Choir members rehearse Tuesday night for a Bach holiday concert at Ḵunéix̱ Hídi Northern Light United Church. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Choir members rehearse Tuesday night for a Bach holiday concert at Ḵunéix̱ Hídi Northern Light United Church. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Quartet of Bach compositions joins lineup of local large-ensemble performances this season

Concerts this weekend part of resurging “wealth of riches” by choruses and orchestras, director says.

If it feels like there isn’t time to take a breath between the multitude of large-scale live stage productions these days, think how breathless the people singing and performing in two or more of them are.

About 55 singers and instrumentalists will join together for the latest of those during concerts featuring four Johann Sebastian Bach compositions at Ḵunéix̱ Hídi Northern Light United Church on Saturday and Sunday. The concerts are occurring a week after a similar ensemble performed Handel’s “Messiah” at the church, with many of the performers taking part in both shows — as well as others this season such as the roughly 100-person group that performed “Candide” in late October.

“It’s really interesting this fall that after COVID a lot of groups are really starting to fire on all cylinders again,” said Bruce Simonson, founder and longtime leader of the Juneau Bach Society, which has hosted concerts similar to those this weekend for many years. “And this fall we actually had four major choruses going at once, which is highly unusual for Juneau…in a way it’s like a wealth of riches. But it’s a bounty and a wonderful thing for people. And some people have sung or are singing in three of those — I know that for a fact — and maybe even some in all four.”

Simonson, who is conducting this weekend’s concerts, said the featured compositions include a trio of Bach’s cantatas — Nos. 1 (“Annunciation”), 61 (“Advent I – first setting”) and parts of 248 (“Christmas Oratorio”) — plus an organ performance of his BMV 700 (whose title translates in English to “I come from high up in the sky”).

“They’re particularly appropriate for the Christmas season,” Simonson said, adding they should be recognizable to many general listeners.

The more than 200 cantatas Bach composed were for weekly church performances and occasions such as weddings, along with secular cantatas for settings such as academic functions.

The performers for this weekend’s concerts include a chorus of 35 members and an orchestra of about 20. Simonson said about 15 choir members who sang in “Messiah” are also participating in the Bach concerts, including himself.

“Actually it was wonderful to do Bach and Handel at the same time because they both were contemporaneous, (but) they never met each other,” he said. “They were both born in the same year actually. And their styles of music are sufficiently different that it’s really fun to be working on both at the same time. Although it can get a little confusing — such as ‘is this one where we do it in 16th notes or 32nd notes’ — that kind of thing is going on all the time.”

Feature vocal soloists are sopranos Crystal Miller and Annie Goodenough, alto Ariana Orford, and tenor Steven Arends. Solo instrumentalists are Steve Tada and Andrew Schirmer on violins; Liz Agnew, Kathryn Kurtz, Kelly Sixt and Emily Weaver on English horns; Bill Paulick and Kristina Paulick on French horns; and Laurie Clough on organ.

Unlike “Messiah,” which was a re-orchestration that replaced the string instruments with wind instruments, Simonson said the Bach compositions are being performed as originally intended, including a harpsichord.

“I should say that we’re really fortunate that we have oboes and English horns in town — a really talented group of people,” Simonson said. “And so we’re featuring those for one of the cantatas. It’s really a lovely sound and, if nothing else, people will want to hear that.”

• Contact Mark Sabbatini at mark.sabbatini@juneauempire.com or (907) 957-2306.

Know and Go

What: Juneau Bach Society — Music for the Holiday Season.

When: 8 a.m. Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday.

Where: Ḵunéix̱ Hídi Northern Light United Church, 400 W. 11th St.

Tickets: $20, students free.

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