Friday, March 4, 2011

Special Evensong Service at St. Stephens Featuring All Male Soloists Performing Bach Cantatas Sunday Evening

Leslie Martin, Director of Music at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church (4805 NE 45th Street), would like to invite the community to another Evensong, a 45 minutes service, Sunday evening starting with the Cantata preview at 4:30pm, followed by Evensong at 5pm.

Evensong is "chanted in the beautiful surroundings of our church, features inspiring anthems and soaring settings of the evening canticles – Magnificat and Nunc dimittis – which mix with shafts of light streaming through our unique and beautiful stained glass windows, making a feast for the senses," the website says.

Leslie tells us that Sunday night's Evensong is a unique opportunity to hear the music of Johann Sebastian Bach as it was first performed in 1724 in Bach's town of Leipzig -with baroque period instruments, and will all-male soloists, including an etremely gifted young boy soprano from the Northwest Boychoir.

Leslie, who is also adjunct professor of organ, harpsichord and keyboard harmony at Seattle Pacific University, wrote a special post for us about the uniqueness and some history of Bach's cantatas:

These works were the musical entrée each Sunday in Bach’s Leipzig, and represented the core of his musical output during his first years there from 1723. To contemplate the rapidity of their weekly composition, the quality with which they are crafted, and above all, their sheer beauty, will forever boggle the mind of every mortal musician.

It can certainly be said that all of Bach’s music is a testament to his unsurpassed inventiveness, but in many ways I find that he is perhaps at his creative best when he is performing a marriage between text and music –whether in his monolithic Passion settings, or his weekly cantatas. Though smaller in scale, the cantatas still have everything found in his larger choral works – a “story line” that evolves through inspiring choruses, soaring arias and duets, dramatic recitatives, and all tied up in a neat bow with a congregational chorale at the end – all of this in a condensed, twenty to thirty-minute package.

For the hearer they are inspiring works of beauty, and for those looking for the thrill of musical discovery, Bach’s cantatas are a veritable treasure chest. Each time I open the score and peek under the hood to see what makes that particular cantata run, I’m always rewarded with new insights through Bach’s vast palate of word painting, pictorial or numerological symbolism, and architectural or thematic cohesiveness within – and even between movements. I come away thinking, “Ach, mein Gott!”, these are the crown jewels of the baroque sacred choral tradition.

Unfortunately, we have largely excluded these twenty-minute masterpieces from the common musical fare in today’s churches, and they have sadly become one of the best-kept secrets of sacred choral literature. However, it is our intent at St. Stephen’s not only to help people to rediscover the depth and beauty of these works, but also to provide a place to hear the sacred cantata again in its liturgical context, supported by hymnody, psalmody, and scriptural readings that further illuminate the meaning of Bach’s music.

It’s always an exhilarating experience to bring these magnificent works to life through performances with period instruments, and in the original German, where the nuance of Bach’s word painting can be experienced. But what will make the March 6, 2011 performance of “Wer nur den lieben Gott lässt walten” so unique? Following Bach’s own practice in Leipzig – and, perhaps for the first time in the Northwest – this performance will feature only male vocal soloists: Benjamin Richardson, boy soprano; Joshua Haberman, countertenor; Ross Hauck, tenor; Thomas Thompson, bass-baritone.

We hope that many from the Laurelhurst community will come and enjoy this superb music, brought to life on period instruments, with four of the regions most prominent early music vocal artists.

There is no charge, and there will be a reception following Evensong.

St. Stephen’s welcomes experienced singers to participate in the Evensong Chorus. For more information, contact Leslie Martin  at, or call 522-7144 ext 307.

(picture courtesy of St. Stephens Church)

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