On 28 May we will perform J. S. Bach cantata BWV 44 Sie werden euch in den Bann tun as part of a service of Vespers with St. Anne’s Lutheran Church. The cantata is a vivid account of the persecution of Christians, including the evocative conjuring of the Antichrist as a monster, driving people on to repress Christian thought and worship.
The City of London boundary dragon is the fierce creature of the legend of St. George, patron saint of the country of which the City is the capital’s heart. Though fairly benign in the ubiquitous statues around the City, the dragon is a fitting symbol of the terror referred to in Bach’s cantata. Not only is the Christian soul banned in the words of the cantata but also attacked with sword and fire. Of course, the sword is something we incorporate in our own City Bach Collective logo to remind us that the City is the spiritual home of our Bach performance.
We’re very pleased that St. Anne’s Church has, on this occasion, invited the Rev Canon John O’Toole, Dean of St. George’s Southwark and National Ecumenical Officer and Secretary to the Department for Dialogue and Unity at the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales to come and preach prior to our cantata performance.
One of our long-standing relationships is with the musician Scott Stroman, a professor at the Jazz Department at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama for over thirty years. Scott’s musical interest recognise few borders or and he is as intensely interested in JS Bach, Haydn and world music as he is in jazz. We have performed Bach’s St John Passion & B Minor Mass in the past with Scott and his amateur choir Eclectic Voices (you can watch a clip here).
Next week, we’re delighted to have been invited to join him and the choir & soloists of the American International Church (where he is the director of music) for a performance of the Ascension Oratorio BWV 11. The performance will form part of a church service and is free to attend.
On Friday, the new director of the V&A, Tristram Hunt, wrote a featured comment for the London Evening Standard. It’s a useful article about the role of the V&A in curating and focusing on work of cultural interest, even if – in fact, especially if – the work doesn’t immediately appear to belong in the pantheon of the work that has stood in the V&A Museum for many years.
We wrote a short, supportive reply, focusing on the similar position in which the musicians who work in and around the City of London aim to maintain the cultural spirit of the traditions (be they social or aesthetic) in which they find themselves working.
It’s good to see that Mr Hunt sees the V&A as curating contemporary cultural items, trends and activity to reflect their heritage, and to offer inspiration for new direction.
We, as musicians working in the capital – especially at pageant-style events and church services – also provide this function. We perform music for specific functions on sites and at times for which it was designed. Those attending are taking part in an event which becomes part of the tradition.
This year is the 500th anniversary of the defining act of the Reformation. We are taking part in a number of events in which music written for the rise of Lutheranism or the concomitant Protestant churches is performed in actual church services in and around the City. The value is to remind ourselves what this must have felt like, both aesthetically and as an act of ministry.
As these events are often parts of acts of worship, then people often tell us how the musical performance is given special investment in the context of a service, how the music and the service is emancipated from history to become real. This is the ongoing work of London musicians that needs no special exhibition but lives on through the interest and involvement of both the regular and occasional visitor.