, Christmas, glorious Christmas) is Nordqvist’s most famous and beloved work. It has been subject to many interpretations in Sweden, other Scandinavian countries, and internationally by singers, choirs and orchestras. The song was one of the most popular Christmas carols in Sweden during the 20th century. The lyrics describe Christmas as white and snow-filled, depicting all the Christmas blessings, with a wish that Christmas bring light and peace to the world

 

Fredrik Sixten (b. 1962) is a Swedish composer, cathedral organist, and conductor. He was the conductor of Gothenburg’s boys choir between 1997 and 2001. Today he is the cathedral organist of the Härnösand Cathedral. His music has been extensively recorded and performed.

There is no rose of such vertu  This piece was written for and dedicated to the Sofia Vokalensemble of Stockholm. This hymn to the Virgin praises her as singularly worthy of the miraculous conception and birth of the Christ Child. The setting is a mysterious and sonorous joining of graceful melodic lines and veils of complex chords.

 

Otto Olsson (1879-1964) was a Swedish composer and one of the greatest organ virtuosos of his time. He used his strong background in counterpoint, combined with an affinity for French organ music, to create his late Romantic style of composition. He explored polytonality in his work, an advancement not found in other Swedish works of the time. 

Guds Son är född (God’s Son is born) is part of a set of Advent and Christmas songs Olsson wrote in the first part of the 20th century. The melodic line is passed to various voices, while the rest of the choir provides wordless harmonic support, until the final two verses when all the voices unite in four-part harmony for a joyful finish.

 

Program notes by Patricia Jennerjohn.

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Our program for the holiday concert Jul, Jul

We're excited to announce the program for our holiday concert, Jul, Jul—A Scandinavian Christmas, on December 2-4.  This concert is rich with breathtakingly beautiful Yule-tide songs and carols.  We'll be singing in Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, English, and Latin, in a program ranging from traditional folk carols to works by Gustaf Nordkvist, Carl Nielsen, Edvard Grieg, and Fredrik Sixten. Join our celebration of the light shining through the darkest time of the year!

Purchase your tickets in advance to get discount pricing.

Jul, Jul—A Scandinavian Christmas

Friday, Dec. 2 in San Francisco; Saturday, Dec. 3 in Palo Alto; Sunday, Dec. 4 in Berkeley

Bereden väg för Herran

Himmelriket liknas vid tio jungfrur

Hjemlige jul

Himlen mørkner stor og stum

Jordens oro viker

Staffan stalledräng

Ave maris stella

Hvad est du dog skjøn

arr. Anders Bond (1888–1980)

Swedish folk melody

Carl Nielsen (1865–1931)

 

Ludwig Norman (1831–1885)

arr. Anders Öhrwall (1932–2012)

Edvard Grieg (1843–1907)

 

Intermission

Kimer I klokker

Glänz över sjö och strand

Ave maris stella

Corpus Christi Carol

Julsång

På krubbans strå

Jul, jul, strålande jul

There is No Rose of Such Virtu

Guds son är född

arr. Ole Faurschou

Ivar Wideen (1871–1951)

Trond Kverno (b. 1945) 

 

Hugo Alfven (1872–1960)

Ivar Wideen

Gustaf Nordkvist (1886–1949)

Fredrik Sixten (b. 1962)

arr. Otto Ohlsonn (1879–1964)

 

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Program Notes: J.S. Bach St. Matthew Passion

Sometime in the Middle Ages, Christian churches began observing Holy Week by retelling the story of Christ's crucifixion in music. Those beginnings were simple—Bible verses set to chant melodies—but eventually they would culminate in one of the most ambitious musical compositions of all time.

When J. S. Bach came to write his St. Matthew Passion in the 1720s, the Passion, as a musical form, had grown to allow orchestra, choirs, and non-scriptural choruses and arias. But even by the standard of the Baroque Passion, the Passion According to St. Matthew is exceptional for its musical richness and its grand scope.

Dramatically, the point of view shifts continuously, from the narrative of the Evangelist, to the actual words of Jesus and his disciples, to reflections that speak for the individual believer. In Bach's hands, the effect that the Passion gives is a single, sustained, somber meditation—appropriate for a work that was first performed as part of a church service.

In contrast to his earlier St. John Passion, this work was influenced by the Pietism movement in the Lutheran Church.  Pietism emphasized personal faith, versus the Lutheran Church's perceived traditional stress on doctrine and theology.  As a result, the St. Matthew Passion is passionate and heartfelt; the solo arias are especially personal in their reflections on the events that are portrayed.

The St. Matthew Passion was probably first performed on 11 April 1727 in the St. Thomas Church in Leipzig, and again in 1729, 1736, and 1742. The 1736 revision (with some possible later adjustments) is what is generally known as the St. Matthew Passion, BWV 244. Felix Mendelssohn was famously responsible for a revival of this work; he edited a manuscript that he had received as a gift from his grandmother and conducted a performance in Berlin in 1829, perhaps the first performance outside of Leipzig.  However, he made significant cuts, of ten arias, seven choruses, and some chorales. 

Excerpts of the work were performed on the American television program Omnibus in 1957 in the episode "The Music of J.S. Bach." The presenter and explicator was Leonard Bernstein, who introduced the St. Matthew Passion as "that glorious work that started me off on my own private passion for Bach." The St. Matthew Passion has been presented in staged performances. Typically, these are done with all performers in street clothes or neutral costumes, the orchestras on stage, the soloists singing without scores, and the words acted out in a solemn fashion, with only a minimal stage set.

In consideration of the story to be told, the words are treated with great importance; one can see an operatic influence in the way the music works in collaboration with the libretto.  Picander, pen name of the poet who wrote libretti for Bach, wrote text for recitatives and arias, and for the large-scale choral movements that open and close the Passion. Other libretto sections came from publications by Salomo Franck and Barthold Heinrich Brockes.  The Biblical texts are from Matthew 26–27 (Luther’s translation) and also from the Song of Songs. Finally, eleven chorales (Lutheran hymn tunes) are used.

The words of the Evangelist and the named characters (Jesus, Peter, Judas, Pilate, the High Priest) are taken directly from Scripture, using recitatives, vocal passages that imitate spoken language, usually in free tempo. 

The words of Jesus usually receive special treatment. In this work, they are accompanied not by continuo alone, but also by the entire string section, using long, sustained notes and "highlighting" certain words, thus creating an effect often referred to as Jesus's "halo." Only his final words, in Aramaic, Eli, Eli lama asabthani? (My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?), portraying his physical death, are sung without this "halo.”

The chorus has a dual role: portraying group roles (disciples, the crowd), the words directly from Matthew’s Gospel; and acting as a commentator, in chorale tunes with verses that reflect back upon the action. The chorales are distinguished by varied harmonizations, which effectively color the emotional content of the words.

Additionally, choruses with a mixture of chorale tunes and poetry—chorale fantasias—are used to “bookend” the major sections of this work. In the St. Matthew Passion there are three such extended choral movements: the opening chorus ,"Kommt, ihr Töchter, helft mir klagen" (Come, you daughters, help me lament); the conclusion of Part One, "O Mensch, bewein dein Sünde groß" (O man, lament your great sin ); and the final chorus ,"Wir setzen uns mit Tränen nieder" (We sit down in tears).   

The arias meditate on and react to the events of the Passion, interpret the Gospel texts, and represent the responses and thoughts of the soul.  The arias are interspersed between sections of the Gospel text. They are sung by soloists with a variety of instrumental accompaniments, typical of the oratorio style. Obbligato instruments are equal partners with the voices, as was customary in late Baroque arias. In the arias Bach often uses word painting, as in "Buß und Reu," where the flutes start playing a raindrop-like staccato as the alto sings of drops of tears falling and in "Blute nur," where the line about the serpent is set with a twisting melody.

Overview and Highlights

Part One

The first scenes are in Jerusalem.  The opening chorus sets the tone, establishing Jesus as both the bridegroom and the sacrificial lamb:  "Suddenly the chorus breaks into two antiphonal choruses. 'See him!' cries the first one. 'Whom?' asks the second. And the first answers: 'The Bridegroom, see. See Him!' 'How?' 'So like a Lamb.' And then over and against all this questioning and answering and throbbing, the voices of [the treble] choir sing out the chorale tune, 'O Lamb of God Most Holy,' piercing through the worldly pain with the icy-clear truth of redemption. The contrapuntal combination of the three different choruses is thrilling. There is nothing like it in all music." – Leonard Bernstein

Jesus announces his death. Next, the intention to get rid of him is expressed. A scene in Bethany shows a woman anointing his head with valuable oils. In the next scene, Judas Iscariot is negotiating the price for handing Jesus over.  With a great contrast of mood, the preparation for the "Easter meal" (Osterlamm) is described, and the Passover meal itself, the Last Supper, foreshadowed by the announcement of betrayal. The disciples ask Jesus over and over again, “Herr, bin ichs?” (Lord, is it me?); this phrase is repeated eleven times; each disciple, except for Judas, the actual betrayer, questions anxiously.

After the meal they go together to the Mount of Olives, where Jesus predicts that Peter will deny him three times before the cock crows. At the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus asks his followers several times to support him, but they fall asleep while he is praying in agony. It is there that he is betrayed by Judas's kiss and arrested. While soprano and alto mourn Jesus's arrest, the chorus makes angry interjections (“Laßt ihn, haltet, bindet nicht!” Release him, stop, do not bind him!).  In a dramatic highpoint the chorus furiously demands against those who arrested Jesus "Zertrümmre, verderbe, verschlinge, zerschelle/ Mit plötzlicher Wut/Den falschen Verräter, das mördrische Blut!" (Smash, ruin, devour, shatter with sudden fury the false betrayer, the murderous blood!).  

Part I closes with a stately and expansive four-part fantasia on the chorale “O Mensch, bewein dein Sünde groß” (O mankind, mourn your great sins), reminding us that Jesus was born of the Virgin to become the intercessor and acknowledging mankind’s great sins and the sacrifice Jesus is making to secure redemption. The sopranos sing the cantus firmus, the other voices embellish aspects of the chorale words.

Part Two

In the opening movement, the alto soloist sings of looking anxiously for Jesus, who is missing, and for whom she fears the worst.  The chorus sings words from the Song of Songs, offering to help her in her search.  

The first scene of Part Two is an interrogation at the High Priest Caiaphas, where two witnesses report Jesus having spoken about destroying the temple and building it again in three days. Jesus is silent to this, but his answer to the question if he is the Son of God is considered a sacrilege calling for his death. Outside in the courtyard Peter is told three times that he belongs to Jesus and denies it three times; then the cock crows.  Peter remembers this, and flees, “weeping bitterly.” This is followed by the heart- wrenching aria “Erbarme dich” (Have mercy), in which the soloist asks that these tears bring forgiveness for this faithlessness, the violin obbligato weeping along with the soloist.

In the morning Jesus is sent to Pontius Pilate. Judas, overcome by remorse, kills himself. Pilate interrogates Jesus, is impressed, and is inclined to release him. (It was customary to release one prisoner for the holiday.) Pilate is supported in this by his wife. But the crowd, given the choice to have Jesus released or Barabbas—a thief, insurrectionist, and murderer—declares with one voice "Barrabam!".  Then the crowd calls for Jesus to be crucified. Bach uses the musical device known as the sign of the cross to set these harsh words.  The chorale that follows immediately changes the mood: remarking on how strange and wonderful it is that the “good King pays his subject’s obligation,” using an anxious and restless harmonization of the chorale tune “Herzliebster Jesu.” The exquisite recitative “Erhat uns allen wohl getan” (He has done good to all of us) and aria “Aus Liebe/Will mein Heiland sterben” (Out of love/My Savior wants to die) follows.  Then an additional outburst of”Let him be crucified” shatters the mood andintensifies the effect of the aria’s poignancy.

Pilate gives in to the crowd, washes his hands claiming his innocence, and delivers Jesus to torture and crucifixion. At Golgotha Jesus and two others are crucified and mocked by the crowd. Even Jesus’s last words are misunderstood. Where he cites Psalm 22, "Eli, Eli" (My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?), he is thought to have called Elijah. He dies. 

St. Matthew describes the tearing of the temple curtain and an earthquake—depicted graphically by the orchestra. In the evening Joseph of Arimathea asks Pilate for the corpse for burial. The bass recitative and aria,“Mache dich, mein Herze”), comforting in its gentle rocking movement, asks for a pure heart, so that he can make a precious grave there for Jesus. The following day officials remind Pilate of the talk of resurrection and ask for guards and a seal for the grave to prevent fraud.  

In a dialogue with the chorus, each soloist (starting with the bass and rising through tenor, alto, and soprano), says farewell and expresses gratitude to Jesus, while the choir echoes “Mein Jesu, gute Nacht!” (My Jesus, good night!). The work closes with a grand-scale chorus in da capo form. Choir I and II are mostly in unison for the first part, “Wir setzen uns mit Tränen nieder“ (We sit down in tears), but are in dialogue in the middle section—choir II repeating "Ruhe sanfte, sanfte ruh!" (Rest gently, gently rest!), and choir I reflecting "Your grave and headstone shall be for the anxious conscience a comfortable pillow and a resting place for the soul. In the highest bliss the eyes fall asleep." These are the last words, marked by Bach himself p pp ppp (soft, very soft, extremely soft), before the first section repeats.  The very last chord is marked with a poignant leading tone in the oboe, like a final sob of grief.

Patricia Jennerjohn

 

Purchase your tickets soon to get discounted advance pricing for our monumental opening concert of this 2016-2017 season.

Kairos Youth Choir in the Opening Chorus

Berkeley’s premier youth choir, Kairos has offered comprehensive vocal music education to children ages 6 to 15 for over twenty five years.

The youth choir is featured in the opening chorus of our St. Matthew Passion performances. John Eliot Gardiner compares that movement to the immense altar paintings from the 16th century, where an entire story is told, with different scenes playing out at the same time. Following that idea, we can imagine a procession of mourners in the streets, with death bells sounding in the bass part in the orchestra. Witnesses of what has been happening in Jerusalem (Choir I) invite onlookers (the believers, or Daughters of Zion, Choir II) to join them, and speak of Jesus’ suffering, including him carrying the wood for his own cross.

Gardiner says: “The music seems entirely complete … and we marvel at how smoothly [Bach] makes room for a series of antiphonal exchanges between his two choirs and orchestras. But there is still more to come: at the moment when the first choir refers to Jesus as a bridegroom, and then as a lamb, Bach brings in a third choir with the chorale “O Lamb of God, unspotted,” in an abrupt expansion of the sound spectrum: a G Major chorale within the E minor context of the main piece. Sung in unison by a group of trebles, the effect must have been stunning.”

The congregations in Leipzig, where the St. Matthew Passion was first performed on the afternoon of Good Friday in 1727, would have heard this chorale, also known as the German Agnus Dei, earlier that day at the conclusion of the morning service.

Our St. Matthew Passion concerts feature members of Kairos' Aphaia and Agape choruses. In addition to performing at the all-Kairos winter concert each December, Aphaia and Agape choristers sing at the Junior Bach Festival and other events throughout the year, and are regular guests at KPFA radio. Kairos presents a fully staged musical play every spring, showcasing educationally rich stories such as A Midsummer Night's Dream and Fiddler on the Roof. In recent years, Kairos has toured Norway, Denmark, Italy, Greece, and Austria.

Kairos founder and conductor Laura Kakis Serper received her degrees in music education and voice performance from University of the Pacific Conservatory of Music as well as Westminster Choir College and Aspen Music Institute. Her Greek heritage inspired the name of Kairos Youth Choir and its choruses. Kairos [Kah-ee-ros] means time measured by quality, the moment when all things work together in harmony. Aphaia is the Goddess of Light; Agape means Love.

Ms. Kakis Serper is also the director of choral music at The Crowden School, and is a former artistic director of San Francisco Boys Chorus. She was recognized at the California State Senate for her excellent musical service to the community through Kairos Youth Choir programs.

Kairos, with director Laura Kakis Serper and pianist and composer Arkadi Serper in front, after a successful concert at the Votivkirche in Vienna, Austria • Photo by Geoffrey Biddle

Concertmaster Carla Moore

Concertmaster of our orchestra, Carla Moore is one of America’s foremost Baroque violinists acclaimed for her stylish and virtuosic playing.  We asked Carla to talk to us about playing the St. Matthew Passion, what it means to her as a vioinist, and what she likes about Bach:

"For me, revisiting the St. Matthew Passion is akin to my visiting a beloved place. I have my favorite spaces, or movements, that I delight in. I hear once again the wonderful timbres created by the woodwinds in their solo arias, or the wash of sound created in the large choruses. Bach played the violin and the viola and that is obvious in his writing. While his music is not always easy to navigate technically, it shows he had a complete understanding of what a violinist is capable of. His music also has such structural integrity that I very much enjoy working on the phrasing of a line.

"Playing any of Bach’s music is a wonderful experience, and having the opportunity to play this powerful masterwork is a supreme pleasure. I look forward to our upcoming rehearsals and performances!"

Concertmaster Carla Moore.

Concertmaster Carla Moore.

A First Prize winner of the Erwin Bodky Competition for Early Music, Carla is co-concertmaster of Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and concertmaster of Portland Baroque Orchestra. Carla is founder and co-director of Archetti Baroque String Ensemble, which recently released its first CD on the Centaur label.

Carla has served as concertmaster and performed as soloist with Pacific MusicWorks, Pacific Baroque Orchestra, Santa Fe Pro Musica, Musica Angelica, Baroque Orchestra of Colorado and American Bach Soloists. As a chamber musician, she has recorded seven critically acclaimed CDs with the ensemble Music’s Re-creation and three with Voices of Music. Her videos with Voices of Music have been viewed by millions worldwide on YouTube.

Residing in Oakland, California, Carla teaches baroque violin at the University of California, Berkeley. Carla received her undergraduate training from the University of Southern California and earned a Master’s of Music with Distinction from Indiana University’s Early Music Institute where she studied with Stanley Ritchie.

Purchase your tickets soon to get discounted advance pricing for our monumental opening concert of this 2016-2017 season.

Stellar soloists for the St. Matthew Passion

As the Passion story unfolds, Bach allows the audience time for reflection.  Sometimes we hear his masterful four-part settings of Lutheran chorale melodies.  He also offers exquisite and meditative arias, often pairing a solo instrument with a solo voice.  Among our favorites are the well-known “Aus Liebe will mein Heiland sterben” (Out of love my savior is willing to die) for soprano and flutes, “Erbarme dich” (Have Mercy) for alto and solo violin, or “Mache dich, mein Herze rein” (Make thyself clean, my heart) for bass and orchestra.

Read more about our soloists for the Passion.

Jennifer Paulino, soprano.

Jennifer Paulino, soprano.

Soprano Jennifer Paulino is celebrated for her “graceful yet powerful” and “sensitive and clear” voice (San Francisco Classical Voice).  Specializing in Baroque, chamber, and new music, Ms. Paulino is in demand as an oratorio and concert soloist across the U.S.  She has appeared with Magnificat Baroque Ensemble, Bach Collegium San Diego, San Francisco Choral Society, Seraphic Fire, Southwest Florida Symphony, and the Modesto Symphony.  Her international appearances include a recital at the Organs of Ballarat Festival in Australia with concert organist Pavel Kohout, and performances of David Lang’s Little Match Girl Passion with San Francisco Lyric Opera in Denmark.  In 2015, Ms. Paulino made her debut at the Festival Mozaic in San Luis Obispo, singing Bach’s B Minor Mass under the direction of Scott Yoo. In San Francisco, she performed the world premier of Terra Nostra, an oratorio by composer Stacy Garrop for soloists and chorus, under the direction of Bob Geary. This season, she makes her debut at Stanford University, singing a recital of Haydn’s Arianna a Naxos and songs with fortepianist Elaine Thornburgh. Ms. Paulino is on the faculty at the annual San Diego Summer Choral Festival and maintains an active teaching studio in the East Bay.

Danielle Sampson, mezzo-soprano.

Danielle Sampson, mezzo-soprano.

Mezzo-soprano Danielle Sampson is an avid performer of Baroque, classical, and contemporary music. Last season’s highlights included a gala performance with Pacific MusicWorks, Praetorius’ Christmas Vespers with Early Music Vancouver, and collaborations with Amaranth String Quartet to perform works for voice and strings. Danielle performed with the Boston Early Music Festival in Monteverdi’s Il Ritorno d’Ulisse in Patria (Melanto) and L’incoronazione di Poppea (La Virtù, Pallade), and with Early Music Vancouver in Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas (the Sorceress) and Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater. She performed as Ruggiero in Handel’s Alcina with Black Box Baroque in April, and appeared with Liaison, Nash Baroque Ensemble, and Jarring Sounds for the 2016 Berkeley Early Music Festival. Danielle has sung with the Baroque Chamber Orchestra of Colorado, American Bach Soloists, California Bach Society, San Francisco Symphony Chorus, and San Francisco Bach Choir, among others. She is a founding member of the guitar/voice duo Jarring Sounds (with Adam Cockerham), and performs with Cappella SF, the new Bay Area octet Gaude, and Seattle’s Byrd Ensemble. She earned her BM at the University of Denver’s Lamont School of Music, and her MM at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. Danielle currently resides in Seattle.

Mark Bonney, tenor.

Mark Bonney, tenor.

Mark Bonney has been called “a tenor with a perfect voice for Baroque music ... with silken tone, great clarity of diction, seemingly effortless breath control, plenty of power, and dazzling vocal agility.” Currently based in London, he performs all over Europe and in the United States. In the San Francisco Bay Area, he was a soloist with the American Bach Soloists Academy, California Bach Society (Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610) Chora Nova (Handel’s Acis and Galatea), Marin Baroque, the Albany Consort, and the San Francisco Bach Choir. Mark is currently pursuing a Master’s degree at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London, where he studies with Gary Coward and has participated in master classes with Elly Ameling, Emma Kirkby, Olaf Bär, Julius Drake, Roger Vignoles, and Richard Egarr, among others. He coaches with Eugene Asti, Max van Egmond, and Nicholas Mulroy. Mark began his musical training as a treble in the Grace Cathedral Choir of Men and Boys. He went on to study voice as well as political science at Stanford University. He was an intern with the California Bach Society during his senior year. He is an alumnus of the American Bach Soloists Academy and the Franz Schubert Institute, a renowned Lieder course in Austria.

Marc Pantus, bass.

Marc Pantus, bass.

Bass-baritone Marc Pantus is at home in opera as well as oratorio repertoire. Last season he sang Bach’s Magnificat with the renowned ensemble Vox Luminis, Don Profondo in Rossini’s Il Viaggio a Reims with the Dutch National Opera, and a series of Schubert Lieder programs with renowned pianist Rudolf Jansen. Marc regularly sings the bass arias and the role of Christ in both St. John and St. Matthew Passions for sold-out audiences in the Netherlands. Highlights of this current season include Mendelssohn’s Paulus, Handel’s Acis and Galatea, the St. Matthew Passion in the historic Bergkerk in Deventer, and performances with the Dutch National Opera. His solo-CD Harry: Heine in Holland, featuring Lieder written by Dutch composers on German texts by Heinrich Heine, received four stars in the highly regarded Dutch/Belgian CD review magazine Luister and five stars in the national newspaper Trouw. Together with pianist Shuann Chai, Marc will perform the Lieder from his CD at the Noe Valley Ministry in San Francisco on Saturday October 22 at 4 pm, and at the Piano Club in Berkeley on Sunday October 23 at 2:30 pm (click here for more information).  Mr. Pantus studied with Udo Reinemann and Meinard Kraak at the Utrecht Conservatory of Music and the Royal Conservatory in The Hague. At the Steans Institute for Young Artists in Chicago, he studied with Thomas Allen, Christa Ludwig, Barbara Bonney, Elisabeth Söderström, and Roger Vignoles. 

Purchase your tickets soon to get discounted advance pricing for our monumental opening concert of this 2016-2017 season.