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Emmanuel Music Traces Bach Influence


bachwwwOver the last five years Emmanuel Music’s Artistic Director Ryan Turner has left his imprint with SRO performances of The Great Gatsby and A Little Night Music, as well as, more predictably, the company’s first St. John Passion in many years. Throughout this season, titled Bach Reimagined, the master provides the programming inspiration, beginning October 3rd with Bach Rearranged, comprising Mahler’s, Stravinsky’s, and the Swingle Singers’ takes.

Emmanuel Music also continues its 46-year Bach cantata series in a liturgical setting and carries on with the second year of its Mendelssohn/Wolf Chamber Series, which includes collaborations with the Lydian and the Arneis Quartets.

The Intelligencer had questions for Turner.

BMInt: Tell us about the way things change and the way they stay the same—like the cantatas.

​RT: Emmanuel Music has a decades-long tradition of offering cantatas in the liturgical setting for which they were intended and presenting the major choral/orchestral works of Bach—the two passions, Christmas Oratorio and Mass in B Minor. In addition, Emmanuel has a rich performance history of operas in concert and Handel oratorios. ​This foundation serves as a point of departure for works like Harbison’s Gatsby, ​Sondheim’s A Little Night Music, ​the reconstruction of the Bach ​St Mark Passion, Stravinsky’s Pulcinella​, and the numerous seldom heard yet evocative and compelling works on my wishlist over the next few years as we approach our 50th-anniversary season in 2020.​

Emmanuel Music has a more romantic approach than some, if that’s the right word, to Bach. Emotion and textual meaning come across more than in some fashionable early-music approaches. Has this changed under your watch, as opposed to Craig Smith’s approach? Focusing on Bach puts your “personal imprint” on Emmanuel Music, according to the press release. This is confusing.

​Bach is, and will always be, Emmanuel Music’s core. My imprint? I am more interested in exploring how Bach has left his imprint on every generation of composers during his life and beyond. ​

Our weekly dialogue, and sometimes conflict, with the sacred cantatas of Bach ​inform my approach. I don’t think I would confine it to any one adjective, as it is a fluid process completely dependent on the material and personnel. We have the benefit of modern instruments​ (and voices) played by informed and inspired musicians who passionately engage with the text, music and knowledge of performance practice.

As conductors, we are all products of our experience. I had the privilege of singing under Craig Smith’s direction for over 10 years, while also working with numerous period orchestras / conductors and opera conductors / directors. I suppose all of this blends together to inform my evolving method of making music with my colleagues.

​Our first concert, Bach Rearranged, shows how Bach has stood the test of time and genre. Bach rearranged his own music: the Concerto for Three Violins S.1064R is reconstructed from a Concerto for Three Harpsichords yet was more than likely originally derived from a lost solo violin concerto. Stravinsky, during his final days, in 1969, completed an arrangement of four preludes and fugues from the Well-Tempered Clavier​ for strings and, most notably, three clarinets and two bassoons. At about the same time across the pond, Ward Swingle jazzed up instrumental ​Bach scores ​with ​scat, bass, and drums.

This season highlights certain of those connections and ​presents numerous Emmanuel premiers: a new realization of the St. Mark Passion, Weill’s Seven Deadly Sins, Stravinsky’s arrangements from the Well-Tempered Clavier, and Swingle Singer arrangements of instrumental works. Especially exciting this season is our new collaboration with Urbanity Dance in our final program of the season.

Presenting Swingle arrangements and bringing dancers to a secular cantata (and S.201 is my absolute favorite) certainly constitute departures. Can you speak a little more to those elements?

Dancing Bach strikes me as one of the most intuitive actions ever! So much of Bach’s music derives its form, meter and rhythm from early dances. The dramatic and narrative nature of both works on our final program of the season, Bach Reimagined, comprising Bach’s The Fight Between Phoebus and Pan, S.201, and Kurt Weill’s Seven Deadly Sins​, lends itself to the compelling story-​telling element of dance that both illuminates and transcends the music.

How does Weil allude to Bach in the Seven Deadly Sins? Tell us about that production.

​Weill, like Bach, blurred the ​boundaries between composition and arrangement through the techniques of parody and quotation. For example, the reconstruction of the St. Mark Passion is both a parody of Bach’s earlier works and employs the music of one of his contemporaries, Reinhard ​Keiser. Kurt ​Weill, under the mentorship of well-known Bach advocate and arranger Ferruccio Busoni, ​pointed toward the formal world of Bach while forging ahead into new harmonic realms. Seven Deadly Sins, while looking forward in its Gesamtkunstwerk nature in the telling of a universal humanist fable, also looks back to Bach and the Baroque era with the composition of a chorale and Baroque parody aria. Sung in an English translation by Auden and Chester Kallman, Seven Deadly Sins will be staged in a sort of reverse round, the performers surrounding the audience. There will be platforms around the perimeter of the Emmanuel sanctuary as well as balcony usage. There is a confrontational aspect to Weill, as influenced by his numerous collaborations with Bertolt Brecht, who was the pioneer in breaking the fourth wall. The sort of in-your-face element to the libretto and music coupled with contemporary dance, as opposed to the original ballet by Balanchine, will force the audience to see and hear in a new, fresh and slightly uncomfortable way!​

Emmanuel Music Orchestra
Emmanuel Music Orchestra and Chorus

On March 19, Bach Reconstructed will feature a performance of the Passion According to St. Mark, one of Bach’s settings of the Gospels’ Passion texts. Modern scholars have reconstructed missing sections, and Emmanuel Music will be working with Bach scholar Christoph Wolff to select the reconstructions for the performance. Wolff will also present the pre-concert talk at 7pm  that evening.

The final concert, on April 9, Bach Reinvented, features Bach’s own take on the eternal ‘pop music vs learned music’ debate in his secular cantata, The Contest Between Phoebus and Pan.”  Weill’s acrid commentary on greed and alienation shows how the composer acknowledged his debt to Bach and then ran with it. Chorales in praise of money and a Baroque parody aria rub up against foxtrots and cabaret numbers in this “sung ballet” score. Emmanuel Music is collaborating on this performance with Urbanity Dance, Betsi Graves, director.

Tickets for the 2015-’16 season are now on sale here.

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