Conversation with Artistic Director Matthew Glandorf Ahead of the 2018-2019 Season of "NARRATIVES"
1. What is your guiding principal when putting together a season's repertoire and what common theme did you choose for this Sixths season of the Bach@7 series?
MG: In general, when planning Bach@7 programs, rather than only resorting to exploring the music of Bach and his contemporaries, I prefer to look to other centuries and find works that share a similar theme. For example, this season we will be visiting the earliest examples of the oratorio that developed in Rome in the 17th century – all the way to the 21st century, with a newly commissioned work that shares the same theme as Bach Cantata BWV 125.
This year, Bach@7 explores the idea of "narratives.” Some pieces will tell actual stories, like the biblical story of Jonah and the Whale (Carissimi's Jonas on October 10) or the story of the aged Simeon who was promised by God that he was to see the Christ child before he dies (Chelsea Komschlies's Nunc Dimittis and J.S. Bach Cantata BWV 125 on February 27).
The others are poetic narratives, as in the celebration of love between two people from the "Song of Solomon" (J.C. Bach’s Meine Freundin, Du bist schön and J.S. Bach’s The Wedding Cantata BWV 196 on November 28) and the contrasting "Lamentation of Jeremiah" in the destruction of Jerusalem and the Babylonian captivity of the Israelites (Couperin's Lecons de Tenebre on March 13).
Finally, on April 24, we will present Heinrich Schütz’s Resurrection Historia which follows the biblical narrative of the Easter story. The singers will be accompanied not with trumpets and drums, but intimately, with three Violas da Gamba!
3. In the five programs of the Bach@7 series this year there is a noticeable new balance between programs utilizing full forces of choir and orchestra – and programs demanding a more intimate size ensemble. Is this intentional?
MG: Choral Arts and our Bach@7 series are all about community. We are a collective of differing musical forces: our talented volunteer choir singers, professional core, soloists, the instrumentalists of the Bach Collegium. What is always constant is engaging a community of active listeners with whom we can communicate.
However, one of the exciting challenges for me is how we pair up the various elements of our community of performers. I want to give each component of our performer collective a broader ability to explore the "full sound," with the power of everyone, in contrast to what can be achieved in a more chamber-like setting.
4. What’s the story behind Nunc Dimittis, your newly commissioned work by Chelsea Komschlies to be premiered in February?
MG: Chelsea Komschlies is a recent graduate in composition from the Curtis Institute of Music. A few years ago, I did a project with the Curtis composition department where the students had hands-on experience composing choral works that were intended specifically to be performed in the context of a worship service. Chelsea chose to set the text of the Nunc Dimittis (Lord, now lets thou thy servant depart in peace) which are the words of the aged Simeon in the Gospel of St. Luke who was promised by God that he would live to see the Christ child.
I was quite taken with Chelsea's extremely dramatic approach to the text. I realized that there are no longer works that really explore the text of the Nunc Dimittis (unlike the Magnificat) and asked her if she would be interested in taking her original work and expand it into a miniature "oratorio," which luckily really appealed to her. We will perform her piece on February 27, paired with Bach Cantata 125 set to the same verses.
6. Please share your thoughts on the Memorial Day Weekend concert in honor of Choral Arts’ founding Artistic Director Seán Deibler.
MG: It so happens, this year marks 10th anniversary of Seán’s passing. He had a profound impact on the choral landscape of Philadelphia as a conductor, teacher and mentor. Choral Arts owes Seán the group's early success as a symphonic chorus of great ability that performed regularly and recorded with The Philadelphia Orchestra.
I chose Johannes Brahms' Requiem in a new version for piano four-hands to be sung in an English translation. The original was approved of by the composer who wanted the message of comfort for the living who are experiencing grief to be immediate.
There are many people in Philadelphia and beyond who were profoundly impacted by Seán's influence and mentorship. We hope to connect to many of them through this memorial.
7. In June 2019, Philadelphia will host the annual Chorus America National Conference. Will we see Choral Arts among its participants?
MG: We are very honored to have been selected to be one of the few featured choruses to perform at the Conference next year. While details are still being confirmed, we most likely will present a 30-minute concert. This is a great opportunity for us to put our best foot forward. We will perform J.S. Bach Cantata BWV 4 Christ lag in Todesbanden juxtaposed with Knut Nystedt's transcendent piece Immortal Bach, a re-imagination of a Bach chorale, Komm süsser Tod (BWV 478).
8. Why do you think the music of J.S. Bach and his cantatas are still relevant to us today?
MG: Our goal all along has been to make Bach's music, especially the sacred cantatas, as accessible to the Philadelphia community as possible. Although many music concerts and new works of today address certain themes that are relevant specifically to our current day and age, like the environment, key world events or even politics, I do try to find works that have a "timeless" quality.
To my mind, the cantatas function as essays delivered by a great actor, and are timeless in their themes. Pieces written 300 years ago still carry universal messages.
No other composer in history seems to capture the imagination like Johann Sebastian Bach. No composer seems to transcend the span of time like he does. Whether you are religious or not, Bach's cantatas warn us, they challenge us, they comfort us and fill us with unbridled joy. They are truly timeless in their message.
View our complete 2018-2019 Season
Interviewed by Inna Heasley