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The Refugee Cantata, BWV 39, in Bach Vespers

city bach collectiveAt the end of next month we are going to perform a special work in J. S. Bach’s sacred cantata canon. For a long time it was thought that Bach wrote his ‘Refugee Cantata’ to commemorate the expulsion of Protestants from Salzburg in 1731. In fact Bach wrote the piece as part of the third (now largely lost) cycle of cantatas in Leipzig, five years earlier in 1726.

Nonetheless the themes of the cantata resonate today. Contemporary London is a goal and indeed home for many seeking refuge from conflict in the Middle East and North Africa. Yet London has always been a forward-thinking, inclusive metropolitan destination for so many; one only has to go as far as Liverpool Street Station (right) to be reminded of the Kindertransport that provided an escape for some many fleeing Germany during the Second World War.

More than this, the fact that this, Bach’s cantata for the first Sunday after Trinity, Brich dem Hungrigen dein Brot, is associated with the persecution of Protestant Christians 200 years after a Papal bull excommunicated Martin Luther – and that Luther was himself cast out for precipitating the Reformation 500 years ago this year – gives us pause to consider the words of the opening chorus afresh:

Break your bread with the hungry
and those who are in misery take into your house!
If you see someone naked,
then clothe them and do not recoil in disgust.

The performance of J. S. Bach cantata BWV 39, the ‘Refugee Cantata’, will be as part of a service of Lutheran Vespers in association with St. Anne’s Lutheran Church, hosted at the church of St. Mary-at-Hill, near Monument, EC3R 8EE on 25 June 2017 at 6.30pm. This event is part of Refugee Week 19-25 June, more information via refugeeweek.org.uk

Bach Vespers with Cantata BWV 44

city bach collectiveOn 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.

Ascension Oratorio, Cantata BWV 11 at the American International Church

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.