The world famous boys choir of the St Thomas Church in Leipzig, Germany, one of Europe’s oldest cultural entities with its nearly 800 year-old history, will make their Singapore debut at the Esplanade Concert Hall in March.
The choir is one of the oldest as well as leading ensembles in the German choral tradition and boasts a direct line back to composer Johann Sebastian Bach. He was their erstwhile choirmaster, who during his 27 year tenure composed his most important works such as the St Matthew Passion, and they are one of the foremost interpreters of his legacy.
Buried under a bronze memorial plate in front of the altar, Bach – himself a Thomaner – managed to compose enough church cantatas for one to be sung every Sunday for five years without repeating. Many of his cantatas, oratorios, masses and passions were performed in the St Thomas Church by the choir for the first time and this unbroken tradition continues to draw thousands to their weekend concerts to this day.
And the Thomanerchor…was wonderful to hear: unfailingly full of spirit, secure in pitch and beautifully balanced…Bach’s incomparable counterpoint has seldom sounded so richly flavorful, and it was given added crunch by the group’s splendid articulation and emphasis.
–The New York Times
While their repertoire ranges from Gregorian to modern music, the heart of the choir’s musical work are motets and Bach cantatas. Concerts at home and since 1920, in every major music-centre abroad, showcase the choristers’ versatility. They have performed with major orchestras ranging from the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra to the New York Philharmonic under the baton of Kurt Masur.
The choir, which even has an asteroid – 1023 Thomana – named after it, is also a teaching institution. Every year around 2,000 applicants stream into Leipzig for tryouts. Choir members still rehearse five hours a day, learn a new Bach cantata each week and give three public concerts every weekend.
Famous Thomaner alumni include composer Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (the son of J.S. Bach), vocal group Ensemble Amarcord, baritones Stephan Genz and Matthias Weichert, organist/composer Hanns-Martin Schneidt and pop/rock group Die Prinzen.
To many devotees of Johann Sebastian Bach, the singing of the St. Thomas Church Choir in Leipzig, is the voice of Holy Writ…(the) ten-to-18-year olds can still sing Bach with a precision and authority rarely equalled by any other choir in the world…the tone was rich and powerful, the movement of sound clear and regular.
Like Bach, composers such as Georg Philipp Telemann, Richard Wagner and Felix Mendelssohn-Barthodly are closely linked to Leipzig – each composer lived there for a time and contributed to the life of this richly musical city.
Many well-known composers have served at the late-Gothic St Thomas Church. Mendelssohn and Mozart have perfomed there, Wagner was christened here in 1813 and reformer Martin Luther preached here on Whitsun in 1539. Recently, the church has hosted artists such as cellist Yo-Yo Ma and Bobby McFerrin, the latter performing Bach’s Mass in B Minor with the St Thomas Boys Choir for the 250th anniversary of Bach’s death.
For their Singapore debut, the 55-member-strong choir accompanied by an organist will celebrate two great composers by performing psalms and motet from Bach as well as Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy, composer and conductor of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, on the occasion of the bicentennial of the latter’s birth.
The mood is summed up in ‘Sing to the Lord’ – the psalm that Bach set three times and which in turn inspired the 19th-century Bach revivalist, Mendelssohn. The man in Bach’s old job, the ‘Thomaskantor’, is Georg Christoph Biller, the 16th choirmaster since Bach.
ST THOMAS BOYS CHOIR, LEIPZIG
Johann Sebastian Bach’s legacy
6 March 2009 (Fri), Esplanade Concert Hall, 7.30pm
Tickets at S$38, S$58, S$78, S$98, S$108, S$118 (SISTIC charges apply)
SISTIC Hotline: 6348 5555 www.sistic.com.sg