CT Virtuosi Orchestra Presents Bach Concert with CCSU University Singers
By Ethan Sadoian

The theme for the Connecticut Chamber Orchestra’s 2017-2018 season is “Reincarnations,” the transformation and reincarnation of musical ideas across the different periods of music history. This idea might not be readily apparent in a concert featuring three works by the same composer, but that’s not how soprano Kate Callahan-Hardman sees it: “Bach is such a huge foundation of western classical music. So much of what we understand about melody, about voice progression, about harmonization comes straight from Bach. It’s anthropological in a way. And the music itself is timeless; it’s absolutely exquisite! It’s exquisite music, it just needs to be heard. It’s important in its history, but it’s important in its beauty, it’s just incredibly beautiful.”

Callahan-Hardman sings the role of Lieschen, a young woman willingly suffering from coffee addiction, in the Virtuosi’s performance of Bach’s famous Coffee Cantata, “Schweigt stille, plaudert nicht, BWV 211.” The cantata is unusual in its secular nature, as most of Bach’s cantatas were composed for sacred purposes; in its similarity to comic opera, featuring a discernable plot and the vocal soloists playing unique character roles; and in its comical commentary on addiction to coffee. “I think it’s a wonderful little cantata because it’s almost a mini opera in a way. It’s extremely funny, it’s very charming, and it’s designed to be acted out,” says Callahan-Hardman. “I find that very endearing because sometimes when you’re singing something just concert version, of course you always have a subtext, but when it already has a character attached to it, it’s very satisfying; you can slip right into that character very easily.”

Tenor Alexander O’Neil plays the role of the narrator. O’Neil, a vocal performance student at Central Connecticut State University and an experienced member of the CCSU University Singers chamber choir, will make his solo debut with the Virtuosi at this concert. Though still an undergraduate student, O’Neil is already establishing a career for himself locally as a professional vocal performer, and was recently named a finalist in the audition process for the Grammy-winning, world-renowned all-male choral ensemble Chanticleer. Virtuosi and CT Lyric Opera regular Steven Fredericks plays the bass role of Schlendrian, Lieschen’s father who attempts to cure her of her addiction.

The rest of the University Singers will be featured in a performance of Bach’s double-choir motet “Komm, Jesu, komm, BWV 229.” The choir, under director Drew Collins, has collaborated with the Virtuosi on two previous occasions in the last three years, including another concert of Bach in March of last year. Collins sees the collaboration as very important for the professional development of his students: “I believe undergraduate college students need to learn what it means to be a professional. Whether they are going to be a music professional or not is almost beside the point; there’s this professional mentality that will serve them very well, regardless of the field that they go into. As an educator, I want my students to have a very wide variety of experiences, and as many of them that demand professional decorum and professional performance standards. And to work with another conductor is always educational; when there’s a professional-caliber conductor on the level of Maestro Sylveen who’s willing to work with the students, I think it’s great for them.”

Bach double-choir motets are demanding to perform, but Collins sees the challenge as one step in the pedagogical process of developing his choir’s technical proficiency in the performance of Bach: “Bach motets are very sophisticated. They take a high level of expertise, and skill in a variety of areas of singing. I actually had a conductor that I was singing under once say that if you want to learn how to sing Bach, sing the motets. Once you’ve done that, you can sing any of his chorales, any of his arias, any of his choruses, because it’s all in [the motets] in little microcosms.”

An array of soloists will be featured in the performance of Bach’s “Triple Concerto, BWV 1044.” The Concerto includes virtuosic solo parts for flute, violin, and harpsichord, and will feature Jill Maurer-Davis on flute, Virtuosi artistic director Adrian Sylveen on violin, and Michael Korman on harpsichord.

These upcoming performances once again demonstrate the Virtuosi’s long-standing community commitments. It will provide audiences with beautiful expressions of timeless music written by a composer whose influence still strongly impacts musicians today. It demonstrates the Virtuosi’s commitment to a building a musical community of like-minded individuals committed to the preservation of our art. And it provides opportunities for young musicians to join this community, to have opportunities to develop professionally as performers, in an ensemble setting, and even as featured soloists.