Boston choral ensemble Cantata Singers is preparing for its 2009–2010 season featuring works by Heinrich Schuetz, J.S. Bach, Hugo Distler and Arnold Schoenberg opening on Friday, November 6 at Jordan Hall. The Tech interviewed conductor David Hoose about the upcoming program and season. More information about this performance and the Cantata Singers Ensemble can be found at http://cantatasingers.org/
The Tech: Cantata Singers used to perform these Bach cantatas every performance, but this year is dedicated to Schuetz, last year was Benjamin Britten, the year before it, Kurt Weill. What precipitated the change to doing these focused composers?
David Hoose: Well, in the first years, all that Cantata Singers did was Bach cantatas. I don’t know for how long that went on, but gradually the repertoire expanded and some of the first music to come into the mix was Schuetz. It wasn’t until six years ago or so that we did a season without Bach in it. There was one season where there was no Bach and then, two years ago, our Kurt Weill season. Somehow the nature of the music made it hard to include Bach as really a comfortable and engaging companion to Weill. In the Britten season last year, we brought in a little bit of Bach at the end. But it seems that we’ll be doing a fair amount of Bach as we lead up to the fiftieth anniversary of Cantata Singers in a few years. And it seems like a great pathway back to Bach by looking at Schuetz.
TT: For the November 6 concert, Cantata Singers will be performing Schuetz and Bach, but then the program jumps to the early 20th century with Schoenberg and Distler — all very different composers. Is there a common thread involved in this concert?
DH: Certainly — I think that if there were a composer who’s missing in the flow to make the connection obvious, it’s Brahms. The piece that is the obvious connective tissue between Schuetz and early 20th century is Brahms’ Deutsches Requiem. We can really look at Brahms as a conservative composer, and in so many ways he is reaching back to Schuetz. Schuetz is clinging to a tradition of contrapuntal thinking and isn’t willing to give himself over to his contemporary Monteverdi’s new music. For the contemporaries Bach and Telemann, Telemann was clearly the forward-looking composer, Bach the old stick in the mud. So Brahms is sort of the connective tissue, but he is silent in our concert: Deutsches Requiem, a piece we all know, a piece that Cantata Singers has done recently, is, I think, the piece that make the strongest connection between Schuetz, Bach and the twentieth century composers Schoenberg and Distler. There’s all manner of reasons that that piece is not appearing in this season, but it is there, really, hovering above all the proceedings.
TT: How do the twentieth century composers fit in?
DH: Distler himself says that the composer who had the greatest influence on him right along with Bach was Schuetz. In fact, Singet dem Herrn, which we’re doing on this first concert, is from a collection called Geistliche Chormusik, exactly the same title as the mature collection of music by Schuetz of the same name. It’s not accidental. The allegiance and reference is always to Schuetz. And that is even easier to hear than the Schoenberg connection to Schuetz, although I think that the Schoenberg connection is the most powerful one.
TT: That’s very surprising — that Schoenberg has a stronger connection to Schuetz than Distler.
DH: It may be unfair to say that; it may be because I know more Schoenberg than I know Distler. And that, of course, is unfair because Distler didn’t write that much music. But I do think that Schoenberg’s music, for all of its renown as one who broke all the rules, and wrote new rules, I think of him as a composer whose feet, whose heart, whose mind are always in an earlier time. And that he’s not willing to throw out the baby with the bath.
TT: There’s this common thinking — from Schutz to Bach, to Brahms, to Schoenberg — do you see anyone else carrying along in this vein?
DH: Yes — John Harbison. By his own claim, his music is very devoted to Schutz’s music, Bach’s music, and he would say, without a doubt, that his musical thinking owes a lot to his study of and love of those two composers’ music. What do we hear in John’s music? We hear very powerful music, and very disciplined, orderly sensibility, one in which the power of the expression is made deeper by his organizational sophistication. I think that’s something you perceive when you’re hearing Bach’s, Brahms’s, Schuetz’s, Beethoven’s, or Haydn’s music. And it all owes a lot to those old German composers. And others as well — Schein, and Demontius, but I would think, above all, it’s Schuetz and Bach.
TT: How would you tell people to approach the great variety of music in this concert?
DH: I think we’re very quick to jump to “I like” or “I don’t like” I think quicker than we need to. It’s an experience unlike any other that people will have: sitting in a concert hall, engaged with live musicians performing very intense, sophisticated, engaging, powerful, emotionally charged music that has the ability, I think, to reach anyone. It will reach each person in a different way.