Tuesday, January 25, 2011

About Last Night...Rehearsal Number 4

At this point in the rehearsal process--just our fourth time singing together--we're still (understandably) chasing notes around the room. The good news is that we already have sung through the entire work, at our rehearsal retreats last fall. That gave us a good context for individual study, as well as a measure of the musical mountain we're climbing!

Though obviously much learning remains, the singers are doing great. Most problems fix themselves the second time through. It's just a matter of working at a deliberate pace that allows the brain to do its work. My job, therefore, is easy. Sometimes in these early rehearsals I just stand there with my hands in my pockets, staying out of the way of the singers.

We did some woodshedding on the "Et in terra pax." This positively TRANSCENDENT movement gets me every time. Its pulsing plea for peace nudges us forward, while the coloratura passages offer a glimpse of the shimmering beauty of "peace on earth."

My teacher Jan Harrington (Professor Emeritus from the IU Jacobs School of Music) told us years ago that Bach is the best voice teacher. And I had a chat with Michael Davis about that fact last night. To sing Bach, one must be master of his or her own voice. And, in the learning of the super-challenging passages Bach has written for the singers, they come to a point of music making where technique meets aesthetic glory. Truly astounding.

And this is the music we mere mortals get to sing every week!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Bring on the Recordings!

I've been asked by singers and fans of the choir what recordings I "recommend" of the B minor mass. Answering that question is not quite as easy as it sounds, since the reply depends on several things, including what mood I'm in!

Fifty or sixty years ago, during the height of the home "hi-fi" stereo system, audiophiles and classical music fans were collecting recordings made by some of the great conductors and their orchestras. Fritz Reiner and Chicago Symphony, Charles Münch and Boston, Malcolm Sargent and London Philharmonic. Their large ensembles and massive sounds delighted the owners of these hi-fi's, who no doubt luxuriated in the fullness of sound in their own homes.

Thirty or forty years ago, some fans of 18th century (and earlier) music, began to question the appropriateness of playing such music with super-large ensembles, and performing it upon instruments that grew in size and sound output in the 19th and 20th centuries. These wonderings eventually led to what became known as "historically informed" performances...playing so-called "early" music with ensembles and instruments that are more akin to what a composer of such music might have experienced.

Soon, listeners could collect recordings with just dozens of instruments instead of over one hundred, and equally few singers. Conductor and scholar Joshua Rifkin was among the first to raise the possibility that Bach used only one singer per part for most Leipzig performances of his work. Though there is not complete agreement on this point, the facts do seem to support Rifkin's hypothesis, at least in part.

So, today, one can hear a wide swath of recordings of B minor mass (and other 18th century works). Some are with huge ensembles, some with very small, and some in between.

Rather than devote myself exclusively to one camp or the other, I like to mix it up. Here's a sample of what I'm listening to, with a little description of what each is like. Happy listening!

Helmuth Rilling, conductor, with the Stuttgart Bach Collegium (there are a couple different recordings out there). Rilling records with a choir of about 50, and "modern" instruments. However, his performers are stylistically very sensitive. The result is a recording that has the power of larger ensembles with the agility of small ones.

Robert Shaw, conductor, with soprano Sylvia McNair and Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. Choir numbers about 60, but Shaw utilizes a "concertist/ripienist" division which deploys a smaller chorus for contrapuntal expositions, bringing in the tutti a bit later on. Though not everyone agrees with this approach, it is a good way to help underscore the architecture of the music. Tempi are a bit slower on this recording than most of my others.

Masaaki Suzuki, conductor, with Bach Collegium Japan. This group performs with a small choir, probably less than 20, and players utilize period instruments and play at baroque pitch. I really enjoy his recordings...energetic, tempi on the brisk side, high technical mastery displayed by all performers. (NOTE: SUZUKI AND THE BCJ ARE PERFORMING THE B MINOR MASS AT VALPARAISO UNIVERSITY ON MARCH 19...DON'T MISS IT!!)

John Butt, conductor, Dunedin Consort and Players. Choir is one on a part, period instruments at baroque pitch. Very fine recording, if one doesn't mind missing the choral texture.

You probably have your own favorite...and that's great! It amazes me how great music triumphs almost no matter what we do to it; large ensemble or small, modern pitch or baroque, the miracle of this music comes through.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Lunch with the New Maestro


My time in Berlin was coming to an end, but before returning to the US, I had one more day of new sites ahead of me. At the suggestion of Symphonic Choir Board of Directors President Peter Fellegy, and with the help of Kathleen Custer at the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, I had been invited to meet Krzysztof Urbanski, ISO Music Director Designate, in Bamberg, Germany today. Maestro Urbanski is conducting the Bamberg Symphony concerts this weekend, so he had traveled there from his current home city of Warsaw.

Leaving Berlin shortly before 8 am, I took the ICE train for a four hour ride south and a bit east, arriving in the small city of Bamberg around noon. Stowing my bags in the lockers at the station, I hailed a cab, and arrived at the concert hall during the musicians’ break. As I got situated in the concert hall, I had a chance to meet the principal viola player for the orchestra, an American woman from Spokane. A graduate of Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, she moved to Vienna and has been in Europe for over 20 years, playing in several fine orchestras. We talked about Krzysztof, and she reported that the orchestra had been very impressed with his work.

Rehearsal began, the Lutoslawski Cello Concerto, an aggressive and modern work. It was great to hear the soloist, Clemens Hagen, and the orchestra pull the piece together from what may have been their first reading. I enjoyed watching Krzysztof work very much. Clearly in command of this challenging material, his rehearsal style was direct and effective, moving quickly and always serving as a sensitive accompanist to the soloist.

One favorite moment: the work begins, after an extended cello cadenza, with jolts of very fast, short, sharply repeated notes from different brass instruments, one after the other. They began, trombone played its notes, then it was the trumpet’s turn—“tat-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat”. Without dropping a beat, Krzysztof called out “it’s just FIVE notes please.” Giggles and smiles all around.

At rehearsal’s end, I re-introduced myself (we had met at the ISO’s public announcement of Kryzsztof’s appointment last fall) and we headed to lunch. Neither one of us knew exactly where to go, but with a little luck, and the help of a friendly cab driver, we ended up in a cozy restaurant in the heart of the “old city.” Our tasty lunch…beef for him and “Schnitzel im Bamberger Art” for me, accompanied by beer of course…was delicious, and a perfect way for us to become acquainted.

We had great conversation, talking about favorite pieces and composers (he’s a champion of Polish composers, naturally), our various paths to music (he didn’t attend music school until age 12, very late in the European system), musical backgrounds, etc. One thing I am always curious to know is how conductors study their scores…such an individual thing, and since that task is a never-ending one, I’m always looking for helpful hints. Krzysztof works from a piano to learn his scores, doesn’t listen to recordings until after he’s made his own interpretive decisions, and marks his own parts with articulations and bowings (his wife, Joanna, helps him with that for now, but I have a feeling he’ll be hiring a scribe/copyist soon, in order to keep up with his fast burgeoning career).

He was eager to hear about the Symphonic Choir, so we talked about our typical seasons (8-10 different productions annually, about half of those with the Orchestra), number of singers (roster of 140-160 typically, all volunteer) and our board. Among the things that make me most proud of the ISC is the enthusiasm and flexibility our singers show. Though I rehearse the singers to within an inch of their lives, they are always willing to try it a different way when an orchestra conductor requests it. So I tried to give him a little sense of what to look forward to as we work together in the coming seasons.

Maestro Urbanski is young…just 28 years old. However he has an impressive resume of experience and work already, conducting in Houston, Chicago and Indy, and in numerous cities around the world. One-on-one, he is naturally at ease, quick to laugh, and very gracious. I felt lucky to spend such quality time with him, and know that my singers, and the musical community in Indy, will become his fans and supporters in short order.

(Old town Bamberg)


After lunch, another train ride, this time back to Frankfurt, then flight home next morning.

As I reflect upon the last ten days, I'm left with two "big ideas."

1) I am very lucky. To get to travel, to see and experience places, people and culture, to get to study and play music like this...I am humbly grateful for these opportunities.

And, 2) In this trip, I have encountered the extremes of humanity...from the glorious miracle of the music of Johann Sebastian Bach to the unthinkable nightmare of the holocaust. Though separated by 200 years, I realize the juxtaposition of these events underscores the timeless universality of the MASS IN B MINOR. Its closing moments contain a message that is both fervent plea and hopeful assurance: Dona nobis pacem.

Pacem indeed.

Somehow, Bach knew we'd need to hear that in 2011.


As promised some posts ago, I'll continue putting up information I find interesting or enlightening pertaining to the MASS IN B MINOR as I prepare for our April performances. Stuff I'm reading, stuff we're working on in rehearsal, stuff my students uncover, interviews with our performers, that sort of thing.

But next time I thought I'd answer a question some of our singers and choir fans have been asking me, namely what recording do I recommend for those wanting to get better acquainted with this magnificent work? I think I own close to a dozen different recordings, and there are way more than that out there. Everything from huge orchestras and monstrous choirs to chamber ensembles and one singer per part. We'll think about the differences between one approach or the other, and hopefully point you toward something you might enjoy.

Till then, thanks again for reading, commenting, sharing with friends.


Saturday, January 15, 2011

Berlin on Thursday

(Berlin Opera House)


Wishing to make a further dent in our list, we started our day early, taking the U-bahn and arriving at the downtown Holocaust Memorial before 10 am (well, early by “Vacation Standard Time” I guess). Installed in 2005, the memorial is a composite of over 2,000 rectangular stone monoliths, arranged in neat rows upon an undulating plaza. The stones have no carving or plaques, nor are there any signs to speak of. Instead, the memorial is blankly quiet, as if to invite the visitor’s inquiry and personal reflection.

I had all kinds of images in mind as I walked through the memorial…the lines of barracks buildings I’ve seen in concentration camp photos, columns of headstones in a cemetary, and of course the many victims whose names are yet unknown to us.

(Holocaust Memorial with Brandenburg Gate and Reichstag in the background. The contemporary frame dome atop the Reichstag is the recent addition by contemporary architect Norman Foster, housing an observation deck and echoing the silhouette of the original dome, lost in the 1933 fire.)

Also part of the Memorial is an underground museum, beneath the field of stones. In a striking moment of architectural inspiration, the

museum ceiling is cast as an echo of the above ground stone topography, as if the monoliths above had been pushed up from the space below. The iconic visual device helps keep those whom we honor close to mind.

In addition to presenting some of the facts of the holocaust, the museum helps its visitors understand the tragedy at a personal level, by dedicating two large rooms to historical pictures of families, reproductions of letters, telegrams and deportation orders and information about their fates, if known. Though the facts are devastating to contemplate, we found these presentations did their work in a manner that was effective and honorable.

Across the street from the memorial is large city park, Tiergarten (“Animal Garden,” since the city zoo is contained in it). Among the many monuments it contains are the Goethe Monument and a new Memorial to Homosexual Victims of the Holocaust. The plaque next to it reads, in part: For many years, the homosexual victims of National Socialism were not included in public commemorations—neither in the Federal Republic of Germany nor in the German Democratic Republic….With this memorial, the Federal Republic of Germany intends to honor the victims of persecution and murder, to keep alive the memory of this injustice, and to create a lasting symbol of opposition to enmity, intolerance and the exclusion of gay men and lesbians. The starkly plain construction of this Memorial recalls the design of the Holocaust Memorial just across the street. Through the small opening in the side, one views a looped video image of two men embracing, recorded at the actual site in the park where the monument stands.


Our next goal was the Pergamon Museum, located on a sliver of island in the River Spree. Walking through the Brandeburg Gate and down the grand promenade, we passed the US Embassy, the Opera House and a very glitzy Mercedes dealership!

The “Museum Island” contains Berlin’s largest collections of fine art, in several classical buildings. Adjacent is the Berlin Cathedral.

The Pergamon Museum houses two significant archeological finds from Turkey: the Pergamon Altar (a nearly 400' long frieze) and the Market Gate of Miletus. The enormity of these two installations is breathtaking.

Also located in the Pergamon is the Ishtar Gate, from the wall that ringed the ancient city of Babylon. Excavated in the 1930's, the gate is 47' high and 100' feet wide. Jon and I liked the shiny animal reliefs installed among the bright blue bricks.

From the museum it was a short walk up the street to the Jewish Synagogue of Berlin. Built originally at the end of the 19th century, the synagogue was torched during the Kristalnacht raid of November, 1939. Further irreparable damage was inflicted during the bombing raids of the war, and though the bulk of the building was lost, the front façade remained relatively intact. After reunification, a restoration and reconstruction project was undertaken, rebuilding the front part of the synagogue, including the beautiful cupola, 100 feet above street level.

Out and About: Wednesday in Berlin


Okay, okay, before the high level cultural stuff, a little more about one culinary experience that was a surprising highlight of the day. At the conclusion of our city tour, we were deposited on one of Berlin's main shopping streets, where we did a little "pre-shopping" and soaking up the local color. Just a block from our hotel is the department store Ka-De-We (an abbreviation for German words meaning "Store of the West"). This eight-story complex reminded us of Harrod's...huge floors of goods for men, women, kids, household items, gifts, and more. Up on one of the top floors is where they keep all the gourmet items. So, up we went!

When we got there, we were greeted with sensory overload. The entire floor was a network of areas, islands, aisles and displays all arranged by food "themes." There were distinct whole areas for cheeses (more than 1,200 varieties in all, the store boasts), chocolates, tea, coffee, wine, bread, caviar, cured meats, seafood, sushi, Chinese cuisine, beer and more. Each area had rows of items for purchase, plus a counter/cooler area attended by store staff, who would cut to order whatever one might request. Food for eating on the spot was also available at these food counters, and drawn by the savory smell of melty cheese, we pulled up to the counter for a bite to eat. We shared a large casserole dish of diced potatoes, bacon and onion in a rich cream sauce, topped with cheese that had been sent to the broiler before being served to us so it had a yummy cheese crust on top. Washed down with glass of ice cold pilsner...we had to pry ourselves away, knowing our real dinner was not too far off.


Today would be our first day to work on our “list” of many things we wanted to see in Berlin. At my request, we started off to see Checkpoint Charlie, the infamous border crossing between East and West Berlin. To get there, we took the U-bahn, Berlin’s subway, for the first time. Easy to navigate, we made our way across town in short order.

As we approached the checkpoint, we had a chance to view numerous signs along the sidewalk, complete with actual historical pictures. These panels told the story of the wall, from its installation in

1961 to its removal in 1989. There was one of NYC graffiti artist Keith Haring, and another of Mstislav Rostropovich playing Bach(!) on the cello just days after the wall had come down.

Following a double row of bricks embedded in the pavement to trace the wall’s former course,

we made our way to the “Topographie des Terrors,” a museum at the site of the former Nazi police headquarters. There, a section of the wall has been left standing.

Displayed inside the museum are photographs and historical documents preserving the history of the SA and SS, and the inhuman treatment of so many. The excellent presentation, though profoundly sobering in its content, was well organized and rich.

A short walk to Potsdammer Platz brought us to a large, upscale shopping center. Viewing the soaring glass atriums, escalators and department stores, it was difficult to imagine the transformation that has occurred in the last (barely) 20 years.

After a tasty stop at a café for a mid-afternoon meal, we found a great ice cream stand, selling various Italian style gelato flavors. I had a mix of chocolate with tiramisu (complete with actual lady fingers mixed in with the ice cream) and Jon bravely sampled the chili-pepper flavored chocolate…as spicy as any Thai dish we’ve had in a while!

Friday, January 14, 2011

I'll Make this Quick...

What a week! The sights, the architecture, the art, the food, the language, the fun. If only I had a reliable internet connection to share it all with you!

As I write this, I'm at my airport hotel before tomorrow morning's flight to USA. Apparently I can't upload pictures from here, so I think I'm going to wait till I arrive at home tomorrow and have my speedy connection in my living room to blast pics and stories to everyone.

Just the highlights since last we "spoke": city tour of Berlin, Brandenburg Gate, Holocaust Memorial and Museum, Pergamon Museum, Checkpoint Charlie, Berlin Wall, Tiergarten, Museum Island, Berlin City Synagogue, Shopping, Schnitzel, Pizza and oh yeah, beer!

Thanks for following (and commenting!) Till tomorrow...


Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Good Morning Berlin

Just a quick post this morning before we head out to do some city sightseeing. We arrived in Berlin Monday evening and made our way to our hotel in the Shoeneberg area of the city. We are one block from Ka-De-We, the largest department store in continental Europe, and numerous additional fun looking shops. Tuesday we took a city tour, giving us the chance to get our bearings, locating such sites as Checkpoint Charlie, the Holocaust Memorial, the Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag, and the Museum Island (home to the Pergamon Museum among others, and where we're headed today).

One of my Butler colleagues, David Murray, was here last fall, and recommended a wonderful restaurant where we ate yesterday, "More," just about a block from our hotel. Decorated in a rich red color with deep arm chairs at every table, it was cozy and delicious. Jon ordered the Wiener Schnitzel (yup, even though we're not in Vienna, this item seems to be on every menu in Gemany!) and I had Rouladen, a beef roll-up in rich dark gravy, accompanied with mashed potatoes and diced red cabbage. The small restaurant felt very homey, with patrons sitting and sipping coffee or a glass of wine till 11:30 pm. We were made to feel very welcome in "our" neighborhood haunt.

Promise that I'll put up some pics at the next post...the upload speed here in the hotel is quite slow, so it'll work better for me to do it when I have a little time to watch the spinning pinwheel on the screen!

Till later....

PS...I had a dream in (very) broken German last night. Just as in my real life experiences on the street, I spent most of the dream apologizing to folks for the fact that I don't speak the language very well!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Bach and Mendelssohn


...is the German word for "worship service." This would be my final opportunity to visit St. Thomas, and I was eager to have the full Sunday morning experience in Bach's home church.

Having studied Bach and his music as students, we are taught several hard and fast facts: 1) church started early "back in the day," usually at 7 am; 2) services were long, lasting often more than 3 hours; and 3) the cantata was performed just before (or after) the sermon...or on special Sundays when an extended cantata would have been featured, half before and half after the sermon.

So, none of these was true this day. The worship service began at 9:30 am (reason enough to give thanks!), it was slightly over an hour in length (though the additional service for communion added an extra 30 minutes or so) and the choir did not sing an entire cantata. Rather, they performed the concluding chorale from Cantata #1 WIE SCHOEN LEUCHTET DIE MORGENSTERN. In addition, they sang several other motets and hymns throughout the service.

The sermon lasted about 20 minutes. *I think* the minister was talking about the shift away from the celebrations of Christmastide...it was the first Sunday after Epiphany after all. He also noted the upcoming vote in southern Sudan...I believe framed in reference to the reunification of Germany 20 years ago. However, as I was only able to understand about every fifth word, a lot of this is conjecture!

Following the service, Jon and I found a cafe for a bit of coffee ("milchkaffe"...frothy, smooth and sweet) and a bite to eat. Seated on the main town square, it was a perfect spot to people watch--families, young couples, folks walking dogs (and bringing them inside the restaurant)...all seemed so naturally organic and at ease. Very relaxing!


The St. Nicholas Church was one of the four in Bach's care, and during his lifetime one could see one from the other. They're not very far apart, in fact. However, the many tall buildings, hotels and shops constructed in the last 200 years mean one has to thread one's way through the streets and alleys to get from one to the other.

The Nicholas Church is actually a bit bigger than St. Thomas, though the exterior is less ornate.

Once inside, the 18th century renovations are immediately evident. The entire interior has been recast in a classical motif. Bright, airy colors and lots of natural light. Even the gothic columns have been given roman treatment, with ornate green palm leaves on top.


As my time in Leipzig was nearing its end, I knew I wouldn't be able to hit all the places on my wish list (Opera, Gewandhaus Orchestra Hall, Schumann House). Figuring we had time for just one more, we decided to go visit the Mendelssohn House, where Felix lived the last years of his life. This way, we'd at least walk past the Opera and the Orchestra Hall.

Guided by well-placed street signs, we work our way to the Mendelssohn house, located less than a quarter mile from the Gewanhaus (Mendlessohn was the conductor of that orchestra in its original home). The Mendelssohn museum, located on the first floor of his house, occupies the same space used by the composer as his living quarters for the final years of his life, and in which he died in 1847.

We saw lots of fascinating items: original furniture owned by Mendelssohn and his family (much of it Beidermeier), gifts (including a beautiful chest from England), handwritten musical manuscripts (including this one from ELIJAH, the Part II aria "Hear Ye, Israel") and watercolors by the composer after his trips to Italy.

Our last full day in Leipzig concluded with a nice meal at "Bar Fusz," a clubby place with typical Saxon fare, plus just about anything else one could imagine...Thai, Italian, pizzas, etc. On Monday, we take the train to Berlin for several days of sightseeing.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

A Sunny Saturday in Leipzig

The sun came out for the first time today! To celebrate, we took this picture from our hotel room, out the window overlooking the courtyard and a beautiful 19th century church next door.

Big day today--haircut (19 euros) and met Jon upon his arrival at the train station. His flight from Dulles (through Copenhagen) deposited him in Berlin at 9 am, and he transferred to the Berlin train station for the 90 minute ICE (Inter City Express) train to Leipzig. Great to have him here!

While he caught up on a little sleep, I attended today's "Motette" service back at St. Thomas. The choir, which performed on the front steps of the chancel yesterday, today was located in its usual spot, the choir loft, up and behind the congregation. They have more room up there, which was needed for members of the famed Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, on hand to provide accompaniment for the cantata that closed the service.

I again arrived early, while the boys were finishing up a little rehearsing.

The service included some of the music I heard yesterday, and added Bach's Cantata #32, "Liebster Jesu, mein Verlangen." This work, like several Bach wrote, depicts a conversation between "the soul" (sung by a soprano soloist) and Jesus (sung always by a bass). At first expressing doubts as to the constant presence of the Lord ("Dear Jesus, my longing, tell me where I can find you"), the work ends, as is typical, with a jubilant celebration of Jesus' constant presence in the lives of the faithful (Soul: "Now I will never let you go." Jesus: "And I will keep you always near me.")

After a quick swim in the hotel pool, Jon and I headed into town to give him his first look at the sights. We took in the St. Thomas and St. Nicholas churches, the Old City Hall, and numerous architectural wonders, as Jon was quick to point out!

Finally, we arrived at our dining destination, Auerbachs Keller (Auerbach's Cave). This underground restaurant is located within one of the many covered passageways that criss-cross the downtown area. Leipzig having been a major business center for centuries, these enclosed "alleys" are filled with stores, shops and cafes, and give one the chance to escape the wind, rain or snow.

Auerbach's is famous for its inclusion in the famous Goethe tragedy "Faust." This centuries-old restaurant is the first place the devil (Mephistopheles) brings the old scholar Faust in his quest for excitement and life's meaning. "Mephisto" enchants a group of intoxicated students gathered in the restaurant, and Faust rides away atop a barrel of wine.

My interest in this place is especially keen, since my dissertation topic, Hector Berlioz's musical setting of the Faust legend, gave me a chance to research it. And I wasn't disappointed! As you can see from the photos, it's a place that basks in its own history. Faust portraits and trinkets adorn each of the rooms. And the "cellar" atmosphere makes it feel like a cozy hideaway.

We each started with a bowl of yummy french onion soup, waaaay overloaded with tasty cheese and crunchy bread, but who's complaining?? Jon had a venison entree (on the recommendation of a colleague of his) and I had an "au gratin" plate, beef and lamb with potatoes, mushrooms and cheese, served bubbling hot. And all washed down with cold beer...who could ask for more?

Tomorrow morning brings a 9:30 worship service at St. Thomas. Eager to experience the Sunday routine in Bach's church! Thanks to all who've posted comments on the posts...so happy to be able to share the experience with you.

Finally, a photo we took in one of the lobby "salons" at our hotel, the Fuerstenhof, originally a banker's mansion from the 18th century.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Bach Rules!


After a great night's sleep, I started out this on a different route into the heart of the city center. Along the way, I passed numerous antique shops and an enormous construction site (for the city's new major construction project, an underground tunnel from the main train station to the southern part of the city), and found myself in a small, charming little coffee shop/bakery where I had a light breakfast. Tasty "milchcaffe" and jelly-filled pastry (New Year's resolution on hold till I get home). All for about 3 Euros (about $4.50). Not bad!

Next, it was time to "meet" Bach's church for real. Retracing my steps from last night, I greeted the statue, then made a quick detour to the Bach Museum to confirm the time of the museum tour this afternoon.

Signs hanging outside the church entrance helped frame the historical significance.

Following a noisy tour group inside the tour, I was surprised to see an actual wedding taking place at the same time. At the far end of the nave, I realized that the wedding party likely couldn't hear any of the noise of the tourists, so we all quietly looked around, snapping photos.

The huge church boasts a roof pitch steeper than any other in Germany, 63%, and its neogothic design is most readily apparent in the wooden ribbed vaults in the triple nave ceiling.

To the right hand side of the photo above is a series of beautiful stained glass windows, each dedicated to prominent figures in church and city history. Included are Martin Luther, Felix Mendelssohn and (of course) our composer.

One of the advantages to visiting a church during a wedding ceremony is that the lights are all on. Another is that there is music! Though both organs at Saint Thomas were installed after Bach's lifetime, the newer one, from the year 2000, was intended to be typical of the organs Bach would have known. In fact, it was constructed and installed for the 250th anniversary of Bach's death, in 2000. And, it was the instrument being used to provide accompaniment for the wedding.

It was stunning, STUNNING to hear and see it in action. I'll try to get a clip of it posted in the next day or two.

Near the top of the pipe-work, you can see the fancy script design that Bach used, recreated by the organ builder for this instrument. Really nice touch! It was so wonderful simply to sit there and soak it all in, I stayed for about 90 minutes, well past the end of the wedding, taking pictures, listening to more music, exploring. Next it was time for a trip to the giftshop and more pictures around the outside of the church. (ie, statue of Felix Mendelssohn)


Later in the afternoon, I took part in a guided tour of the Bach Museum. Located just across the street from the church, this opened only 6 months ago, and is a wonderful overview of Bach's time and work in Leipzig. The curation is very well done, with English translation of all the signage. There's a great display on paper and ink analysis, too. This is an important area in Bach scholarship, as only recently have experts been able to correctly date numerous works and letters from the composer. An authorized copy of the famed Hausmann portrait of Bach hangs in the first room, where one can also see a copy of the infamous letter of "complaint" Bach wrote to the Leipzig town council. In it, he requests greater funding for his musicians, whom one cannot expect to work for nothing.


I made sure I was near the front of the line for entrance to the church for the evening concert/service, called "Motette." Given each week on Fridays and Saturdays, these programs recall Evensong in their construction...some speaking, reading and praying, but mostly lots of music!

Leading the service was the Choir of St. Thomas, the very choir that Bach led for so many years. Comprised of about 50 boys and young men (ages 6-18, I'm guessing), they started with two movements of the motet JESU, MEINE FREUDE, singing a cappella. I was impressed with the strength of the singing...clear, solid, youthful sounding. And I noticed that many of the boys, including some of the youngest, were singing this challenging repertoire without any printed music. I guess having learned it over 250 years ago pays some dividends!

Other music in the service included the JS Bach arrangement of Telemann's JAUCHZET DEM HERRN, ALLE WELT and a contemporary work for 4-part chorus and string bass by Heinz Werner Zimmerman. This was very intriguing, with the chorus singing in a usual fashion...homophonic, chordal statements, with a recognizable cantus firmus in one voice or another. But the string bass played everything pizzicato, and in a rhythmic way that gave the whole work a slightly jazzy feel. I'm definitely going to check this piece out when I get home. The organ postlude was the Vierne Toccata in D, Op. 14, played at the much larger (and more romantically voiced) organ from the back balcony.

As it was a service rather than a strict concert, the audience ("Gemeinde," as we were called in the program) were expected to participate. We sang Psalms, and chanted the Lord's Prayer in German (grateful that the words were printed..."Vater unser im Himmel....") The participation factor-particular singing and chanting in German-raised the experience to an authentic level. More than a museum piece, I was there, taking part in a continuous history of worship and music that has also been shared by so many...great thinkers, historical figures, and me.

After the service, I stopped by the table to buy a CD, and met a charming member of the choir who was working as "shop keeper." He was probably 11 or 12. I made my best attempt to inquire (in German) if there was a CD with the music of Zimmerman on it, and the young man replied in very good English! Grateful for the help, we spoke for a couple moments...he said he had been in the choir 5 years already, and that they have rehearsal every day for 2 hours. What a life!

Found a great spot down the street for pizza, salad and beer to cap off a great day in the city. Looking forward to my partner Jon's arrival in Leipzig tomorrow...now I may be able to post a photo with one of us in it!