Cycles – The 2018 Bach Festival

June 08–17, 2018

Cycles determine the course of the world, our lives, the years and days. Cycles create order and rhythm in a world that is too big for our understanding.
They are a constant, a ritual of time, something we can rely upon. No wonder that in art, cycles are also a popular means of creating form – whenever an artist wishes to express as much as possible, or needs space for an idea to unfold, or if the sheer magnitude of his or her oeuvre requires a structuring line of thought.

Johann Sebastian Bach was no exception. This can be seen in the very titles of his works: »Aria with 30 Variations« (BWV 988), twice »24 Preludes and Fugues in all Keys«, »Six Brandenburg Concertos«, »Six Cello Suites«, and so on and so forth – Bach liked cycles. And since God created the world in six days, Bach’s cycles almost always comprise six compositions or a multiple of this biblical figure. Soli Deo Gloria!
Bach’s penchant for cyclical forms and for groups of works in which he systematically explores the compositional possibilities of a single theme or a specific genre prompted us to make »Cycles« the theme of the 2018 Bach Festival. In – naturally – six series of concerts, you will be able to hear works that Bach wrote as a cycle, or works of his performed as a cycle. A special, seventh series is devoted to Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy, Bach’s greatest advocate in the Romantic period.

Heralding in the Bach Festival is the monumental »Ring of Cantatas« – a cyclical performance of the 30 ›best‹ Bach cantatas in ten concerts, presented by the authoritative Bach experts of the present day. During 18 hours of music, audiences can hear Bach’s musical reflections on an entire liturgical year – admittedly an artificial work that Bach never would have performed in this way. Yet the »Ring of Cantatas« will provide audible proof of how consistently Bach went about fulfilling his »real goal, that is, [to compose] well-regulated church music to the glory of God«, with a never ending cycle of reflections on the Sunday Gospel readings – masterpieces composed on a weekly basis and with a wealth of ideas that is none other than overpowering.

Overpowering, too, are Bach’s settings of the Passion according to St. Matthew and St. John. They form the focal point of the Passion cycle. With a performance of the St. Matthew Passion, the French ensemble La Chapelle Rhénane – acclaimed for their recordings of Bach and Schütz – will be making their debut at the Bach Festival. The St. John Passion will be performed as a ballet in a production by Leipzig Opera. Flanking Bach’s Passions are two extremely interesting works that tell the Passion story not from the distanced perspective of the Evangelists, but in the form of a sacred opera: »Gesù al Calvario« (1735) by Bach’s friend, the excellent Dresden court musician Jan Dismas Zelenka, and the recently discovered Passion oratorio, considered scandalous in its day: »Der blutige und sterbende Jesu« (1729) by Reinhard Keiser.

In the »Well-Tempered Clavier« cycle, Robert Levin, Nelson Goerner, Alexander Melnikov, Andreas Staier and the group Phantasm demonstrate that Bach was an absolute master of the circle of fifths. In their concerts, they will also be presenting the models for and imitations of this legendary cycle that goes through all keys – by composers from Fischer to Mozart, Chopin, and Mendelssohn, right through to Shostakovich.
Contextualisation is also the concept behind a cycle devoted to Bach’s published »Clavier-Übungen«. On successive evenings, organists Ullrich Böhme and Wolfgang Zerer will be ›celebrating‹ the work referred to as Bach’s »German Organ Mass«, as well as other key organ works by Bach. After this Sir András Schiff, in a single concert, will be playing part II and part IV of the »Clavier-Übungen«, including Bach’s immortal »Goldberg Variations« . Lastly, Jean Rondeau, a newcomer to the harpsichord scene but already heaped with honours, will be providing a fleet-fingered and exhilarating recital, the central piece of which is the »Italian Concerto«.
Further sparkling virtuosity is in store with the performance of Bach’s most famous cycle, the »Six Brandenburg Concertos», by the Czech ensemble Collegium 1704, conducted by Václav Luks.
More intimate chamber music awaits us with the »Six Cello Suites« cycle. For this, we have for the first time at the Bach Festival succeeded in booking the current authority on the Cello Suites, with three prizewinning recordings to his credit: Pieter Wispelwey.

Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy is a regular guest at our festival – and one of the most versatile composers of the nineteenth century. The great diversity of his works and their close links to Bach’s oeuvre will be demonstrated in a concert by the Gewandhaus Orchestra and an interpretation of »Elijah« by the Bach Collegium Japan, conducted by M. Suzuki. Both composers will then line up for a cyclical performance of their respective six organ sonatas and a comparative performance of Bach’s motets and Mendelssohn’s chorale cantatas.

It goes without saying that familiar faces and events will again be part and parcel of the Bach Festival. In the opening concert, Thomaskantor Gotthold Schwarz and his choristers will be focussing on cyclical works from the Thomanerchor’s more distant past. And in the closing concert, he will be conducting the B minor Mass at the Bach Festival for the first time. The six cycles will be accompanied by a six-part cycle of talks and the ever-popular organ excursions, church services and matins. And, last but not least, a broad-ranging programme of open-air concerts on Leipzig’s Market Square, in which jazz legend Klaus Doldinger, among others, a German and American youth academy and the MDR Orchestra will be providing a laid-back ›Bachmosphere‹ and very diverse approaches to Bach.

To sum up, with its 161 events, the 2018 edition offers everything a Bach-lover could wish for in what Mendelssohn called the »wahre Sebastianstadt« (»the true city of Sebastian«) – a panoramic display of masterpieces, presented by the great interpreters of our time in Bach’s own venues. In short, every reason to exclaim: »How wonderful are your works!«
Michael Maul

Sir John Eliot Gardiner President
Prof. Dr. Peter Wollny Director
PD Dr. Michael Maul Dramaturg


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