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The Bach Variations: Bach and Mendelssohn

This concert is now past.
Masaaki Suzuki
Location: Avery Fisher Hall (Directions)
Price Range: $29.00 - $109.00

Concert Duration

2 hours 15 minutes
Wed, Mar, 6, 2013
7:30 PM
Thu, Mar, 7, 2013
7:30 PM
Fri, Mar, 8, 2013
8:00 PM
Sat, Mar, 9, 2013
8:00 PM

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The Bach Variations: A Philharmonic Festival

The 2014-15 Season

Program (Click the red play button to listen)


Singet dem Herrn

Motet No. 1, "Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied" ("Sing Unto the Lord a New Song"), BWV 225 (1726–27)

"This is really something from which one can learn a great deal!" So exclaimed Mozart upon hearing Johann Sebastian Bach's exuberant first motet "Sing Unto the Lord a New Song" during a visit to Leipzig in 1789. We don't know exactly how many motets Bach composed, but we have six surviving ones that are recognized as authentic. The first of these — generally considered the greatest — is featured at these concerts. Most motets of the time were set to Latin texts and sung a capella, while Bach's were set to German texts with an instrumental accompaniment that doubled the voices. "Singet dem Herrn" is scored for double 4–part choir and is divided into three contrasting parts, almost like a "vocal concerto." The first and last movements are settings of texts from the Psalms; the middle movement is drawn from a chorale composed by Johann Gramann (1487–1581), a former rector of St. Thomas School, plus a new text for the aria by an unknown author. With Bach's genius on full display in the first movement, the two choruses engage in virtuosic antiphonal singing, tossing phrases back and forth in stunning, echoing cascades of notes. Things are calmer in the second, with one choir singing the chorale, and the other interweaving the lovely aria. In the final movement, Bach pulls out all the proverbial stops and ends the motet with a lightning–fast unison fugue for both choirs singing "Let everything that breathes praise the Lord. Alleluja!" A bit of mystery still surrounds the function of Bach's motets. Five of the six were probably memorial pieces, but given its joyful subject, "Singet dem Herrn" may have celebrated New Year's or a royal birthday. Bach scholar Christoph Wolff has put forth a different theory, namely that the motet served a didactic purpose, i.e., for use at St. Thomas School, where Bach wanted to teach the finer points of choral study and singing to the boys choir he directed.


Magnificat in D Major (1822)

Incredible as it may be, Felix Mendelssohn was just 13 years old when he composed his Magnificat, a setting of the Marian Canticle, his first major work for soloists, chorus, and full orchestra. The text is part of the core Christian liturgy and tells of Mary's joyous response when greeted by her cousin Elizabeth (carrying the future John the Baptist), for she too will bear a child in fulfillment of God's promise to Abraham. It was intended for performance at the home of the sophisticated Mendelssohn family at their Sunday musicales for the cultural elite of Berlin. Mendelssohn was already acquainted with Bach's music by virtue of being a member of the Berlin Singakademie choir, directed by Carl Friedrich Zelter, that included a good deal of Bach in its repertoire. Zelter was also Mendelssohn's composition teacher and curator of the school's library, where the young composer could study Bach scores and manuscripts, like the Magnificat. So it no surprise that Mendelssohn's work has a definite Bachian sound and feel. Like the Baroque master's Magnificat that opens this concert, Mendelssohn also uses the key of D Major, has solo passages alternate with choral ones, and, of course, sets the same Latin text: the Gospel of Luke 1: 46-55. The joy expressed in the opening chorus, "My Soul doth Magnify the Lord," is Baroque in conception and similar in scale to Bach's Magnificat. But Mendelssohn's music shows other influences as well, and foreshadows the early Romantic period in mellifluous verses like "For he hath regarded the lowliness of his handmaiden," scored for solo soprano, where a gorgeous melody floats sublimely above chorus and orchestra. These concerts offer a rare opportunity to hear a little–known gem by the teenage Mendelssohn, future creator of the revered oratorios St. Paul and Elijah.


Christus, Op. 97 (1847)

Felix Mendelssohn died far too young; he was just 38 when he succumbed to a series of strokes. One might rightly wonder what could have been, considering that while the former child prodigy was just a teen he had already composed 12 string symphonies, his sparkling Octet, and the Overture to A Midsummer's Night's Dream. Born into a prominent, intellectual Jewish family, his grandfather was the renowned philosopher Moses Mendelssohn, his father was the banker Abraham Mendelssohn, and their home regularly hosted the cultural, scientific, or otherwise-notable Who's Who of Europe. Yet in 1816, Felix and his siblings were baptized in the Lutheran faith. Mendelssohn was drawn to the music of J.S. Bach — a great Lutheran composer — and was responsible for bringing one of the master's iconic religious works, the St. Matthew Passion, back from oblivion. So it is no surprise that Mendelssohn himself intended to compose an oratorio trilogy. He completed St. Paul in 1836 and Elijah in 1846, but left unfinished at the time of his death, the final part of the triptych, Christus. The composer's brother Paul named the work Christus and published it posthumously in 1852, the year of its premiere. The fragments of the unfinished work, with a libretto compiled by J.F. von Bunsen and scored for vocal soloists, chorus, and orchestra, tell the story of Christ's birth and passion. The first section begins with a serene tenor solo about the Nativity and the Wise Men from the East that merges into the chorus "There Shall a Star Arise Out of Jacob" and the hymn "How Brightly Shines the Morning Star." Only a series of recitatives alternating with powerful choral numbers (narrating the exchanges between Pontius Pilate and the people of Jerusalem) comprise Christ's Passion. And again we wonder what might have been, had Mendelssohn lived to complete this nascent masterpiece.


Magnificat ("My Soul Doth Magnify the Lord") in D Major, BWV 243 (1732)

Johann Sebastian Bach moved to Leipzig in early 1723 to become cantor of St. Thomas School and Church, where his duties included directing a boys choir and musical activities at the local university, being music director of Leipzig's four main churches, playing organ, and composing music throughout the church year. This demanding position would be Bach's last. Determined to make his mark, he set himself an exceptionally ambitious goal: a new cantata for every Sunday and feast day of the ecclesiastical year (he finished at least three sets), plus other works. The sheer number of masterpieces he produced during his stellar Leipzig tenure is staggering, including the epic St. Matthew and St. John passions, the Christmas Oratorio, and the splendid Mass in B Minor, plus around 300 church cantatas for use at services. In 1723 he also created the Magnificat in E-flat (BWV 243a) for a Christmas performance, interpolating seasonal hymns in the traditional liturgical text, based on Luke 1:46-55. Ten years later, he reworked it for use at non-Christmas festive occasions of the ecclesiastical year, scoring it downward to D Major, where it lay more naturally for the trumpets of Bach's time and created a brighter sound, the present Magnificat, BWV 243. A "magnificat" is a canticle or hymn expressing Mary's joyous response when greeted by her cousin Elizabeth (the expectant mother of John the Baptist), for she too will bear a child in fulfillment of God's promise to Abraham. BWV 243 is scored on a grand scale for 5 soloists (2 sopranos, alto, tenor and bass), a 5-part mixed choir, and orchestra. Its 12 movements are divided into three sections: an opening chorus (the jubilant first word of the text, "Magnificat"), a glorious closing chorus ("Gloria Patri"), and ten internal movements. Bach employs solo arias, duets, trios, choruses, and orchestral forces from the smallest continuo grouping to majestic tutti forces to convey the text of this ecstatic, joyous work.


Masaaki Suzuki by Marco Borggreve

Masaaki Suzuki, considered a leading authority on the works of J.S. Bach, founded the Bach Collegium Japan in 1990; he still serves as its music director, taking the ensemble regularly to major venues and festivals in Europe and the United States. He also works with renowned period ensembles such as Collegium Vocale Gent and Philharmonia Baroque in addition to conducting modern-instrument orchestras in works by composers as diverse as Britten, Haydn, Mahler, Mendelssohn, Mozart, and Stravinsky.

Last season Mr. Suzuki made debuts with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Zurich's Tonhalle Orchestra. Highlights with Bach Collegium Japan included 20th anniversary concerts in Tokyo, a visit to the Hong Kong Arts Festival, and a U.S. tour that included an appearance at Carnegie Hall. His 2011–12 season engagements include the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, Melbourne Symphony, Rotterdam Philharmonic, St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, and Netherlands Radio Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir. In 2012 Bach Collegium Japan embarks on a European tour and festival appearances.

Mr. Suzuki is recording Bach's complete works for harpsichord and as well as Bach's major choral works and sacred cantatas with Bach Collegium Japan, with almost 50 volumes completed (on the BIS label). In 2010 he and the ensemble received a Preis der Deutschen Schallplattenkritik and a Diapason d'Or de l'Année for their recording of Bach motets, which in 2011 was also honored with a BBC Music Magazine Award. In April 2001 he was decorated with Das Verdienstkreuz am Bande des Verdienstordens der Bundesrepublik from Germany.

Born in Kobe, Japan, Masaaki Suzuki graduated from the Tokyo University of Fine Arts and Music with a degree in composition and organ performance, and went on to study harpsichord and organ at the Sweelinck Conservatory in Amsterdam under Ton Koopman and Piet Kee. In addition to conducting, Mr. Suzuki continues to perform as organist and harpsichordist. Founder and head of the early music department at the Tokyo University of the Arts, he is currently Visiting Professor of Choral Conducting at the Yale School of Music and Yale Institute of Sacred Music, as well as the conductor of the Yale Schola Cantorum.

Learn more about Masaaki Suzuki



Sherezade Panthaki

Soprano Sherezade Panthaki, an acknowledged star in the early-music field, has developed ongoing collaborations with interpreters including Nicholas McGegan, William Christie, Simon Carrington, and Masaaki Suzuki. In the 2012–13 season she makes her New York Philharmonic debut in a program of Bach and Mendelssohn led by Mr. Suzuki. 

Ms. Panthaki’s repertoire extends well beyond the music of the Renaissance and Baroque. Highlights from this and past seasons include performances of Orff’s Carmina Burana with the Houston Symphony; Handel and Bach with Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra; Handel’s Messiah with the Nashville Symphony; featured roles in Handel’s Solomon under Kenneth Montgomery, with the Radio Kamer Filharmonie in Utrecht, and in Bach’s St. Matthew Passion and Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610 with the Yale Schola Cantorum; Poulenc’s Stabat Mater with Simon Carrington; Handel’s Messiah and Bach’s Cantata BWV 51 with the Portland (Oregon) Baroque Orchestra; the St. Matthew Passion at the Baldwin-Wallace Bach Festival; Handel at Carnegie Hall with William Christie and the Yale Philharmonia; a solo concert of Bach, Handel, and Vivaldi with the Rebel Baroque Orchestra; Bach’s Christmas Oratorio and solo cantatas with Orchestra of St. Luke’s; and Bach’s St. John Passion, St. Matthew Passion, and Brahms Requiem with John Scott and the Choir and Orchestra of St. Thomas Fifth Avenue. Ms. Panthaki is a founding member of the early music vocal quartet Gravitación, with which she has recorded medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque works.

Ms. Panthaki was born in India. She earned a master’s degree in voice performance from the University of Illinois. In 2011 she graduated with an Artist Diploma from the Yale School of Music and the Yale Institute of Sacred Music. She won multiple awards at Yale, including the prestigious Phyllis Curtin Career Entry Prize. She has served as Vocal Coach for the Yale Baroque Opera Project since 2011.

Learn more about Sherezade Panthaki



Joelle Harvey

A native of Bolivar, New York, soprano Joélle Harvey is the recipient of a First Prize Award in 2011 from the Gerda Lissner Foundation Vocal Competition, a 2009 Sara Tucker Study Grant from the Richard Tucker Foundation, and a 2010 Encouragement Award (in honor of Norma Newton) from the George London Foundation Vocal Competition.

Most recently Ms. Harvey debuted with the Glyndebourne Festival Opera in a revival of Jonathan Kent’s acclaimed production of Purcell’s The Fairy Queen. She also performed Bach’s Mass in B minor with The English Concert at the BBC Proms and in Leipzig. In the 2012–13 season she is engaged to sing Susanna in Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro on tour with the Glyndebourne Festival and also with Arizona Opera; two appearances with the San Francisco Symphony: Handel’s Messiah, conducted by Ragnar Bohlin, and music from Grieg’s Peer Gynt, conducted by music director Michael Tilson Thomas; the role of Tigrane in concert performances of Handel’s opera Radamisto at Carnegie Hall and in Ann Arbor, Michigan, with Harry Bicket and The English Concert; and Iphis in a United States tour of Handel’s Jephtha with Harry Christophers and the Handel & Haydn Society. She concludes the season with a return to Festival d’Aix-en-Provence for Zerlina in a revival of Dmitri Tcherniakov’s production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni, conducted by Marc Minkowski.

Future seasons will include further performances with the Glyndebourne Festival Opera and Dallas Opera, as well as on the concert stage with The Handel & Haydn Society and Kansas City Symphony. She is making her debut with the New York Philharmonic in the 2012–2013 season.

Learn more about Joélle Harvey



Iestyn Davies

After graduating in Archaeology and Anthropology from St John’s College, Cambridge, countertenor Iestyn Davies studied at London’s Royal Academy of Music. He has performed in concert at Milan’s Teatro alla Scala with Gustavo Dudamel, Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw and Zurich’s Tonhalle with Ton Koopman, and has appeared at London’s Barbican Centre and BBC PRoms, Paris’s Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, and New York’s Lincoln Center. He recently made his recital debut at Carnegie Hall, and enjoys a successful relationship with London’s Wigmore Hall where he curated his own residency in the 2012–13 season. His CD of Dowland songs, The Art of Melancholy, was released by Hyperion in April 2014. He sung major roles in operas by composers ranging from Handel and Mozart to Britten, George Benjamin, and Thomas Adès for the Royal Opera House Covent Garden, Zürich Opera, Glyndebourne Festival Opera, New York City Opera, Houston Grand Opera, English National Opera, La Scala, Metropolitan Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, the Munich and Vienna Festivals, and the Opéra Comique. Current and upcoming engagements include a Farinelli project at The Globe with Mark Rylance, as well as concerts with The Cleveland Orchestra and appearances at London’s Wigmore Hall, Covent Garden, The Metropolitan Opera, and Glyndebourne Festival Opera. Mr. Davies is the recipient of the Royal Philharmonic Society’s 2010 Young Artist of the year prize, 2012 Gramophone Recital Award, 2013 Critics’ Circle Awards for Exceptional Young Talent (Singer), and 2014 Gramophone Recital Award for his disc Arise, my muse on the Wigmore Live label.

Learn more about Iestyn Davies



Nicholas Phan

American Nicholas Phan continues to distinguish himself as one of the most interesting young tenors appearing on the prestigious concert and opera stages of the world. He has appeared as Luricano in Handel's Ariodante on tour with Alan Curtis and Il Complesso Barocco, as well as with the Los Angeles Philharmonic (at the Hollywood Bowl), Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, National Symphony Orchestra, St. Louis Symphony, Orchestra of St. Luke's, American Symphony Orchestra, and Violons du Roy. Mr. Phan returned to the Atlanta Opera as Don Ottavio in Don Giovanni, and appeared in recital in the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society series. This summer he returns to the Hollywood Bowl for a performance of Orff's Carmina burana, and upcoming engagements include appearances with the San Francisco Symphony, Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, and a return to the Portland Opera.

Mr. Phan has appeared with the symphony orchestras of Chicago (in Chicago and New York), Pittsburgh, San Francisco, and Atlanta, and with The Philadelphia Orchestra and Music of the Baroque. He has also appeared at the BBC Proms and the Edinburgh, Ravinia, Rheingau, Bard, and Marlboro music festivals. In recital, he has been presented by Carnegie Hall, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Oberlin Conservatory of Music, and University of Chicago. He recently made debuts at the Glyndebourne Opera and Deutsche Opera am Rhein, and has appeared with New York City Opera, Los Angeles Opera, Glimmerglass Opera, Portland Opera, Chicago Opera Theater, Opéra de Lille, and Frankfurt Opera.

A graduate of the Houston Grand Opera Studio and the University of Michigan, Nicholas Phan released his first solo album, Winter Words: Songs by Britten, in 2011 on the AVIE label. His growing discography includes the Grammy-nominated recording of Stravinksy's Pulcinella with Pierre Boulez and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO Resound) and the world premiere recording of Evan Chambers's orchestral song cycle, The Old Burying Ground (Dorian).

Learn more about Nicholas Phan



Tyler Duncan by Alex Waterhouse-Hayward

Canadian baritone Tyler Duncan made his debut at the Spoleto Festival as Friendly in the 18th-century ballad opera Flora in the spring of 2010, returning in 2011 as the Speaker in Mozart's The Magic Flute. Other appearances have included the title role of Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro on a Swiss tour with the Munich Chamber Orchestra, Dandini in Rossini's La cenerentola with Pacific Opera Victoria; and Demetrius in Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Princeton Festival. Just issued on the CPO label is his Boston Early Music Festival recording of the title role in John Blow's Venus and Adonis.

Mr. Duncan's concerts include Haydn's The Creation with the Québec, Montreal, and Winnipeg symphony orchestras; Beethoven's Ninth Symphony with the Calgary Philharmonic and Philharmonie der Nationen in Munich, Berlin, Stuttgart, and Frankfurt; Haydn's The Seasons with the Calgary Philharmonic; Handel's Messiah with the Montreal and Toronto Symphony Orchestras, Handel and Haydn Society, San Francisco's Philharmonia Baroque, and Portland Baroque. He has also performed at Germany's Halle Händel Festival, Vancouver Early Music Festival, Festival Vancouver, Berkshire Choral Festival, and New York's Carnegie Hall. He has sung the title role of Mendelssohn's Elijah in Munich and Elgar's The Dream of Gerontius at Canada's Elora Festival, and he made an extensive North American tour of Monteverdi's 1610 Vespers with Tragicomedia and Concerto Palatino.

Frequently accompanied by pianist Erika Switzer, Tyler Duncan has given recitals in New York, Boston, and Paris, and throughout Canada, Germany, Sweden, France, and South Africa. Mr. Duncan has received prizes from the Naumburg, London's Wigmore Hall, and Munich's ARD competitions, and won the 2010 Joy in Singing competition, 2008 New York Oratorio Society Competition, 2007 Prix International Pro Musicis Award, and Bernard Diamant Prize from the Canada Council for the Arts. He holds music degrees from the University of British Columbia, Germany's Hochschule für Musik (Augsburg), and Hochschule für Musik und Theater (Munich). He is a founding member on the faculty of the Vancouver International Song Institute.

Mr. Duncan's recordings include Bach's St. John Passion with Portland Baroque and a DVD of Handel's Messiah with Kent Nagano and the Montreal Symphony from CBC Television. Forthcoming on the ATMA label are works by Purcell and Carissimi's oratorio Jepthe with Les Voix Baroque.

Learn more about Tyler Duncan



The Bach Collegium Japan was founded in 1990 by music director Masaaki Suzuki with the aim of introducing Japanese audiences to period instrument performances of great works from the Baroque period. Comprising both orchestra and chorus, its activities include an annual concert series of Bach cantatas and a number of instrumental programs. The ensemble and Mr. Suzuki have shared their interpretations as far afield as Berlin, Hong Kong, London, Los Angeles, Melbourne, New York, and Seoul, and at major festivals such as the BBC Proms, Bremen Musikfest, and Edinburgh International Festival.

The Collegium has acquired a formidable international reputation through recordings of the major choral works and church cantatas of Johann Sebastian Bach for the BIS label. A total of 49 releases to date includes a recent recording of motets that received the Preis der Deutschen Schallplattenkritik, Diapason d'Or de l'Année 2010, and a 2011 BBC Music Magazine Award.

The Bach Collegium Japan's 20th anniversary season included a series of special concerts in Tokyo, performances at the Hong Kong Arts Festival, a tour of North America that included a performance of Bach's B-minor Mass at Carnegie Hall, and European festival appearances including the Musikfest Bremen. The 2011–12 season includes another major European tour with return visits to Amsterdam, Brussels, Madrid, and Paris, and culminates with a performance of the St. Matthew Passion in Leipzig

Learn more about The Bach Collegium



The Yale Schola Cantorum, founded in 2003 by Simon Carrington, is a 24-voice chamber choir that specializes in music composed 1750 as well as from the last 100 years. It is supported by the Yale Institute of Sacred Music with the School of Music and is open by audition to all Yale students. In addition to performing regularly in New Haven and New York, the Yale Schola Cantorum records and tours nationally and internationally. The ensemble's live recording with Robert Mealy and Yale Collegium Musicum of Heinrich Biber's 1693 Vesperae longiores ac breviores received international acclaim from the early-music press, as have subsequent CDs of J.S. Bach's rarely heard 1725 version of the St. John Passion and Antonio Bertali's Missa Resurrectionis. The Yale Schola Cantorum has been conducted by Masaaki Suzuki since 2009.

The choir has recorded the Bach and Mendelssohn Magnificats for commercial release, under the direction of conductors Helmuth Rilling, Krzysztof Penderecki, Sir Neville Mariner, Stephen Layton, Paul Hillier, and Nicholas McGegan. The ensemble performed the Monteverdi 1610 Vespers in New Haven and New York and Bach's Mass in B Minor in New Haven, South Korea, and China. The Yale Schola Cantorum has also made tours to England, Hungary, and southwest France. Other repertoire to date includes works by Josquin, Manchicourt, Lassus, Willaert, Tallis, Byrd, Guerrero, Gibbons, Schütz, Charpentier, Purcell, Handel, Zelenka, Brahms, Bruckner, Poulenc, Stravinsky, Dallapiccola, Britten, Tippett, Feldman, Einojuhani Rautavaara, Sofia Gubaidulina, Berio, Steven Stucky, James MacMillan, and Yale faculty members Ezra Laderman, Aaron Jay Kernis, Ingram Marshall, and Joan Panetti.

Learn more about The Yale Schola Cantorum

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