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Albany Pro Musica ready to tackle tough task of Bach

Albany Pro Musica ready to tackle tough task of Bach

Will perform at Troy Music Hall with an assist from ACRONYM
Albany Pro Musica ready to tackle tough task of Bach
ACRONYM, an ensemble from New York City, will assist Albany Pro Musica on Sunday.
Photographer: photo provided

If there’s one thing Jose Daniel Flores-Caraballo, artistic director of Albany Pro Musica, has yearned for, it’s to have the chorus perform the music of Johann Sebastian Bach.

He’ll get his wish Sunday.

“As an organist, Bach is in my DNA,” Flores-Caraballo said. “I’ve been waiting for the right time and this is it.”

The chorus will perform two of Bach’s works: the motet “Jesu, meine freude” and his cantata “Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme.” ACRONYM, an early music ensemble from New York City that is assisting the chorus, will perform three instrumental works by composers who were known to Bach and probably lived in Leipzig, where Bach worked. The Boy Choristers of The Cathedral of All Saints, soprano Clara Rottsolk and baritone Woodrow Bynum will also sing.

This is the first time to Flores-Caraballo’s knowledge that the APM has tackled Bach.

“The music is not easy. The singers need power and great technique, and sing robustly,” he said.

What amazes him is that Bach, who was music director at St. Thomas Church between 1723 and 1727, was required to provide music for every church service. That equates to more than 200 cantatas, six motets and other choral works.

“It’s unreal to have that level of genius … where he placed the scripture and the structure, so symmetrical,” Flores-Caraballo said. 

His chorus had only a week to prepare each new work, something that made Flores-Caraballo believe the chorus must have been professional to handle the technical difficulties. But recent scholarship suggests that Bach sometimes used the shorter motets to experiment with color palette, voicings and the use of instruments, as well as vehicles to train his singers for his exceptionally demanding cantata repertoire.

While APM gets used to singing in German, Flores-Caraballo is also experimenting. He’s having the Boy Choristers sing the soprano line and the soprano sing the alto line.

“The line must be crystal pure, and since doing this goes with the style of music, the result is magical,” he said.

The cantata, however, is longer, with seven short movements of which only three involve the chorus. The rest are instrumental, and the 11-member ACRONYM is thrilled to be playing. The group formed in 2012 and has recorded more than five CDs, which have all garnered rave reviews. Several guest wind players will assist.

“We’ve worked with choruses before, but it’s a gift to play with boy sopranos in Bach,” said gambist Loren Ludwig.

While Bach (1685-1750) is a composer the group performs, it usually focuses on composers who lived earlier.

“There’s a lot happening in the 17th century,” he said. “We do a lot of research, follow archival leads, then transcribe the repertoire. There’s still, even now, a lot of terrific music that’s not made its way onto the stage.”

Three of those composers who lived in Leipzig and worked in similar posts to Bach, who might have even had copies of their pieces, will be offered: sonatas by Johann Christoph Pezel (1635-1694), Adam Drese (1620-1701) and Johann Rosenmueller (1619-1684).

While choral works probably sound similar now to what Bach heard, not so for instrumental music.

“The colors are compelling and different with more transparent textures, no vibrato,” Ludwig said. “There’s an amazing polyphonic sensibility — a kind of celestial clockwork, a choreography of textures.”

Unlike the classical period in which there’s a melody and harmony, the baroque period has an equality of parts where everyone is involved, Ludwig said.

The composers, who were all skilled keyboardists or string players, wrote beautifully idiomatic parts, which are often virtuosic.

Albany Pro Musica

WHEN: 3 p.m. Sunday
WHERE: Troy Savings Bank Music Hall
HOW MUCH: $55-$25
MORE INFO: 518- 273-0048; www.troymusichall.org

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