Special Bach concert benefits Meetinghouse

 Musicians of the Old Post Road and guest vocalists will perform a program titled "Christmas with the Bach Family" on Friday, Dec. 14 at 7:30 p.m. at Gloucester's 1806 Meetinghouse.Courtesy photo

A musical feast featuring the works of five members of the family of Johann Sebastian Bach will be benefit the the 1806 Meetinghouse in Gloucester.

The concert on on Friday, Dec. 14 at 7:30 p.m. will be performed by the chamber ensemble Musicians of the Old Post Road along with guest vocalists in a program titled "Christmas with the Bach Family."

"They will present a banquet of Bach family works for the holidays including Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach’s rarely-performed and delightful oratorio 'Die Kindheit Jesu,' along with a sumptuous sampling of arias from Christmas cantatas by Bach brothers Carl Philipp Emanuel and Wilhelm Friedemann, cousin Johann Ludwig, and of course, Johann Sebastian Bach," said Charles Nazarian, president of the Gloucester Meetinghouse Foundation.

The Musicians of the Old Post Road, who are appearing at the Meetinghouse for the third time, will be joined by soprano Jessica Petrus, mezzo-soprano Catherine Hedberg, tenor Jonas Budris, and baritone Bradford Gleim.

The Boston-based ensemble, founded by artistic directors Suzanne Stumpf and Daniel Ryan, specializes in period instrument performances of diverse music from the Baroque to early Romantic eras.

"We have a reputation for doing unusual holiday programming," said Stumpf said. "As a historical period instrument ensemble, we are very interested in finding works from the past that have been lost to audiences for centuries. We love baroque and classical works that are known but we also like finding repertoire that is not known because it has a way of filling out the whole cultural picture with the variety of musical voices that were actually present and active."   

 Bach (1685-1750) raised sons who also became accomplished in the music field.

"In this concert we are presenting many different voices from the Bach family. But the cornerstone work of the concert is the rarely performed oratorio 'Die Kindheit Jesu,' (The infancy of Jesus), which is not lost though it's rarely done," explained Stumpf.

To give context to the composers, Ryan explained that each of Bach's sons were growing out of the baroque style.

"They considered themselves developing their own voices and changing attributes of baroque music, adding their personalities and ideas to the musical process, which led to the next established era of classical music," he said. "They were some of the vanguards breaking out of the baroque and creating their own style and being the leaders of a new style, although they didn't consider themselves transitional. They saw themselves within the current era, not realizing they were pioneers."

The artistic director also explained that this work places a slightly different emphasis on the Christmas story.

"It begins with angels announcing the birth of Jesus and the shepherds reacting and eager to meet the Christ child, hurrying to find Mary. When they happen upon Mary, there is a tender lullaby in the center of the program. The next part is the most unusual because it tells the story about Simeon, the old man at the temple when Jesus was first presented. He said he can now die in peace because he saw the salvation," said Ryan.

Stumpf further noted that the work ends with jubilation in a powerful chorus of the voices and instruments.

 The ensemble -- now in its 30th year -- is eager to return to Cape Ann. 

 "We love performing in the Gloucester Meetinghouse so we were most delighted at the invitation to return. Our past audiences have been enthusiastic and curious about the rare works we perform. The acoustics are terrific for our historical instruments," Stumpf said.

The musicians perform on violin, viola, cello, flute and harpsichord. They have toured both North America and Europe.

Concert proceeds benefit the ongoing preservation of the Meetinghouse, Gloucester's oldest church building, listed in both the National Register and Massachusetts Register of Historic Places. Current preservation work is focused on better sealing and insulation of the structure with the goal of becoming a "net zero" building.

Gail McCarthy can be reached at 978-675-2706, or at gmccarthy@gloucestertimes.com.

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