Opening concert: J. S. Bach: St. John Passion
Balthasar-Neumann-Chor und -Solisten
Balthasar-Neumann-Ensemble ||| Thomas Hengelbrock, conductor
Friday 17 March 19:00
Tickets sold by section A/B NOK 450 C/D NOK 375
A rare version of one of church music history's most important works
For the opening concert the festival presents the world-renowned conductor Thomas Hengelbrock and his eminent soloist choir Balthasar-Neumann-Chor Und -Solisten. The choir was established as an elite ensemble by Hengelbrock and most of the soloist roles in the Passion are performed by the choir's own members. The orchestra Balthasar-Neumann-Ensemble was created a few years later to augment the choir, and we will experience them together presenting Bach's masterpiece.
The St. John Passion was first performed on Good Friday in 1724 in St. Nicholas Church in Leipzig and was the pinnacle of Bach's first year as cantor. Through two main parts and five acts it tells the Passion story on several levels: The biblical text gives us the Passion story from the time of Jesus. The arias take the perspective of an observer who reflects on the events in a timeless perspective – it could be during the crucifixion, in Leipzig in Bach's day or in Oslo in 2017. The chorales for their part express the reaction of the congregation sitting and listening in the present, and bridge the gap between the narrative and the congregation. Four versions of this work exist today. In this version, from 1725, Bach has added several chorales and thus strengthened the link to the liturgy. In the past, the St. John Passion has languished in the shadow of the St. Matthew Passion, but has won more recognition in modern times.
One of Romanticism's most prolific composers, Robert Schumann, wrote that, "the St. John Passion is more challenging, powerful and poetic than the St. Matthew Passion." In addition, it is one of few works which Bach revised and performed for the rest of his life, so it was clearly a work he highly valued.
If ever a composer showed polyphony in its greatest strength, it was certainly our late lamented Bach. If ever a musician employed the most hidden secrets of harmony with the most skilled artistry, it was certainly our Bach. No one ever showed so many ingenious and unusual ideas as he in elaborate pieces such as ordinarily seem dry exercises in craftsmanship. His melodies were strange, but always varied, rich in invention, and resembling those of no other composer.
Excerpts from the obituary of J. S. Bach, written by his son C.P.E. Bach in 1754
Balthasar-Neumann-Chor Und -Solisten was founded by Thomas Hengelbrock in 1991 and is inspired by the German Baroque architect Balthasar Neumann's architectural juxtaposition of structure, painting and sculpture. The choir is made up of professional singers, and has established a solid reputation over the years. In addition to concert appearances throughout Europe with leading orchestras and conductors the choir also participates in several staged performances that combine music, recitation, acting and dancing. Soloists at the opening concert will be: Agnes Kovacs, soprano, Katja Stuber, soprano, Hermann Oswald, tenor, Hans Jörg Mammel, tenor, Christoph Liebau, bass, Manfred Bittner, bass.
Balthasar-Neumann-Ensemble was founded in 1995 by conductor Thomas Hengelbrock with the purpose of creating an ensemble with great flexibility that was equally at home with early music as with contemporary music. The ensemble was founded as a supplement to the Balthasar-Neumann-Chor. The ensemble regularly appears on the major concert stages and festivals of Europe, including Festspielhaus Baden-Baden, Schleswig-Holstein Musik Festival, Opéra national de Paris, Teatro Real Madrid and Salzburger Festspiele.
Thomas Hengelbrock is one of the most sought-after and respected conductors of his generation, within both the concert and opera repertoire. In addition to his role as conductor of the Balthasar-Neumann-Chor & -Ensemble and NDR Sinfonieorchester, Hengelbrock has conducted orchestras such as Münchner Philharmoniker, Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra and Wiener Philharmoniker, and performed at venues such as Teatro Real Madrid, Festspielhaus Baden-Baden, Salzburger Festspiele and Opéra national de Paris.
Daniel Behle (Evangelist - tenor) is one of Germany's most popular tenors and enjoys great success within both the concert and opera repertoire. Behl's repertoire spans from the Baroque period through the Romantic to newly written works from the 20th and 21st centuries. He has sung with conductors such as Christoph Eschenbach, Kent Nagano, Hans-Christoph Rademann and Christian Thielemann.
Michael Nagy (Christ – baritone) started his career at Komische Oper in Berlin and Oper Frankfurt. He has sung at several major opera houses, including Deutsche Oper in Berlin, Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich, Theater an der Wien and Bayreuther Festspiele, in roles such as Wolfram in Tannhäuser, Count Almaviva in Marriage of Figaro, Marcello in La bohème, and title roles in Owen Wingrave and Julius Caesar. Nagy is a sought-after concert singer around the world and has performed with many major orchestras.
Carlos Mena from Spain has established himself as one of today's most popular counter tenors. He sings regularly in major concert halls and on opera stages such as Wiener Musikverein, Berliner Philharmonie, Concertgebouw Amsterdam, Sidney Opera House and Tokyo Opera City Concert Hall, under the direction of R. Jacobs, M. Minkowsky and A. Marcon, among other conductors.
Photo: Balthasar-Neumann-Chor & -Solisten / Balthasar-Neumann-Ensemble: Florence Grandidier, Daniel Behle: Marco Borggreve
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