On Saturday, St. Thomas’s Episcopal Church will resonate with the sacred music of Johann Sebastian Bach and the voices of the Yale Voxtet — an ensemble of eight singers in the early music voice program shared between the Yale Institute of Sacred Music and the Yale School of Music.
Over the past weeks, the group, consisting of two sopranos, two mezzo-sopranos, two tenors and two baritones, have prepared their all-Bach cantata program under the direction of Masaaki Suzuki, a renowned conductor of early music. The results of their preparation — a concert titled “Suzuki & Voxtet | Cantatas of J. S. Bach” — will be showcased at 7:30 p.m. and will be free and open to the public.
The cantatas to be performed this Saturday represent only a handful of Bach’s over 200 cantatas, but the unique orchestration, lyrical arias and rich choruses in each work will be on full display. Bach composed many of his cantatas while employed as a church musician and wrote these pieces to align with the Lutheran liturgical calendar. Though Bach wrote a new composition almost every week, all of his cantatas contain meaningful German text, biblical references and congregational prayers. Each cantata contains an aria highlighting a singer’s individual voice as well as an accompanying chorus.
“They are so incredibly intricate and all the pieces of the puzzle fit together absolutely perfectly, which makes the pieces thrilling to sing,” said baritone Edward Vogel MUS ’19.
Starting with tragic laments in “Meine Seufzer, meine Tränen” — which translates to “My sighs, my tears” — and ending with divine supplication in “Ich steh mit einem Fuss im Grabe,” or “I Stand with One Foot in the Grave,” the program outlines the emotional narratives characteristic of Bach’s cantatas.
Mezzo-soprano Ashley Mulcahy MUS ’19 said that the cantatas are “very complicated, extremely dense [and] really difficult” but described these works as “really exciting music.”
“Whether you’re religious or not, it’s human experience that is so much a part of Bach’s music,” Mulcahy said. “And you hear that and you feel that in Bach.”
Suzuki, who also serves as principal guest conductor of the Yale Schola Cantorum, a chamber choir of the School of Music supported by the Institute of Sacred Music, will lead the Voxtet in Saturday’s performance. For each of the four cantatas on the program, Suzuki collaborated with Voxtet members in hours of group rehearsals and individual coachings.
“We got to work with him in the fall on a Handel Oratorio, but I feel a difference now that he is back this semester, because we are doing Bach and that is where his real passion lies,” noted soprano Adrienne Lotto MUS ’20. “It’s really great to see the master at work — he is really one of the leading Bach specialists of our time.”
An important figure in the world of Bach, Suzuki regularly performs on organ and harpsichord in major venues in Europe and the United States; conducts orchestras across the globe; and directs the Bach Collegium Japan, which he founded in 1990. With a large and diverse discography and list of honors including the Leipzig Bach Medal in 2012, Suzuki is an authority on Bach’s works and cantatas.
Tenor Haitham Haidar MUS ’19, highlighted Suzuki’s “wealth of knowledge” and overall “love for this repertoire” that are apparent during rehearsals.
“Everything he suggests has intent and aims to make sense to the performer so that when you perform it, it is as genuine, as informed as possible,” Haidar said.
“I just think it’s a very, very special concert — I would just say to come to have a good time and enjoy some music that’s not always done so often,” Haidar said. “I hope [the audience] feels something as they leave the concert.”
At Saturday’s performance, the Voxtet and Suzuki will be joined by an orchestra that includes faculty members, current School of Music students and alumni.
David Hou | email@example.com