Loving Bach – Birmingham Baroque

Introducing our 2018-19 season, Jeffrey Skidmore writes…

Bach is our passion. His music inspires us, uplifts us, challenges us and can move us to tears. Bach’s music is revered by millions around the world and it is central to Ex Cathedra’s mission to perform the greatest choral music to as wide an audience as possible. Four performances of his music lie at the heart of the season: three in Birmingham and one in London.

All six joyful cantatas which make up the Christmas Oratorio will be performed in Birmingham Town Hall at the beginning of our exciting seasonal schedule in December. In Holy Week we offer our unique interpretation of the St Matthew Passion in St John’s Smith Square, London and in Birmingham’s Symphony Hall, in a newly created liturgical reconstruction for the 21st century.

In the New Year, almost half way between Christmas and Easter, we launch a Bach cantata project as part of the newly revived Birmingham Festival of Early Music in which, over a period of time, we will explore Bach’s little known masterpieces – his 200 surviving cantatas – in the context of a revelatory commission for the same musical forces. The project will involve Ex Cathedra, its Academy, schools and Community choirs. The theme is “beginnings and endings”, a theme central to all our lives.  The concert includes three cantatas which enable us to share our love of Bach through our commitment to contemporary music. A time to be born and a time to die is a work by Alec Roth designed to link our world to Bach’s. The utterly wonderful and witty Cantata 40 – Darzu ist erschienen der Sohn Gottes – with its snake and chicks is paired with the blissful Cantata 8 – Liebster Gott – with its sublime opening chorus and gorgeous tenor aria. Bach will be taken to the future and back again. This is new music – Bach and Roth – for us all to discover and enjoy together.

Ex Cathedra is proud of its close relationship with many living composers and, in the coming months, three have major birthday anniversaries. Roxanna Panufnik will be 50, Sir James MacMillan 60 and Alec Roth is already 70. Happy birthday to them all! Their music will feature prominently in our two popular solstice, sell-out programmes – Christmas Music by Candlelight and Summer Music by Candlelight. These concerts offer a successful mixture of tradition, much loved favourites and new works.

Further contrasts in the season are made in the closing concert of the Birmingham Festival of Early Music with Purcell’s wonderful masque The Indian Queen, a colourful 17th century response to the Aztec and Inca civilisations. The context will be set by colonial music from Latin America which I unearthed on my travels to that beautiful part of the world.

The season begins with In 40 Parts, bringing together five monumental works for 40 voices. Three were written in the 16th century and two were written for Ex Cathedra in the early 21st century. Earthrise was commissioned in 2009 to celebrate both our 40th anniversary and the lunar exploration of the Apollo 8 Mission in 1969.

Ex Cathedra’s 49th season is full of contrasts which reflect Birmingham, our young, vibrant, burgeoning home city which is rich in cultural heritage. Birmingham Baroque sums it up nicely. This unlikely juxtaposition of words brings together the best of the new and the old, a civic gospel for the common wealth of our diverse community.

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