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J.S. Bach: The Six Motets

  • First Presbyterian Church 221 East 6th Street Bloomington, IN, 47408 United States (map)
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 Our third and final concert this season was a musical tour de force: the six great Bach motets, BWV 225-230, presented complete, Saturday evening, April 23rd, 2016, at the First Presbyterian Church in Bloomington.

John Eliot Gardiner, who arguably has performed Bach's choral works more extensively than any other living conductor and consisitently with universal acclaim, approaches these six compositions with what can perhaps best be described as a spiritual reverence. In the deeply personal notes that accompany his brilliant 2012 release of the motets [Gardiner/Monteverdi Choir: The Bach Motets (2012:Soli Deo Gloria)], he reflects on the profound place of the six motets in the repertoire:

"Bach's motets constitute the most perfect, and in some ways the most hypnotic, set amongst his works. ... They grew out of a genre which the Bach family had cultivated for generations, and the formed the core repertory Bach expected all his pupils to sing and to master. ... Through their extraordinary complexity and density they make colossal demands of everyone who performs them, require stamina, exceptional virtuosity and sensitivity to the abrupt changes of mood and texture, as well as to the exact meaning of each word. ... Above all they can touch the listener as well as the performer, revealing Bach's essentially compassionate nature, his dance-like joy in the praise of God and his total certitude in the contemplation of death."

We enjoyed sharing some of the most remarkable music left to us by one of the greatest minds of Western music. 

Our program booklet is here.

Here is the review of our concert in the Bloomington Herald-Times:

Singers triumph with Bach and new opera scenes

By Peter Jacobi H-T Reviewer | Apr 25, 2016

The human voice was at stage center for two weekend programs: for the Bloomington Chamber Singers to celebrate The Six Motets of Johann Sebastian Bach on Saturday evening and for the Indiana University New Music Ensemble to introduce four new opera scenes written by IU students the night before.

In the First Presbyterian Church, artistic director Gerald Sousa led his Chamber Singers through 80 minutes of probably the most difficult choral music Bach conceived, music written to praise and plead with his God, music with long stretches when everyone on stage, the chorus and the soloists, sings something different, yet music that miraculously and time after time comes together into one grand and glorious sound.

Also miraculously, Maestro Sousa led his community chorus, his ensemble of part-time singers, successfully through this added assignment, just as he had done on three prior occasions this season: for the Coronation Anthems of Handel, the Sing-Along “Messiah,” and the Requiem Mass of Mozart.

By tradition, that would have been the totality of the season’s performed repertoire and enough to prove the wonders conductor Sousa so often works with his ensemble. But when he decided his loyal band of singers deserved to take on an extra responsibility, his band happily agreed to follow along and to tackle those very taxing Bach motets.

Lo and behold, the Bloomington Chamber Singers, guided by their leader, triumphed once again.

Not only did they solve the technical issues, keeping all those strands of music under control, unified and balanced, but as is their way, they also sang with understanding and conviction.

The understanding was supplied by mentor Sousa, who studies in depth his chosen scores and passes along his knowledge for use; he insists on the singers knowing what they’re singing, in this case with a grasp of how Bach served his God and why.

The conviction comes from careful preparation and rehearsals.

By the time they perform, they know their music well. They sing with assurance.

And all that the Chamber Singers did on Friday. Bolstered by eight vocal guests, all graduate students in the Jacobs School, and by ten instrumentalists, they maneuvered through a beginning-to-end song expressing love for God, fear of God, trust in God, and faith that, when death comes, God and Jesus will be there to assuage sorrow and welcome believers into a glorious eternity.

The words address all that, and Bach’s richly embroidered music sings to all that. Gerald Sousa and his musicians honored Bach and his motets by treating them with respect for their artistry and devotion for what they must have meant to Bach.