by Daniel Hathaway
Christmas was a major inspiration for church music in Leipzig in J.S. Bach’s time, as evidenced by the six festive cantatas he wrote for the celebrations of 1735 — one each for December 25, 26, and 27, New Year’s Day, the first Sunday of the new year, and the feast of the Epiphany. This week, Apollo’s Fire will perform four of the cantatas that comprise Bach’s Christmas Oratorio in five venues around the city under guest conductor Julian Wachner, with soprano Molly Netter, countertenor Daniel Moody, tenor Stephen Soph, baritone Jesse Blumberg, and Apollo’s Singers.
Julian Wachner has spent his distinguished career with one foot in church music and the other in the concert world. A native of California, he began as a boy chorister at New York’s St. Thomas Choir School and currently serves as Director of Music and the Arts at Trinity Church, Wall Street. An acclaimed conductor of early music, contemporary music, and opera, he also finds time to compose. I spoke with him by telephone last week in Missouri, where he was leading performances of Handel’s Messiah with the Kansas City Symphony.
The Christmas Oratorio holds a special place in Wachner’s career — it’s the first work he recorded 20 years ago, and that recording has recently been re-engineered and re-released. “Jeannette Sorrell told me to pick four of the six cantatas for Cleveland,” Wachner said, “so I thought I’d choose five and six, the ones that aren’t often done, in addition to one and two. There’s such glorious music in the last pair that I thought it would be wonderful to spring those on the audience.” [Read on…]