The Rapidian

Bach Chorale of Grand Rapids in concert November 4

Our upcoming concert will be one of our more intimate presentations, where we perform many songs a cappella. It is on Sunday, November 4, 2018 at 4:00 p.m., in the sanctuary of Central Reformed Church in downtown Grand Rapids.
Bach Chorale of Grand Rapids

Bach Chorale of Grand Rapids /Courtesy of the Bach Chorale of Grand Rapids

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So, what exactly is the meaning of “Bach Chorale”? Well, originally it means a short piece of music, sung in four parts (soprano, alto, tenor, and bass). If you hear a hymn in church, sung in harmony, that’s pretty much what is referred to as a chorale. Johann Sebastian Bach, the great composer, wrote hundreds of chorales, and they are typically found in his cantatas and many other works.

In Grand Rapids, Michigan, the term also has a different, very special meaning: We are a select group of enthusiastic singers who perform choral works, mostly by European composers from four or five centuries. J. S. Bach, our namesake, is our focal point, but we also sing music of a great variety of different styles.

Some of our concerts involve vocal and instrumental soloists. There are numerous marvelous singers in the Grand Rapids area, and some of them are active Bach Chorale members. Others may be voice instructors at one of the local colleges, and we greatly enjoy engaging them as featured soloists in our concerts. In our most elaborate concerts, we typically engage professional musicians, frequently members of the Grand Rapids Symphony, to form a chamber orchestra as needed for Bach cantatas, Masses, and other choral-orchestral compositions. Whenever we have a chamber orchestra available, we like to program instrumental concertos along with the choral settings. That way, we have provided a forum for many outstanding emerging soloists, some of whom hailed from other parts of the country or even from Europe. Over the years, many truly remarkable string players and pianists have offered stunning performances of some of the most wonderful concertos in the repertoire.

Then there is a different type of concert which we present at the same level of dedication. It’s what we casually refer to as our “a cappella concerts”, which means, there is no orchestra and all the selections are either sung by the choir alone, or with piano or organ accompaniment. Our upcoming concert on Sunday, November 4, 2018 at 4:00 p.m., in the sanctuary of Central Reformed Church in downtown Grand Rapids (corner of College and Fulton) will be one of those more intimate presentations. You can expect a broad spectrum of music, starting with Renaissance pieces by Orlando di Lasso and Heinrich Isaac. Then there will be a lively motet by the early baroque composer Alessandro Scarlatti, a movement from Handel’s oratorio “Joshua”, a festive “Te Deum” by Joseph Haydn, two selections by Mendelssohn, and a lovely work for choir and organ by the English composer Charles Villiers Stanford. We are fortunate to have an extraordinary soprano participating in the concert, Benita Wolters-Fredlund, who has graced our performances several times before. This time she will be the soloist in one of the Mendelssohn pieces.

The Bach Chorale of Grand Rapids believes in building bridges, sometimes to very distant places, sometimes to a point nearby. In two cases, for example, we engaged eminent young musicians who were born far away, namely in Russia. There is a special thrill in knowing that our efforts are anything but provincial. We also take delight in the fact that our guest musicians greatly appreciate an opportunity to perform with us.

This time, too, we are engaging an outstanding musician who has no direct connection to the Bach Chorale. Mayflower Church of Grand Rapids just hired a new director of music and organist, Ms. Julia Brown. I was fortunate to attend her inaugural recital (also featuring the Majestic Brass of Grand Rapids) at Mayflower Church - it was delightful! Julia will be our special organist for our November 4th concert. She will be accompanying us in the Handel, Stanford, and Haydn selections, join forces with Benita in the Mendelssohn “Anthem”, and also play a virtuoso organ solo piece, Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in A minor. We are greatly looking forward to this collaboration and hope that the experience will be mutually inspiring. The magnificent organ at Central Reformed Church certainly will do its part in making the concert a truly meaningful experience. Speaking of which, the Bach Chorale of Grand Rapids has, for many years now, enjoyed the special and precious privilege of rehearsing and performing at Central. The sanctuary is one of the largest and most stunningly beautiful ones in town, and we cherish the support we receive from the church administration and staff - above all, from the Rev. Dr. Steven D. Pierce, who recently joined the church as senior minister.

So many aspects are at work in making an endeavor like the Bach Chorale possible. We have a very active board of directors, loyal patrons, and a longing for musical excellence. All of this reflects our mission: We strive to be an ensemble that presents high quality concerts featuring the best of choral and orchestral music of a wide spectrum of styles. We dedicate our energy and passion to this goal, and we feel a sense of responsibility with regard to keeping this priceless, time-proven music alive and strong. We always welcome new people to apply for active membership in the choir, and/or to become supporters in some way or another. An organization like this does not carry itself; it takes a lot of effort - musically, organizationally, and financially. If you feel inspired to help us grow and thrive, we will welcome you with open arms.

As a first step, come and join us for our concert on November 4!

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