Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

"Music, both vocall and instrumental, so good, so delectable, so rare, so admirable, so super excellent, that it did even ravish and stupifie all those strangers that never heard the like." - Thomas Coryat, after hearing 3 hours of music at the Scuola di San Rocco in Venice, 1608.

Friday, January 8, 2016

The universal humanity of Bach, expressed through dance

In 2010 the director Peter Sellars created a sensation, along with Simon Rattle, the Berlin Philharmonic and the Rundfunkchor Berlin, with a Bach St. Matthew’s Passion that used gesture and movement to dramatize the guilt, sorrow and redemption that underly the Passion stories. That was my first exposure to seeing Bach music opened up in this way, and I’m pleased to see it again in John Neumeier and the Hamburg Ballet’s Christmas Oratorio. Bach’s music is strong and can successfully flourish in some amazing places.

The choreographer Kim Brandstrup said in a recent Gramophone feature that big symphonic works like Beethoven symphonies are difficult to choreograph: “the sound world can be so big that it dwarfs the human scale.” That doesn’t seem to be an impediment with Bach, as is clear in this splendid project. “We perform to Bach’s music, for a few hours unifying individuals of many different cultural and religious backgrounds.” Neumeier says. “For me the basic human values expressed through the choreography are always the most important thing.”  I have very little knowledge of dance, but the movements devised by Neumeier to interpret and explain the universal humanity of Bach’s music seemed both natural and powerful. Afraid at first that the joy and exultation of the opening “Jauchzet frohlocket” might turn into a kitschy “Solid Gold Dancers do Bach!” thing, I was pleased to see the universal/human element coming foreward at once. Luckily, the excellence of the dancers is matched by the musicians: the Choir of the Hamburgischen Staatsoper and the Philharmonisches Staatsorchester Hamburg, under Alessandro de Marchi. Watching this over the holidays this year was a moving experience; I look forward to seeing it again many Christmases in the future.

Christmas Oratorio IV // Rehearsal // ballet by John Neumeier from Vincent Klueger on Vimeo.

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