An evening of beautiful music by leading composers of the 18th century, with a modern-day twist: not a likely fit for a typical family with small children, but interesting and educational nonetheless. The Bach Sinfonia’s “You Decide: Bach’s Audition at Leipzig” performance, conducted by Daniel Abraham, was fascinating for adults but not engaging for the thirteen and four year old members of this Our Kids review team who are, at best, casual fans of classical music. Although the historical context and musical nuances were lost on the younger members of the team, the music was gorgeous and we left with our spirits raised.
The concept of the concert is that the modern-day audience stands in the stead of the Town Council of Leipzig in 1722 as it considered the candidates to fill the vacant position of Cantor of the Thomasscchule (St. Thomas School). The position of Cantor was well respected at the time and highly coveted. The Cantor served as both the musical director and teacher to the community.
After a protracted audition process, Johann Sebastian Bach was awarded the position, despite not having the right academic credentials. In fact, Bach was not the Council’s first, or even second choice for the post, but his appointment began a twenty-seven year period during which time he composed his Passions, Magnificat, many cantatas and civic pieces and the Mass in B Minor.
During the evening, The Bach Sinfonia, with eight vocalists and fourteen musicians played two selections each by Bach and two of his competitors, Christoph Graupner (1683-1760) and Georg Freidrich Kauffmann (1670-1735). Preceding the concert, the Sinfonia’s conductor and Artistic Director, Daniel Abraham, gave a 50 minute college-level discussion and Q&A on the political machinations behind Bach’s appointment to the Cantor position. The discussion was excellent and interesting to the grownup in our group, but not engaging for the younger members.
The modern twist to this concert was the interactive “You Decide” voting. Just as the Leipzig Town Council selected between the candidates for the position of Cantor, the audience members were was asked to cast their vote to rate the pieces they had just heard. The scale ranged from 1 to 10 with the 1 representing “was that music I just heard?,” 5 being “not bad, not great”, and 10 being “a masterwork for eternity.” Via individualized hand-held voting pads provided for by Turning Technologies, the votes were compiled.
The concept is interesting and added a modern flair, however, for it to be meaningful, it would have helped to have had the background to discern between similar-era musical works. As it was, the voting was “did I like the piece” versus the comparative “should Bach have won because it was a better piece than this competitors.”
To these non-experts, the voices were strong and full. While the advertised soprano had fallen ill, her stand-in, Miss Emily Noël, was excellent and Philip Collister’s beautiful bass voice was impressive. However, the most fascinating vocal performance was by countertenor, Charles Humphries, whose falsetto range amazed the young teen and adult alike. The fourteen musicians blended well and the entire Sinfonia clearly had a camaraderie and respect for each other and Mr. Abraham who was conducting.
Advice for Parents: Although the concert is listed as being for ages 5-6 year and older, this is not an evening for children unless they have a strong connection with classical music. The average age of the audience was estimated to be 60 (even factoring in the Our Kids review team’s 4 and 13 year old). Our four year old was well-behaved and fell asleep on cue in exactly two minutes into the first piece. That said, she and her 13 year old sister were both viewed as novelties (and with some trepidation) by the older crowd. We observed 3 other families who had brought children younger than 13, a grand total of maybe seven children in a crowd of over two hundred.
This is not to say that no child would find it interesting. There are many families who have introduced their children to complex classical music beyond “Little Einsteins.” The musicians play on period instruments which for young musicians could be compelling. In particular, Michelle Humphries, the Timpani player, was fascinating to watch as she made constant adjustments to her instrument to temper its sounds.
Simply put, this was not the right fit for dilettantes. We would recommend it for youth with a strong interest in and knowledge of classical music. The “American Idol” novelty of voting for the piece which should have won was entirely lost on those who did not have enough of a background to discern between the pieces. The evening sparked a conversation for the ride home on learning more about Bach, Mozart and Beethoven, and other vehicles to access classical music (such as movies such as Immortal Beloved and Amadeus for mature teenagers). However, any evening spent listening to beautiful music is not a wasted experience and so we were happy to have spent the evening with The Bach Sinfonia.