Queen of Baroque Opera
Lyric soprano Karina Gauvin is among the greatest singers of Baroque in the world.
A veteran star performer of the high-flown operas of Rameau, Cavalli, and Handel, her concerts with the MCO clear away the powdered wigs and elaborate costumes to showcase one of the richest, nimblest, and most captivating voices of today.
The Québécoise’s many decorations include ‘Soloist of the Year’ (Médias francophones publics), and she’s sung with the San Francisco Symphony, the Chicago Symphony, the New York Philharmonic and the Rotterdam Philharmonic as well as numerous leading Baroque ensembles and opera companies.
At our December concert this “queen of Baroque opera” (Opera News) teams up with the MCO and the cherished Winnipeg Singers to perform Bach cantatas (BWV 140, 82a & 191). About Bach’s unsurpassed cantatas, Nadia Boulanger, arguably the greatest music educator of the 20th century wrote: “I try to pack them into my pupils at all costs. It would seem a bit odd to me if someone had never read the Bible.”
Rarely performed in Winnipeg, the cantatas will bring audiences seasonal joy as they resonate gloriously through Westminster, whose acoustics respond so well to voices in song. This concert also features solos from baritone Thomas West and tenor Aaron Hutton, and is conducted by Anne Manson.
The Winnipeg Singers
The Winnipeg Singers has long been regarded as one of Canada’s finest choral ensembles. The choir’s mandate is to make a diversity of choral music, performed to the highest standard, accessible to a growing audience. They are conducted by Yuri Klaz, an ‘Honoured Artist of Russia’ (a title bestowed upon him by President Yeltsin in 1995) and something of a musical legend in Manitoba.
The concert begins at 7.30pm on December 4th in Westminster United Church, 745 Westminster at Maryland. Tickets, at $36 for adults, $34 for seniors and $15 for students and those under-30 (incl. GST), are available at McNally Robinson, Organic Planet (877 Westminster Ave), and on MCO’s Ticketline at 204-783-7377.
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Manitoba Chamber Orchestra
Anne Manson, Music Director
Karl Stobbe, Concertmaster
Westminster United Church
4 December 2019
Anne Manson, conductor
The Winnipeg Singers
Karina Gauvin, soprano
Johann Sebastian Bach
Cantata: “Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme” (BWV 140)
Johann Sebastian Bach
Cantata: “Ich habe genug” (BWV 82a)
Johann Sebastian Bach
Gloria in excelsis Deo (BWV 191)
Recognized for her work in the baroque repertoire, Canadian soprano Karina Gauvin sings Mahler, Britten and the music of the late 20th and 21st centuries with equal success. She has received prestigious distinctions, including the title of ‘Soloist of the Year’ awarded by the Communauté internationale des radios publiques de langue française, first prize in the CBC Radio competition for young performers, and the Virginia Parker Prize and Maggie Teyte Memorial Prize in London. Her exciting 2019/20 season includes dates with Les Talens Lyrique, Tafelmusik, the Pacific Baroque Orchestra, the Kansas City Symphony, the Orchestra of St. Luke’s, and the Orchestre Metropolitan.
Recently, Ms Gauvin made appearances in the United States and Canada as soloist in Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 for the National Arts Centre Orchestra, in Mozart’s Mass in C Minor with Les Violons du Roy, and in Messiah with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. She also toured widely in Europe, giving concerts and recitals in Italy, Switzerland, Spain, and the UK. Ms. Gauvin has sung with the world’s greatest symphony orchestras, including the New York Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony, Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal, and San Francisco Symphony. She has performed under the direction of maestros Charles Dutoit, Bernard Labadie, Kent Nagano, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, Sir Roger Norrington, Masaaki Suzuki, and Michael Tilson Thomas. Gauvin has an extensive discography—over 30 titles—and she has won numerous awards, including a Chamber Music America Award for Fête Galante, with pianist Marc-André Hamelin, and several Opus Prizes.
The Winnipeg Singers
The Winnipeg Singers, a group of 24 trained voices, has long been regarded as one of Canada’s finest choral ensembles. Each year the choir commissions new Canadian works and premieres other new works for its Manitoba audience. It presents an annual concert series, engaging some of North America’s finest musicians as guests, and has collaborated in concert with many local groups.
In July of 2005, the choir represented Canada at the 7th World Symposium on Choral Music in Kyoto. In July of 2016, the choir toured Germany, Austria and Italy, and was recognized at the Florence International Choral Festival as “most outstanding choir.” In July of 2019, the choir toured Spain and Finland, and was also recognized at the Golden Voices of Barcelona International Choral Festival as “most outstanding choir.” The Winnipeg Singers will be traveling to Amsterdam in May of 2020 with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra in a tour celebrating the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Netherlands.
The current Artistic Director, Yuri Klaz, began his tenure in the 2003/04 season.
Award-winning tenor Aaron Hutton is a versatile performer with a resume ranging from Baroque to contemporary musical theatre. Having been recognized as a “golden tenor” (Winnipeg Free Press) and “wonderfully talented” (CBC), he continues to make a name for himself on both musical theatre and classical music stages across the prairies. MCO audience members will recall that last season Mr. Hutton performed with the orchestra as tenor soloist in Handel’s Israel in Egypt—in collaboration with Canzona. In recent years, his recognition as a recital and concert performer in Manitoba has led to numerous engagements with many of the province’s other leading orchestral and chamber ensembles such as the Winnipeg Philharmonic Choir, the Brandon Chamber Players, Manitoba Opera, and the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra. Earlier in his career, performances included concert productions of Guys and Dolls and A Chorus Line. Among many other musical activities, Aaron Hutton has also performed the music of Stephen Sondheim (Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra), Mozart’s Mass in C Minor (Winnipeg Philharmonic/WSO) and was a tenor soloist in Bach’s St. Matthew Passion (Canzona).
Mr. Hutton obtained his Bachelor of Music and Masters of Music in Vocal Performance from the University of Manitoba Marcel A. Desautels Faculty of Music. He is also an alumnus of both the Banff Centre and Opera Nuova Training Intensive. In 2011, he was the winner of the prestigious Rose Bowl Trophy at the Winnipeg Music Festival.
Baritone Thomas West, originally from Chattanooga TN, is a creative artist and entrepreneur whose work expands across disciplines. West’s 2019/20 season will see debuts with the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra, New York Festival of Song and the Kennett Symphony in Kennett Square, PA. During the 2018/19 season, West covered Silvio in Pagliacci with Opera San Jose and made his role debut as Morales in Carmen with the Chattanooga Symphony and Opera. He was also named a finalist in both the Joy in Singing Competition and the James Toland Vocal Arts Competition in 2019. Recent career highlights include Bill in Bernstein’s A Quiet Place at the Tanglewood Music Festival, Brahms Ein Deutsches Requiem with the Mississippi Symphony, and the world premiere of Wayne Oquin’s Meditation in Alice Tully Hall. Other organizations with which West has performed include Cantori New York, Chamber Music Quad Cities and the Chautauqua Institution. In 2014, President Obama named West a Presidential Scholar in the Arts. He holds a BM in Vocal Performance from The Juilliard School where he was named a Career Advancement Fellow and an ambassador to the National Artist as Citizen Conference. In addition to his career as an opera singer, West is the Executive Director of Collaborative Arts Ensemble, a nonprofit organization dedicated to increasing understanding between people through interdisciplinary concert experiences. The organization most recently performed at the 2019 Ubumuntu Arts Festival in Kigali, Rwanda.
The Cantatas of Johann Sebastian Bach
Johann Sebastian Bach composed a substantial number of cantatas (works for a combination of voices and instruments). Most of them date from the first five or six years of his glorious final period as director of music for the principal churches of Leipzig (1723-1750). His intention seems to have been to compose a five-year cycle of weekly cantatas (260 in all), and occasional Passions, and to repeat the cantatas in rotation every five years. More than 200 of his combined output of sacred and secular cantatas survive.
This is a great deal of music, but in terms of numbers it pales in comparison with the output of such contemporaries as Gottfried Heinrich Stölzel, Johann Theodor Römhild and Johann Friedrich Fasch, each of whom composed 12 annual cycles—not to mention Bach’s good friend, Georg Philipp Telemann, and his 2000-plus cantatas!
But as Malcolm Boyd has written, “(Bach’s) cantatas are far more substantial and varied than those of any other composer; their quality is, of course, another matter altogether.” They cover an enormous range of styles, forms and purposes: jubilant, mournful and humorous (the latter including the playful ‘coffee,’ ‘wedding,’ and ‘hunt’ cantatas); sacred and secular; straightforward and complex; brief and lengthy. They make up a vast treasure-house of sublime music.
Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme, BWV 140
Bach composed this sacred chorale cantata in 1731. By that time, he had written what would prove to be virtually all his church music. From then on, seeking fresh musical activities, he turned his attention more toward instrumental music. The intended performance date of this cantata was the twenty-seventh Sunday after Trinity. Bach performed it only once, in the Nikolaikirche, Leipzig, in November 1731.
It is one of his most frequently performed cantatas, due above all to its heartfelt emotions and exceptional melodic beauty. The chorale or hymn-like theme of the fourth movement (known in English as “Zion hears the watchmen singing”) tops the list, but Bach spread further gems throughout.
The prescribed readings for this Sunday came from the First Epistle to the Thessalonians, and the parable of the ten virgins from the Gospel of Matthew. The texts of the first, fourth and seventh movements of Bach’s cantata are by Philipp Nicolai (1556-1608), published in 1599. Another, unknown author supplied poetry for the other movements. From allofbach.com:
“In ‘Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme,’ everything revolves around the parable of the wise and foolish virgins. They wait throughout the night with burning lamps for the arrival of the bridegroom. Five of them have brought along extra oil to keep their lamp burning. The others run out of oil and go off to buy some more. The bridegroom arrives while they are away. In Bach’s annotated bible, this story from the Gospel of Matthew is explained as an allegory. The wise virgins symbolize burning faith and vigilance. The arrival of the bridegroom stands for the return of Christ. This moment comes at the precise middle of the cantata, in the famous chorale (‘Zion hears the watchmen singing’) sung by the tenors, which Bach later transcribed for organ (as did Ottorino Respighi, for orchestra in 1930, as the last of the Tre Corali or Three Chorales).”
Ich habe genug (or genung), BWV 82a
This sacred church cantata (in the original version featuring a solo bass singer, BWV 82) was premiered in Leipzig in February 1727 on the Feast of the Purification of Mary. The version featuring a solo soprano that you will hear at this concert appeared a few years later. The prescribed readings for the feast day were taken from the book of Malachi, “the Lord will come to his temple,” and from the Gospel of Luke, “the purification of Mary and the presentation of Jesus at the temple.” Again, from allofbach.com:
“The Feast of the Purification, for which Bach composed this cantata, commemorates the traditional purification sacrifice made by Mary, 40 days after the birth of Jesus. On that day, she met Simeon, an aged temple official. He immediately recognized the tiny Jesus as the Messiah and burst into a song of praise, singing ‘Now I have seen my Saviour, I can die in peace.’ Simeon’s Song of Praise—also known as the Nunc Dimittis—was not only sung at the Feast of the Purification on 2 February, but was also given a regular place in the daily Mass at the close of day in monasteries. With the words of the ‘Light of the World’ in mind, people could go to sleep in peace.
“The way that mortality was viewed in the eighteenth century is expressed wonderfully in ‘Ich habe genug.’ Death was seen as a deliverance from the earthly vale of tears, and as a chance to unite with one’s creator. So rather than being heart-rending, the music exudes a subdued melancholy. The first aria gives a more or less literal interpretation of Simeon’s emotions. Then comes the aria that Bach’s biographer, Albert Schweitzer, called “the lullaby for eternal sleep:” ‘Schlummert ein, ihr matten Augen’ (Fall asleep, you weary eyes). It invites the listener to slip away from daily cares, gently but forever. In the concluding aria, a cheerful dance rhythm celebrates the approaching end. Throughout the cantata, the contribution of the solo wind instrument is crucial. Initially plaintive, then mellow and finally full of optimistic joy, the oboe drives the bass onwards.”
Gloria in excelsis Deo, BWV 191
Following a common practice of the day, Bach regularly made new arrangements and transcriptions of his music, and borrowed from earlier works. The joyous sacred Christmas cantata Gloria in excelsis Deo (Glory be to God on high) is based on the Gloria section of a mass that he had composed the previous year for the Dresden court. He would later draw upon the earlier mass for the magnificent Mass in B Minor. The most likely reason for the cantata’s creation was to celebrate the conclusion of the year-long Second Silesian War, between Prussia and Austria, on Christmas Day, 1745. Bach’s only surviving sacred cantata with a Latin text, it has three concise movements. The festive opening and closing choruses frame a sweet, lyrical duet for the soprano and tenor soloists. Once again, from allofbach.com:
“Leipzig was lucky. This festive Gloria was actually part of a short Mass that Bach presented as a gift to the Elector of Dresden. So the music was not intended for Leipzig and was not supposed to be performed there. A pity, and maybe Bach thought so, too. We do not know precisely why and when he rewrote the Gloria from the Mass as a cantata. It is remarkable that he chose to use a Latin text for his Leipzig arrangement, as Latin church music was not common in Leipzig, even on Christmas day. But evidently an occasion presented itself, and Leipzig could thus enjoy Christmas music in regal style. The piece is written for five parts, as was usual in Dresden. The instrumentation is also regal—a variety of colours have been added to the orchestra: oboes, flutes and bassoon, as well as trumpets and timpani.”