Mark Mandarano, Artistic Director

Light and Shade

I always put a great deal of care into programming so that each concert is a satisfactory aesthetic experience. Even so, I am particularly proud of the upcoming program for the Sinfonietta on January 18th. It’s a program that offers an opportunity to contemplate the mysteries of mortality, meditate on the unknown and, ultimately, celebrate the beauty and joy of what gives life meaning: love and the bonds that unite us all. It features two of the greatest compositions of Johann Sebastian Bach, whose music is so intensely gratifying and moving that any attempt to capture its essence, no matter how eloquent, is destined to fail miserably (nevertheless, I go on, as you see). We will also perform one of the most fascinating pieces of music, the rarely heard Chamber Concerto (1970) by Ligeti, considered by many to be his masterwork.

We begin with Bach’s Cantata #82, Ich habe genug (I have enough). The three main texts for this piece describe someone who has arrived at a place where they accept, even revel in, the thought of their own death. The music possesses a deep seriousness mixed with pain, and a joy that is an essential part of that pain. The world that we live in is a place of suffering and what comes after, though unknown, will bring relief. Repeatedly, the soul says “I am ready to depart,” and the central movement, a lullaby, encourages weary eyes to close and welcome the coming slumber. It is here that the central thesis of the work is stated most clearly: “Here must I accumulate misery; but there, there will I see sweet peace.” To express these mingled feelings of hurt and visions of release, Bach’s music interweaves gloriously arching lines for the flute with sinuous but grounded parts for the strings. Throughout this, the solo soprano projects the thoughts of the protagonist with a calm ecstasy.

Having accepted that it is inevitable, we begin our journey into the unknown. Ligeti’s music evokes mists, clouds, twilight. Crafted with the utmost care, meticulously, even obsessively notated, it begins with a cluster of five pitches, the five half-steps of a major third, in barely audible, ever-shifting sonorities. No single voice, no prominent sound stands out and our ears, so accustomed to having composers guide us to what is central, strain to hear something to latch onto. This music is the aural equivalent of a fog – we instinctively try to peer through the sound with our ears, waiting for some single thing to become clear. Gradually, however, the sheer sound itself – the darkening and brightening of the sonority, the perception that it is evolving slowly – becomes the very thing that we listen to. We accept and even enjoy the mystery of it, its sudden surprises and unique delights. What began as the unknown – dissonant, unfamiliar and perhaps fear-inducing – becomes a new experience so totally engrossing that, to a certain extent, time disappears. There are many places in this score where the musicians are left free to carry on playing fiendishly complex figures on their own without a beat, in a kind of group cadenza – giving the audience a sense of the suspension of time. In four parts, each with its distinct expression, the Chamber Concerto for 13 musicians takes us on an unforgettable journey to discover the light within the darkness.

“Begone! Ye shadows of sadness!” — the very first words of Bach’s Cantata #202 – “Frost and Wind, go to sleep!” The “Wedding Cantata” reminds us that spring follows winter, day follows night, and the living world arises out of the mulch of the past. We are alive and love blooms ever anew, giving meaning, hope – and, not least, pleasure! — to the world. Playful, even impish, Bach’s music dances and sings in a celebration of the wholesome goodness of honest passion and faithful devotion.

This program – two pieces from the early 1700’s and one from 1970 – may seem like an odd pairing, but I feel very strongly that the composers are talking about the same things. One illuminates the other. Bach’s texts and his profound gravity articulate unspoken concepts in the Ligeti. And Ligeti’s daring originality and fearless pursuit of extremes extends Bach’s vision beyond the limits of convention – to a depiction of infinity.

A program of truly great music, played by fine artists and a chance to ponder the most consequential questions in life. As I say above, I am very proud of this program. I hope you can come along on this journey with us.

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