The music of J.S. Bach is an enduring feature of Emmanuel Music. This is most evident at Sunday services, where a Bach cantata is performed nearly every weekend at Emmanuel Church, but one senses that the composer is somehow present there at all times. And for the third consecutive year, the ensemble is guiding a small group of students through an intensive study of Bach’s music.
The Bach Institute is a joint undertaking among Emmanuel Music; Winsor Music, whose artistic director is longtime Emmanuel oboist Peggy Pearson; and the Oberlin Conservatory. Running Jan. 5-20, it gives 16 students from Oberlin and local colleges and conservatories opportunities for study and performance. Public activities include a master class, lectures, and a performance of Bach’s Cantata BWV 97, “In allen meinen Taten.” The faculty, drawn from the Emmanuel ranks, includes Pearson, artistic director Ryan Turner, principal guest conductor John Harbison, soprano Kendra Colton, mezzo-soprano Pamela Dellal, tenor Frank Kelley, violinist Heidi Braun-Hill, and organist Michael Beattie.
Pearson said by e-mail that the institute is an outgrowth of similar undertakings by former Emmanuel director Craig Smith and others during the group’s early years. The focus is exclusively on arias and duets from Bach cantatas. Colton added by e-mail that a large part of the institute’s goal is to have students understand the interaction among the three components of those pieces: the solo vocal part; the solo instrumental part, or obbligato; and the continuo, the bass part that contains the music’s harmonic foundation. Close attention is paid to diction, phrasing, and breathing.
“Most young instrumentalists have performed some Bach, most singers have not — an occasional aria from one of the major works, perhaps,” Pearson wrote. Yet “this is perhaps the hardest music that they will ever take on.”
J.S. BACH: CANTATA BWV 97,“In allen meinen Taten”
While the first week emphasizes study and analysis, the second is composed largely of public performance, including concerts in schools and retirement homes as part of Winsor Music’s outreach program. The students, Pearson wrote, “learn to communicate with the audience through the music and also by talking about it. They learn to appreciate the gift that they have in bringing this rarely heard music to people who otherwise would not be able to hear it.” The culmination of the program is the public performance of Cantata 97 at Emmanuel Church’s Lindsey Chapel on Jan. 20.
“The students come in not knowing much about Bach and leave loving it as much as the faculty,” wrote Pearson. She noted that after the institute’s first year, “the students returned to Oberlin and independently put on their own performance of Bach's ‘Coffee Cantata’ at a local coffeehouse. To us, that was mission accomplished.”
For a schedule of talks, performances, and a master class open to the public, go to emmanuelmusic.org.
The Boston Symphony Orchestra starts the new year with a program led by Alan Gilbert, music director of the New York Philharmonic. It includes the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto with Georgian violinist Lisa Batiashvili as soloist. This is hardly unusual repertoire, yet Batiashvili (inset) is the kind of soloist who can refresh a listener’s experience of a warhorse, if her newest recording is anything to go by.
It’s of the Brahms Violin Concerto, which most approach as a confrontation between two titantic opponents (soloist and orchestra). Yet Batiashvili and her accomplices — the Staatskapelle Dresden under conductor Christian Thielemann — take a more streamlined, less angst-laden approach to the concerto. Moments that usually carry high drama become events in a larger narrative.
Admittedly, there are parts that could use a little extra juice (especially from the orchestra), but the slow movement has a quiet sense of forward momentum, and the finale moves with quicksilver intensity. She’s also chosen to pair the concerto with three poignant, seldom played works for violin and piano by Clara Schumann.
Jan. 10-15; bso.org