• 14895
Ton Koopman and Amsterdam Baroque Choir
Introduction
Introduction
Programme
Programme
When early music specialist encounters Bach and Brahms
When early music specialist encounters Bach and Brahms
Not “Amateurish” At All: Brahms’s Vocal Quartets
Not “Amateurish” At All: Brahms’s Vocal Quartets
Ticketing
Ticketing
Pre-concert Talk
Pre-concert Talk

Bach Expert Conducts Choral Music by Bach — and Brahms (Ernest Wan)

When the world-renowned early music specialist Ton Koopman came to Hong Kong in 1996 and 2009, he came with his Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra. When he came here again in 2010, he came all by himself, and guest-conducted the Hong Kong Philharmonic. This time round, he is finally bringing with him his Amsterdam Baroque Choir to this city.

It is natural to think of Koopman alongside his own Orchestra. Ever since he founded it in 1979, they have appeared together in countless performances and numerous recordings of a variety of works, from Baroque concertos to Classical symphonies.

It is easy, too, to think of Koopman without thinking of either his Orchestra or his Choir. He travels regularly to perform with the world’s great orchestras as a guest conductor. Besides, he often gives recitals, playing the organ or the harpsichord.

But what of Koopman with his Choir, and no orchestra at all? Soon after he founded the Choir in 1992, it joined forces with his Orchestra — collectively known as the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and Choir — to record all of Bach’s cantatas, a project that was completed in 2006 (67 CDs). Hot on its heels, Koopman led the combined forces in another celebrated mammoth recording project, which concluded as recently as 2014, with the complete works of Buxtehude, who was a major influence on Bach (29 CDs). To the record-buying public in the past quarter-century, such joint endeavours may almost seem to be the Choir-and-Orchestra’s primary raison d’être, and the Choir may seem inseparable from the Orchestra for almost the entire duration of its existence.

Naturally, the consistently high quality of their Bach cantata recordings makes one want to hear them perform such works live. While Koopman leading his Choir but no orchestra means we won’t hear any Bach cantata in Hong Kong, I was excited to learn that they will perform three of the composer’s motets, which may be done with or without instrumental doublings, and are perhaps of more consistently high quality than his cantatas!

Bach’s motets were all written for special occasions, and are brilliant settings of texts based on biblical passages and chorales. They each comprise sections of music that markedly differ from one another in texture. Jesu, meine Freude (Jesus, my joy), BWV 227, which Hong Kongers will hear, is the grandest of them all, and consists of as many as eleven sections laid out in a symmetrical fashion. In these works, Bach often treats human voices as though they were orchestral instruments. This vocal style and the frequent changes in texture result in some of the most challenging choral music he ever wrote — a perfect vehicle for the sophisticated virtuosity of the Amsterdam Baroque Choir.

Brahms wrote some motets, too, which show clear influences of Bach and other predecessors. For the remainder of the upcoming concert, however, Koopman has chosen to present Brahms’s secular songs. In addition to his many Lieder for solo voice and piano, he composed dozens of delightful songs for vocal quartet and piano. These may also be performed by four-part chorus and piano, as the Amsterdam Baroque Choir will do in Hong Kong with the help of Shanghainese pianist Jane Xie. The eleven Zigeunerlieder (Gypsy Songs), Op. 103, that they will sing are a great example of Hausmusik (“household music”) with which family and friends entertain themselves, just as are the familiar Hungarian Dances for piano four hands by the same composer. Speaking of which — these love songs are largely based on the metre and rhythms of the Hungarian folk dance csárdás, and will wrap up the concert on a passionate and exotic note!

 

 

Airfare for artists is partially sponsored by PAFNL

This concert by Ton Koopman and Amsterdam Baroque Choir is supported by interlude.hk

Bach

Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied, BWV 225

 

Jesu, meine Freude, BWV 227

 

Der Geist hilft unser Schwachheit auf, BWV 226

   

Brahms

Wechsellied zum Tanz, Op. 31, No. 1

 

Der Abend, Op. 64, No. 2

 

Nächtens, Op. 112, No. 2

 

Zigeunerlieder, Op. 103

*Brahms' works will be accompanied by Jane Xie. 

 

The performance will run for about 1 hour and 30 minutes including a 15 minute intermission. 

Audience is strongly advised to arrive punctually.  Latecomers will only be admitted during the intermission or at a suitable break.

The presenter reserves the right to change the programme and substitute artists.

 

 

When early music specialist encounters Bach and Brahms (Felix Yeung)

When you see the term “Baroque music”, which composer is the first name that appears in your mind?  I am sure many of you reading this will first think of Johann Sebastian Bach.  The term came from the Portuguese word barroco, which refers to a pearl with irregular shape.  This pejorative description of the new musical style, compared to that of the “more regular” Renaissance music, seems to be rather awkward to us modern listeners (partly because we had even more irregular music in the recent century or so).  And for Bach, living towards the end of such musical era, his music was treated out-of-date as the newer galant style began to take shape.  Of course, we now truly adore and admire the genius of Bach.

The great choral works of Bach, for example, St Matthew Passion and Mass in B minor, have been favourite repertoire for choral lovers throughout the globe.  Being Thomaskantor (St Thomas Cantor, which is equivalent to the Music Director the church), his weekly duty of teaching and performance also led to the birth of many cantatas and other choral pieces.  The eight-part motet Singet dem Herr nein neues Lied BWV 225 (Sing unto the Lord a new song) and five-part motet Jesu, meine Freude BWV 227 (Jesus, my joy) were products of vigorous teaching patterns at St Thomas School in Leipzig.  In order to keep his students interested and challenged, these complicated choral pieces worked best to keep them on their toes.  The rector of St Thomas School, Johann Heinrich Ernesti, passed away in October 1729.  Bach wrote another double-choir motet Der Geist hilft unser Schwachheit auf, BWV 226 (The Spirit gives aid to our weakness) for the funeral service; the choristers who went through the training of the other two motets would probably have sung in their rector’s funeral service as well.

The musical legacy of Bach inspired generations of musicians, including Johannes Brahms (1833-97).  Later being grouped with Bach and Beethoven as the “Three Bs” of music, Brahms’s musical output has important shares with our concert repertoire today.  Brahms composed no choral music until later in his career; the matured style of Brahms led to many groups of secular songs for a quartet of soloists with piano accompaniment.  By the work of the great American conductor and Brahms advocate Robert Shaw, Der Abend from Op. 64 and Nächtens from Op. 112 by the composer were introduced into the choral world and gained widespread popularity.  Likewise for another set of quartet, Zigeunerlieder, Op. 103 (Gypsy Songs), which were inspired by the Hungarian folk-song texts, is one of Brahms’s most exquisite secular song collection.

Ton Koopman and his Amsterdam Baroque Choir is bringing us Hong Kong audience such a rich choral feast.  Grammophone magazine, in the review of one of the volume, described the sound being “admirable, with a pleasing ambient warmth".  They will also perform with the help of Shanghainese pianist Jane Xie. Audience will be definitely amazed by the sophisticated virtuosity of the Choir!

Not “Amateurish” At All: Brahms’s Vocal Quartets (Ernest Wan)

While the conductor Ton Koopman and his Amsterdam Baroque Choir’s early music performances have won worldwide acclaim, only the first half of their concert in Hong Kong near the end of this month presents “early music” (motets by Bach); the second half consists of vocal quartets by Brahms, which are quite a rare treat. These latter works have apparently come as a surprise to music lovers, to many of whom they are probably unfamiliar. The following brief description of the background and features of this music may serve as a “listener’s guide”; in particular, it may offer a glimpse of the culture of amateur music-making that was already very much on the decline over a century ago.

The renown of Johannes Brahms (1833–97) as a master of the German art song rests largely on the nearly two hundred piano-accompanied solo lieder published during his lifetime.  It is not widely known, however, that he also brought out no fewer than twenty songs for two voices and as many as sixty for four (always soprano, alto, tenor and bass), all with piano accompaniment.  Such works in fact stemmed from a centuries-old tradition of domestic and social music-making among the middle class in the German-speaking world. More specifically, they exemplify Hausmusik (“household music”) in the nineteenth century, with family and friends gathering and singing around a piano in the home.  As the concert hall gradually supplanted the home as the centre of musical activities — that is, as people came to derive musical pleasure from professional performances rather than from their own amateur recreation — such music eventually went out of fashion.  Yet Brahms’s compositions of this kind, though intended for the amateur market, are certainly no more “amateurish” than his other works, and therefore deserve to be heard more often than they currently are.  In Hong Kong, a selection of his vocal quartets will be performed not by four solo voices but by a chorus divided into four parts, a practice that was already common in the composer’s time.

Brahms’s earliest work in this genre, “Wechsellied zum Tanz” (Dialogue song at the dance) dates from 1859 and is the first song in his Op. 31 set of Three Quartets.  Unusually, the song is cast in the form of a minuet and trio.  The alto and the bass represent the “indifferent” couple in Goethe’s poem, expressing their contentment with dancing in the rather sober-sounding minuet section in C minor.  On the other hand, the soprano and the tenor play the role of the “tender” ones who, in the more charming trio in A-flat major, tell of their preference for the “heavenly dance” of lovemaking.  The two couples do not sing together until the extended coda, which, perhaps suggestively, rounds off the song in the “tender” key of A-flat.

Another scene of love is depicted by Brahms in 1874 in “Der Abend” (Evening), No. 2 from his Three Quartets, Op. 64.  Here the sun god Phoebus, or Apollo, after a day’s work as the driver of his chariot, is lured by the Titaness Tethys into joining her in the ocean.  Schiller subtitles his poem “Nach einem Gemälde” (After a painting); Brahms turns the words back into visual images, vividly illustrating the sea waves, the god’s descent and especially the activities of the horses.  The singers’ opening music in G minor, which depicts the horses’ fatigue, returns in the major at the end to evoke the charioteer’s languorous repose in Tethys’s arms.

After nightfall may come comfort and peace, but so may fear and unease, as Brahms shows in “Nächtens” (At night), the second song from the Six Quartets published in 1891 as Op. 112.  The restless anxiety of the poem by Franz Theodor Kugler (who is best known as an art historian) is conjured up in this setting in dark D minor by the extraordinary quintuple metre, which, as Clara Schumann noted, “lends such mystic feeling to the whole”, as well as by the tremble in the piano, often heard in a low register.  The unexpected final major chord brings as little solace to the distressed as does the break of day at the end of the poem.

Dances were frequently found in Hausmusik.  For piano four hands Brahms wrote sixteen Waltzes (Op. 39), which pay homage to the dance form most representative of his new home of Vienna, and later twenty-one Hungarian Dances (WoO 1), which celebrate the gypsy style he had already been acquainted with as a teenager in Hamburg.  Both of these have counterparts for vocal quartet, to wit, thirty-three Liebeslieder (Love songs; Opp. 52 and 65) in waltz time and fifteen Zigeunerlieder (Gypsy songs; Op. 103 and Nos. 3–6 of Op. 112) in the two-four time of the csárdás, a Hungarian folk dance.

The texts of the Zigeunerlieder came from a volume of twenty-five Ungarische Liebeslieder (Hungarian love songs) and, according to Brahms’s biographer Max Kalbeck, are versifications by the Viennese businessman Hugo Conrat of folk song lyrics translated into German by “Fräulein Witzl”, a Hungarian nanny in his employ. Brahms’s set of eleven songs published as Op. 103 in October 1888 was composed the previous winter and was soon performed, at sight, at his friend Ignaz Brüll’s place, where Fräulein Witzl then worked. The composer and Brüll took turns to provide piano accompaniment, while the latter’s sister Hermine sang the alto part. The eminent tenor Gustav Walter participated, as did his daughter Minna as soprano; Kalbeck was the bass singer. Finally, Brahms brought Fräulein Witzl out of the nursery and into the music room to hear “her” songs!

In these songs, Brahms makes little use of the traditional tunes recorded in Ungarische Liebeslieder, but includes features — often shared by the Hungarian Dances — that are evocative of the relevant folk idioms, such as the prevalent dotted rhythms, irregular phrase lengths, imitations of ethnic instruments, and sudden shifts between different tempi as well as between major and minor modes.  A wide range of moods are found in the songs, where the gypsies bask in the glow of happiness, bewail their disappointment, or express their hopes for the future.  The four voices are used in a number of ways to produce contrasting textures.  In Nos. 2, 5 and 9, they always sing together.  In No. 10 they sing in pairs, while in No. 8 they enter one by one as in a fugue.  In all other songs, though, solo and group singing alternate, and the soloist is usually the tenor — an indication of the special regard Brahms had for Walter.

DATE
VENUE
PRICE
29.05.2018 (Tue)
20:00
Concert Hall, Hong Kong City Hall
location
$340, $280, $220, $160
DATE
29.05.2018 (Tue)
20:00
PRICE
$340, $280, $220, $160

Tickets available from 5 March at URBTIX outlets, on Internet, by Mobile Ticketing App and Credit Card Telephone Booking.

“Great Music” Package Discount
For each purchase of standard tickets for "Ton Koopman and Amsterdam Baroque Choir", "Magdalena Kožená and Basel La Cetra Baroque Orchestra", "Paco Peña and Friends – Esencias", "Piano Recital by Dang Thai Son" and "Artemis Quartet", the following concession applies:
5% off for any 2 programmes, 10% off for any 3 programmes, 15% off for any 4 programmes, 20% off for all 5 programmes.

“Great Music” Group Booking Discount
For each purchase of standard tickets for "Ton Koopman and Amsterdam Baroque Choir", "Magdalena Kožená and Basel La Cetra Baroque Orchestra", "Paco Peña and Friends – Esencias", "Piano Recital by Dang Thai Son" and "Artemis Quartet", the following concession applies:
10% off for each purchase of 4 – 9 standard tickets, 15% off for 10 – 19 standard tickets, 20% off for 20 or more standard tickets.

Half-price tickets available for senior citizens aged 60 or above, people with disabilities and the minder, full-time students and Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) recipients (limited tickets for CSSA recipients available on a first-come-first-served basis).

Patrons can enjoy only one of the above discount offers.

 

Programme Enquiries: 2268 7321

Ticketing Enquiries:3761 6661

Credit Card Telephone Booking:2111 5999

Internet Booking:www.urbtix.hk

 

DATE
VENUE
PRICE
29.05.2018 (Tue)
18:45
South Committee Room, 7/F, High Block, Hong Kong City Hall
Admission Free
DATE
29.05.2018 (Tue)
18:45
PRICE
Admission Free

German Choral Music Sacred and Secular(Conducted in Cantonese)

 

Speaker: Ernest Wan

(Ernest Wan is a writer and translator who specialises in music criticism.)

 

Admission free on a first-come-first-served basis.

    • 29.05.2018 (Tue)
      20:00
    • Concert Hall, Hong Kong City Hall
    • $340, $280, $220, $160
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DATE
VENUE
PRICE
29.05.2018 (Tue)
20:00
Concert Hall, Hong Kong City Hall
location
$340, $280, $220, $160
DATE
29.05.2018 (Tue)
20:00
PRICE
$340, $280, $220, $160
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