J.S. Bach’s Final Great Achievement: Mass in B Minor

Photo: Brandon Patoc

Music Director Ludovic Morlot leads the Seattle Symphony and Chorale in J.S. Bach’s Mass in B minor, the composer’s final great achievement, on March 14, 16 and 17.

By Martin K. Johansson

One of the most profound and astounding spiritual testaments ever composed, Johann Sebastian Bach’s Mass in B minor is the summation of a lifetime of creating music. Unlike the majority of his music, which was written for church services, Bach wrote his Mass in B minor to leave a musical legacy.

For Ludovic Morlot, whose eight-year tenure as Music Director comes to a close at the end of this season, Bach’s final Mass was a perfect complement to his final season. “This music is life changing,” shares Morlot. “The first four bars by themselves are life changing. Every aria is a jewel.”

The Mass in B minor includes earlier works by Bach, coming together to create a sense of completion — of coming full circle.

“This piece was written in different stages of his life, and it was only in his later life that he decided to put these parts together to make a mass,” explains Morlot. “Every piece by Bach is related to every other piece by Bach. Compiled as one work, it is a summary of Bach’s production over his career. Everybody has heard music by Bach, but this is the best of the best of what he created.”

Bach’s Mass in B minor also represents themes of Morlot’s own tenure at the Symphony. “I have never performed it before, but I have listened to it again and again since the minute I discovered it,” says Morlot.

For the Mass in B minor, Morlot and the orchestra will be joined on the stage by a host of renowned soloists, including 2017–2018 Featured Artist Kenneth Tarver, who captivated audiences in one of last season’s highlights, Stravinsky’s Persephone. And as with Persephone, and so many of the Symphony’s highlights during his tenure, Morlot will once again partner with Associate Conductor for Choral Activities Joseph Crnko and the Seattle Symphony Chorale.

“It certainly is a huge undertaking for the chorus,” remarks Morlot, “but something they will enjoy I’m sure.” Adding, “some of the writing is very virtuosic, so we’re splitting the chorale at times to give it more transparency and clarity, and to give the big fortes with the entire chorale more power.”

“To do this music with modern orchestra playing modern instruments is a challenge,” says Morlot. “You want to be inspired by period instruments and articulation, but you must translate that to modern instruments and big spaces. This work was originally performed in small intimate churches,” explains Morlot. “The challenge is to use the chorus well. I have chosen to go with a small chorus to strike a balance with the size of the orchestra and to make this music feel true to its origins while resonating with our contemporary audiences.”

Bach’s Mass in B minor is one performance you won’t want to miss this season. “It really feels — when you listen to this live — that you become immersed in it. It’s a really visceral experience,” says Morlot.

Join Music Director Ludovic Morlot and the Seattle Symphony and Chorale on March 14, 16 and 17 to experience Bach’s Mass in B minor.

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Bach’s Mass in B minor is generously supported by the Judith A. Fong Music Directors Fund. Kenneth Tarver’s performances are supported in part by the Melvyn Poll Tenor Fund.

Posted on March 6, 2019

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