Back to Bach: Jeffrey introduces our 2017-18 season

I get very excited when I’m asked to write the welcome for the new season’s brochure. There is always so much to look forward to! This year there is Bach and Mozart with the CBSO, Monteverdi with His Majestys Sagbutts & Cornetts and Bach’s St Matthew Passion on Good Friday in Symphony Hall with Ex Cathedra’s distinguished and loyal period instrument orchestra which was established in 1984, the first one outside London. We welcome back Margaret Faultless, Lucy Russell and Juan Manuel Quintana, and are delighted to be joined by soloists James Rutherford and Toby Spence.

Ex Cathedra’s two candlelit ‘solstice’ programmes – Christmas Music and Summer Music – continue to be as popular as ever with their unique mix of well-known, traditional and newly commissioned repertoire. We look forward to new works by Alec Roth, Roxanna Panufnik and Martin Bates, and working again with the exceptional harpist Lucy Wakeford. Although there is an additional Christmas performance there is no increase in the overall number of tickets available: still book early!

I should like to bring to your attention two additional and typically distinctive Ex Cathedra programmes. In October we perform at the William Alwyn Festival in the beautiful Blythburgh Church in Suffolk, the ‘Cathedral of the Marshes’. This special programme celebrates local composers, the importance of place, communities and friendships, and the concept that composers are important and want to be useful! Music by Benjamin Britten, Edmund Rubbra, Alan Rawsthorne, Gordon Crosse, David Matthews and Elis Pehkonen is set alongside works by Ex Cathedra’s two homegrown composers – Alec Roth and the nonagenarian John Joubert. Happy 90th birthday John!

In March we give the opening concert in the Holy Week Festival at St John’s Smith Square, London, with a programme Harmonic Spiritual Theatre: sacrifice, betrayal, passion which explores early oratorios by Anerio, Carissimi and Charpentier and sacred madrigals by Monteverdi and Gesualdo. The concert also takes place in St Philip’s, Birmingham Cathedral and as part of the Codsall Community Arts Festival, in St Nicholas’ Church.

Ex Cathedra’s 48th season begins in October with two of Bach’s best-known cantatas, the famous Orchestral Suite No 3 and his joyful setting of the Magnificat. Martin Luther’s chorale – Ein feste Burg – is the foundation of Lutheranism and provides a fitting tribute to this intriguing man and the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. These days not many of the top symphony orchestras play Bach and as part of an ongoing relationship with the CBSO it is a delight to be performing this music with them. Their recent performances of Baroque music have been impressively stylish and sophisticated.

The year 2017 celebrates the 450th anniversary of the birth of Monteverdi and we offer two programmes: 1610 Vespers and a programme of madrigals ‘made spiritual’ – In search of 1610 – in Warwick, which helps explain the mysterious origins of this extraordinary and iconic masterpiece.

The human voice was at the heart of much of Mozart’s finest music and he was inspired by many of the leading sopranos of his day: the three Salzburg Ladies, the Weber sisters, including his wife Constanze, the English soprano Nancy Storace and many others. Making use of several ‘generations’ of Ex Cathedra sopranos Mozart’s Women explores this sensational and irrepressible music. We warmly welcome back alumni Carolyn Sampson and Elizabeth Cragg for this concert.

© Jeffrey Skidmore, April 2017

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