The Dessoff Choirs Celebrates Spring In Harlem (Audio)

Hailed as “one of the great amateur choruses of our time (New York Today) for its “full-bodied sound and suppleness (The New York Times),” The Dessoff Choirs continues its 92nd season with a one-evening-only spring concert of repentance. Members of The Dessoff Chamber Choir and Ensemble bring diversity, spirit, and beautiful harmony to the emotionally charged season of Lent. The program includes Bach’s Jesu, meine Freude, Buxtehude’s Herzlich lieb hab ich dich, o Herr, and Barber’s Dover Beach.

“This program is about passion, devotion, and reflection from a religious perspective as presented in the works by Bach and Buxtehude,” said Malcolm J. Merriweather, Music Director and Conductor, The Dessoff Choirs. “Similarly, Barber’s Dover Beach exudes the same depth of feeling but through a secular lens. Each piece is masterfully crafted, and I could not be more thrilled to present these works with the Dessoff Chamber Choir and Ensemble.”

Related: Listen to Director and Conductor, The Dessoff Choirs Malcolm J. Merriweather on The Danny Tisdale Show.

Jesu, meine Freude (“Jesus, My Joy”) by J.S. Bach (1685-1750) is the second of Bach’s six choral motets that Dessoff will perform over the next three seasons. Written in 1723, early in Bach’s tenure as director of music at St. Thomas’s Church, Leipzig, Jesu, meine Freude is the longest and most complex of Bach’s motets. Based on a chorale melody by Johann Crüger, with text by Johann Franck, many of its movements speak of Jesus Christ freeing man from sin and death. Franck’s chorale text is written from the believer’s point of view, praising the gifts of Jesus Christ and longing for his comfort and strength. Chorale and Biblical verses together provide a text rich in stark contrasts between heaven and hell, joy and suffering, frequently within a single section.

Dietrich Buxtehude (1637-1707), who has been called “the father of German musicians,” heavily influenced Bach; Buxtehude, in turn, was influenced by Heinrich Schütz, who, along with Bach, is considered one of the most important German composers of the 17th century. Buxtehude’s Herzlich lieb hab ich dich, o Herr (“From my heart I hold you dear, o Lord”) is the finest example of the composer’s mature cantata compositions. Based on a Lutheran hymn written in German by the Protestant theologian and reformer Martin Schalling, it is often used for funerals. The cantata’s third stanza contains some extraordinary music, with meditative string tremolos accompanying the description of angels carrying the soul to the bosom of Abraham.

To round out the program, maestro Merriweather steps off the podium to sing Barber’s Dover Beach for baritone and string quartet. Dover Beach (1931) by Samuel Barber (1910-1981) is based on a lyric poem of the same name by the English poet Matthew Arnold. The poem depicts human misery as grounded in the loss of religious faith, isolating each person from his or her fellow beings. The sea’s ebb-tide is the piece’s controlling metaphor; it stands for the retreating “sea of faith.” The music characterizes a more reasoned state of mind, as the text recalls the sound of the sea, which “Sophocles long ago heard…on the Aegean.”

Saturday, April 1, 2017, at 4:00 p.m.

$15-35. To purchase, contact The Dessoff Choirs at dessoff.org

Union Theological Seminary, 3041 Broadway at 116th Street, New York, New York

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