Motets from Manhattan

The Choir of Trinity Wall Street

The Choir of Trinity Wall Street

Trinity Wall Street Surveys Western Music’s Great Vocal Form

The Choir of Trinity Wall Street is quite simply one of the finest professional choral ensembles anywhere in the US today. The New York Times has remarked that the choir possesses “voices so pure they suggest a seraphic chorus beyond the human sphere.” Some Bay Area residents got a preview of their prowess a few months ago, when they sang in the English Concert’s performance of Handel’s Theodora at Sonoma State University. According to the San Francisco Chronicle’s Joshua Kosman, even in the company of a stellar solo cast, they provided some of the evening’s most powerful singing.

The rest of us will have two chances to see and hear the internationally acclaimed ensemble this June. Under the direction of its distinguished director, Julian Wachner, Trinity Wall Street makes its BFX debut on Thursday, June 5, in an intimate, late-night concert, performing Bach’s four motets for double choir: Singet dem Herrn; Der Geist hilft unser Schwachheit auf; Komm, Jesu, komm; and Fürchte dich nicht. The following evening, they will appear again, this time in a program surveying development of the Franco-Flemish motet over more than a century, from Dufay’s medieval, architectural Nuper rosarum flores to the imitative mastery of Josquin and Gombert. These Franco-Flemish masterworks were renowned across Europe for their balanced vocal polyphony and dark, rich sonorities.

Bach’s motets are the apotheosis of this esteemed musical form, which dates from the Middle Ages and served as the vehicle for Europe’s greatest composers to write some of their profoundest music. While many of the earliest motets were settings of secular poetry, by the Renaissance they had become the province of sacred music. Bach’s motets were works of great seriousness, intended for use in funeral and burial services. But they are above all works of comfort, largely free of the introspective and pietistic morbidity found in many of his cantatas. Perhaps in part for that reason, they are Bach’s only vocal works with an unbroken performance tradition from his death until the present day.

They also are some of Bach’s most challenging works for chorus, demanding tremendous vocal stamina and focus to do justice to the music’s long lines and contrapuntal complexity.

Here is the choir, under Julian Wachner’s direction, performing one Bach motet that will not be on their program, O Jesu Christ, meins Lebens Licht, BWV 118. Until recently, in fact, this work was not even included among the composer’s motets. It was, however, a favorite of Joseph Spencer. The late proprietor of the Musical Offering, former SFEMS President, and an important contributor to the development of the first Berkeley Festival, played this piece many times on his early music radio program, “Chapel Court and Countryside.” We dedicate this one to his memory, in gratitude for his innumerable contributions to the Bay Area’s musical life.

Tickets to both of Trinity Wall Street’s performances are now on sale at the Berkeley Festival Ticket Site, or contact the Box Office by phone (415-697-1957), mail (PO Box 10151, Berkeley CA 94709), or email.

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