Emotional Bach festival inspires international fan community

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The Leipzig Bach Festival 2022 came to an end with Johann Sebastian Bach's Mass in B minor. The international rush was great despite the corona pandemic.

Johann Sebastian Bach looks from to the musical hustle and bustle

It was a Bach festival of hearts. On the one hand, because after two years of the corona pandemic, a complete presence festival could finally take place in Leipzig and on the other hand, because 20 choirs from all over the world with their interpretations of Bach's cantatas made the festival atmospheric under the motto “Bach – We Are Family”. enriched. 

Place of pilgrimage for Bach fans: his grave in Leipzig's Thomaskirche

Standing ovations and bravos were the crowning glory for the Coro della Radiotelevisione svizzera and the Swiss Chamber Orchestra “I Barocchisti” under the direction of Diego Fasolis, who offered a varied and sophisticated B minor Mass in Leipzig's Thomaskirche. This is one of Johann Sebastian Bach most important works: the manuscript from 1748/49 is even a UNECO World Documentary Heritage.

The great Bach family sings

This year, with 64,000 visitors, there were fewer guests at the Bach Festival than before the Corona crisis, but they came from a wide variety of regions of the world. “We invited people to take part in many formats, so we hit a nerve,” Bachfest director Michael Maul told DW. With guests from 51 countries, from the USA to Saudi Arabia, Japan and India, the Bach Festival was more colorful than ever and, at least as far as the audience is concerned, is the most international classical music festival in Germany.

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Michael Maul explains: “Bach – We Are Family”

Not only the concerts of the stars were well attended, but also the concerts of the international choirs. “In fact, the spark of 'Bach – We Are Family' is that we all belong together, we listen to each other and we let each other inspire, jumped over,” says Michael Maul. There were also standing ovations at a concert by the “Sociedad de Bach” from Paraguay. “And it was touching to see the Japanese from Yamaguchi singing the difficult German lyrics simply in 'la la la'.”

There was also a great interest in the “We Are Family Choir”, a project led by Ton Koopman, for which 100 singers from all over the world had signed up.

< h2>Bach lived in the choir project

The concluding “Family Concert” in the Thomaskirche was one of the emotional highlights for those involved and visibly moved some to tears. “Four days of rehearsals with people from all nations, that was crazy, that was real Bach,” said one choir member. “I came from South Africa to be close to Bach,” said another singer, adding that it was a dream come true for him: “Bach's music unites the world, I'm very moved to be here in Leipzig. “

Conductor Ton Koopmann praised the international participants of the “We Are Family Choir”

Conductor and harpsichordist Ton Koopman is President of the Bach Archive, which organizes the annual Bach Festival in Leipzig. The choir sang well and showed all their love for Bach, he told DW. “Of course I know that Bach is a big name all over the world, but it's nice to see that some people really wanted to be there and only came for this concert. It was an unforgettable experience.”

< h2>A brisk St Matthew Passion

The new Thomaskantor Andreas Reize conducted Bach's Matthäus-Passion with the Thomanerchor and the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin to a full house. The extensive composition is one of the most performed choral works by Johann Sebastian Bach worldwide. The concert is available as a video on demand on the “DW Classical Music” YouTube channel, as is the praised performance of the St. John Passion, sung and played by the J.S.Bach Foundation St. Gallen under Rudolf Lutz.

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The Thomanerchor on the organ gallery presents Johann Sebastian Bach's Matthew Passion for two choirs

For Andreas Reize, the St. Matthew Passion has a special emotional depth compared to the St. John Passion: “In the St. Matthew Passion, Christ is much more suffering than in the St. John Passion,” he says in an interview with DW. “Peter, on the other hand, is a choleric for me, even the way he speaks. You can feel people with their rough edges, and Bach captured that musically in an incredible way.”

The St. Matthew Passion is already a play in terms of size that will occupy him for the rest of his life, says Reize. “The work is so fascinating that I have to find my way to where I actually want to go every time.” At the Bach Festival, Reize conducted the passion at a brisk pace, which did not impress all users of the video stream. In contrast, there was great applause in the Thomaskirche.

Bach's ancestors and descendants

This year, the motto “Bach – We Are Family” not only referred to the global Bach fan community, but also to the ancestors and descendants of Johann Sebastian Bach, as well as his role models. 

The Monteverdi Choir and Ensemble sings under the direction of John Eliot Gardiner

The baroque composer Johann Hermann Schein was one of Bach's musical role models. His motet “Because Jakob had finished” enchanted the audience with emotional moments in the concert “Musicalische Exequien”; sung by the acclaimed Monteverdi Choir under its conductor, one of the most well-known specialists for early music, John Eliot Gardiner. “You know where Bach got it from,” was a spontaneous comment from the audience

Outlook for the 2023 Bach Festival

This year, the Leipzig Bach Festival celebrated the 300th anniversary of Bach's “Well-Tempered Clavier” with András Schiff and Angela Hewitt. Next year will mark the 300th anniversary of Bach's appointment as St. Thomas Cantor in Leipzig. “This is certainly the most important Bach anniversary in this century,” says Michael Maul. Under the motto “Bach For Future” it is primarily about the cantatas from his first year as Thomaskantor in Leipzig, which Michael Maul likes to read June 2023 as would be performed weekly in the services of the Thomaskirche and the Nikolaikirche in Bach's time. 

“Bach For Future” is also intended to give young professional ensembles the opportunity to present their new interpretations of well-known works. The continuation of the “Bach – We Are Family” project is planned for 2024. Then another 30 international choirs are invited that could not be there this year. “We have Bach friends all over the world, but always in small groups,” says Michael Maul. That's why he wants to establish an even better network across borders. “The audience is heterogeneous in terms of countries, but we all agree when it comes to the wonderful music of Johann Sebastian Bach.”