Bach’s Christmas Oratorio
Part of: Orchestra of St. Luke's
This holiday season, experience the magic of Bach as Orchestra of St. Luke’s presents the Christmas Oratorio under the baton of Principal Conductor Bernard Labadie.
Labadie brings not only his historically informed expertise to the evening, but the superb singers of La Chapelle de Québec, founded by Labadie in 1985 and renowned for their performances of early music masterworks. The orchestra also welcomes soloists Liv Redpath, Avery Amereau, and Andrew Haji back to the stage, and Joshua Hopkins in his OSL debut, fresh off a season at the Metropolitan Opera, for Bach’s formidable but glorious arias.
Though Bach considered his work to be one “oratorio” (Weihnachtsoratorium, in German), its original performance was spread between December 25, 1734 and January 6, 1735, according to the Lutheran liturgical calendar. Each of the six sections that comprise the whole is essentially its own cantata with its own musical key and instrumentation, assembled for its specific feast day. Assembled, rather than composed, as Bach took nearly all the choruses and arias from his previous works (a common practice of the time—Handel was a particularly egregious self-plagiarist). Many of these borrowed works were secular, composed for princes and coronations, but their royal pomp suits their repurposed subject well. The ultra-devout Bach was undoubtedly glad to take music originally meant to praise a Saxon king and repurpose it for religious use.
As segmented as the Christmas Oratorio appears on paper, all six parts are linked by the evangelist tenor, and by reflective chorales throughout. It’s bookended by grand chorus movements complete with a festive complement of trumpets and timpani. In 2023, we’re fortunate to hear the work not over two weeks, but rather in its entirety in one evening—just as Bach conceived it!
Liv Redpath appears courtesy of The Metropolitan Opera.
Johann Sebastian Bach
Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248