Performing cantatas by Johann Sebastian Bach isn’t new to the New Mexico Performing Arts Society, but it’s introducing a new series of them this year, starting on Sunday, March 1. What’s different? The performances last no more than an hour, and they’re attractively priced (starting at just $25, with an optional up-charge for reserved seating). They also feature chamber-music-scale arrangements of the cantatas’ orchestral accompaniments.
Don’t be horrified, purists, because Bach did the same thing, often rearranging his music for the forces he had on hand. Like so many composers, he was an adept recycler of his own music, in part due to the pace at which he was expected to write. His more than 200 cantatas on religious subjects include about 150 that were composed (or re-composed) during a 40-month span.
The New Mexico Performing Arts Society will be performing his Cantata No. 30, Freue dich, erlöste Schar (Rejoice, redeemed flock), one of his later pieces in the genre. It’s a substantial one of 12 movements, lasting about 40 minutes, and includes music recycled from an earlier secular cantata. “It was first performed in Leipzig on June 24, 1738,” says Franz Vote, the NMPAS conductor/director. “That’s the Feast Day of St. John the Baptist, made famous by Richard Wagner in his opera Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg.”
It’s also one of the most graceful and joyous of Bach’s religious compositions, and here it will feature a vocal quartet of soprano Camille Kowash Tierney, alto Jacqueline Zander-Wall, tenor Andre Garcia-Nuthmann, and baritone Paul Bower. The accompanists are flutist Linda Marianiello, oboist Kevin Vigneau, and pianist Natasha Stojanovska.
“Our chamber version will allow for greater clarity in the vocal parts and more differentiation of textures,” Vote says. “In this spirit, we hope that our audiences will take inspiration from and thrill to the master’s genius. In the words of composer Max Reger, ‘Bach is the beginning and end of all music.’ ”
The NMPAS conducts a wide range of activities, thanks to the interests and backgrounds of its leaders. Vote’s conducting credits include six productions at the Metropolitan Opera; he also served as music director for the Seattle Opera’s Ring Cycle in 2000-2001. Marianiello’s professional experience includes four years as assistant principal flute for the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra.
Among its programs, NMPAS offers an annual “Flute Immersion,” a six-day workshop for aspiring flutists age 14 and up, and concerts of opera and operetta highlights. The latter typically feature a highly eclectic repertory. An upcoming concert on June 20 adds zarzuela excerpts and selections from Michael Balfe’s ballad opera The Bohemian Girl and Carl Zeller’s operetta Der Vogelhändler to standard repertory choices from Norma, The Pearl Fishers, Der Rosenkavalier, and Don Carlo.
The first NMPAS Cantata Series concert takes place at 5:30 p.m. on Sunday, March 1, at Immaculate Heart of Mary Chapel, 50 Mount Carmel Road. Tickets are $25-$34; 877-466-3404 or nmpas.org.