Com­ing up in Philly Music: A can­ta­ta in the Bach Festival

2 minute read
Choral Arts singers and Bach Fest musicians perform at a previous festival at St. Clement's Church. (Photo by Sharon Torello.)
Choral Arts singers and Bach Fest musicians perform at a previous festival at St. Clement's Church. (Photo by Sharon Torello.)

COVID-19 creates a devastating challenge for choral groups like the Choral Arts Bach Festival of Philadelphia. It’s hard to perform a piece that demands 40 vocalists when they have to stand six feet apart. Fortunately, Bach wrote vocal works for smaller forces. This Friday, the Bach Festival will premiere an online performance of a cantata that requires just four vocalists and six instrumentalists.

In lively memory

Cantata 106, the “Actus Tragicus,” is a funeral cantata, but don’t let that put you off. The opening instrumental section is a beautiful piece that features two recorders playing over the gentle sound of two viola da gambas (the older cousins of the cello). The vocal movements of the cantata take an essentially hopeful view.

The video opens with the director of Choral Arts, Matthew Glandorf, addressing the audience in the same way he introduces concerts at the Bach Festival’s popular Wednesday evening Bach at 7 series. The recorder players are two of the best, Joan Kimball and Robert Weimken, the codirectors of Philadelphia’s Renaissance band, Piffaro. The vocalists are all Choral Arts soloists, and the other instrumentalists are familiar figures to anyone who follows Choral Arts and the other historical-instrument groups in Philadelphia.

The video was shot by Sharon Torello, who did a superb job on Piffaro’s first concert of the season. The pandemic offers her a chance to show off her talents as a videographer and she has been rising to the challenge.

The concert is dedicated to the memory of Barry Sweigart, a church organist who was a prime member of the community that has developed around the classical music tradition. Sweigart started studying the organ at age 16 in a public school program in Reading, Pennsylvania. He made his living as a truck driver while he put in several decades as the organist and choir director at Lutheran, Methodist, Christian Science, and Catholic churches. He was a motorcyclist, an avid bicyclist, the father of three children, and, according to his wife, was “a man who enjoyed life.” His wife is a pianist and one of their grandchildren is studying the cello.

People like him fill the seats at every concert presented by Philadelphia classical music organizations. The music enriches their lives, and it survives because they take what it offers and give it their support.

What, When, Where, and Accessibility:

Choral Arts Philadelphia will premiere Bach’s “Actus Tragicus” at 7pm on Friday, November 20. The video will remain available on-demand until November 27. Tickets are $15 and they can be purchased at the Choral Arts Philadelphia website.

Image Description: Musicians in mostly black formal wear perform in a church, led by a conductor.

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