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Back Bay Chorale in Comfortable Middle Age


The Back Bay Chorale celebrates its 40th anniversary season in a concert on March 8th at Emmanuel Church, 15 Newbury Street, at 8 pm. “Bach and Beyond,” looks back to highlights of seasons past in commissioned works by noted contemporary composers, Robert Kyr and Julian Wachner, and is anchored by the Chorale’s continued exploration of Bach’s major works. In this anniversary concert, the 120-member Chorale performs two celebrated Bach motets, Der Geist hilft unser Schwachheit auf and Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied! As Music Director Scott Allen Jarrett observes, “The sheer energy that bounces off the page of a Bach motet approaches a level similar to the collision of atomic particles.”

The Bach motets are essentially a cappella. Though supported by continuo (keyboard and cello/bass) and often doubled by groups of strings and/or winds, they are, at their root, concertos for voices. Even the melodic figurations and structures align these works more with the Brandenburgs than the church cantatas. But far from standard polychoral pieces, Bach, as with any musical genre he touches, creates an entirely new sound world in which the two four-voice choirs sing not just antiphonally or in tandem but in brilliant coordinated collision, creating an ebullient musical spark.

Since its founding, by musician, minister, and social activist Larry Hill, the Back Bay Chorale regularly engages with composers in the commissioning of new works. This concert features an excerpt from Robert Kyr’s Passion According to Four Evangelists, commissioned in 1995. “Out of the depths” comes at the close of the Passion, and, in a moving melding of textures from low to high, Kyr raises us up from our despondency to light and hope in our supplication. The Kyr will be guest-conducted by the second music director of the Chorale, Beverly Taylor, now director of choral activities at UWisconsin-Madison.

The third music director of the Chorale, Julian Wachner, composed “Come, My Dark-Eyed One” for the 35th anniversary of the Chorale. Drawing on texts by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, John Clare, Emily Dickinson, Sara Teasdale, and e e cummings, Wachner has created a work of compelling proportion and astonishing beauty. The penultimate movement, “Shall we, too, rise forgetful from our sleep,” proves the sincerity of Wachner’s musical gifts in a personal and tender exclamation of the soul.

During this anniversary year, the Chorale has launched a community-outreach program, the Bridges Project. The program brings the uplifting power of music to those unable to attend musical performances because of illness, disability, or institutional isolation. In its first year, the effort has focused on individuals with dementia and veterans, particularly those recovering from injury and PTSD. Smaller ensembles of Chorale members have traveled to care facilities, including Miles Standish Village, Belmont Nursing Home, Compass, and the VA Hospital Brockton.

On May 10th, the Chorale concludes its anniversary season with a performance of Handel’s oratorio Saul at Sanders Theater.

Tickets for all performances and further information are available here.

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