Meet...The City Bach Collective!
Manager of the City Bach Collective Cheyney Kent tells Revoice! about the City Bach Cantata Series 40th Anniversary Concert and the series history it celebrates...
This November the City Bach Collective, a small period-performance ensemble, celebrate 40 years of performing the church (and occasionally secular) cantatas of J. S. Bach in the City of London. Beginning as a concert series and continuing through performances of the cantatas in services of Lutheran Vespers in conjunction with an American Lutheran church, the series benefits from a dedicated pool of students and professionals who come together as they are available for the love of playing Bach (and other contemporary German baroque music) together.
In the autumn of 1976, Peter Lea-Cox, organist of St. Jude-on-the-Hill, Hampstead Garden Suburb was appointed organist of St. Mary-at-hill in the City. An administrator with some teaching responsibilities at the Royal Academy of Music, Peter decided to use the church to give his students the opportunity to perform Bach cantatas, preparing the editions himself. The series began on 11 November 1976 with a performance of BWV 38, ‘Aus tiefer Not schrei ich zu dir’
In 1981, Ronald Englund of the Lutheran Church in London based at St. Anne & St. Agnes Church attended one of Peter Lea-Cox’s Bach cantata series performances at St. Mary-at-hill. He invited Peter to repeat it in support of the St. Anne’s Music Society, in the liturgically-appropriated manner that was being practised at an American church at the time (probably Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, New York City). Cantata BWV 161 was duly performed within the Lutheran liturgy as ‘Bach Vespers’ on 26 September 1982.
In this way, the tradition of Bach Vespers was started. Peter Lea-Cox completed a full cycle of all Bach’s cantatas in 1997. He continued to deliver Bach to the Lutheran congregation until 2004 when Martin Knizia ARAM was appointed St Anne’s Church cantor. Martin went on to perform Bach’s music in the liturgy, in concerts and in the Bach Festival until leaving in July 2015.
Edward Edgcumbe studies as a countertenor at the RAM and has sung for the City Bach Collective, the core group of the series, in a recent Bach Vespers.
"As a student at RAM, I've been involved in the Kohn Foundation Bach series, which is well into a complete survey of the Bach cantatas: a typical concert there involves two or three cantatas delivered back-to-back on a Sunday morning. It's a format that delivers a supersized serving of JSB. There are many contrasts between those concerts and the Bach Vespers service at St. Mary-at-Hill and they're mostly ones of volume: of rehearsal; of singers; of the sheer amount of Bach. Of course, singing Bach within the liturgy is a very special thing. But the one I'd like to pick out is the effect of performing just the one cantata alongside the music of other composers. This doesn't make for a competitive exercise, but rather gives room to reflect on and digest each of the pieces, the readings and the sermon as complementary components of the worship."
Cheyney Kent holds a joint BMus from RAM & King's College London and has sung in Bach Vespers since 2005. He has managed the City Bach Collective since January 2016.
"When Martin [Knizia] left his position as Cantor of St. Anne's Lutheran Church in July 2015, leader Hazel Brooks and I spoke with St. Anne's about bringing musicians in to the church on an occasional basis to go on with Bach Vespers. They expressed the enthusiasm and support that encouraged us continue the tradition. Reconstituting ourselves as the City Bach Collective, we performed the first in a new wave of Bach Vespers services on 31 January 2016. Many of the players are those who have taken part in Bach Vespers and the Bach Cantata Series in years gone by and their experience, professionalism and extraordinary musicality is beyond value. Above all I have had the good fortune to be in touch regularly with Peter Lea-Cox, who has been very supportive of the continuation of his series. Peter has provided us with material, advice and the easily-overlooked history of the series which we look to celebrate on 11 November."
In an edited extract from the programme for the concert, the RAM's Head of Vocal studies, Professor Mark Wildman - who participated in the series early on - writes:
"I first met Peter Lea-Cox in about 1973, soon after he became Assistant Course Officer at the Royal Academy of Music where I was a student and where he held the widest of briefs that included choral and 'early' music. I often sang in ensembles that he organised and the bass solos in a wide range of choral works, including all the large scale sacred choral works and a great many of the church and secular cantatas of J. S. Bach.
The experience of singing all those Bach works was, for me, formative and engendered what has become a lifelong fascination and love of the works of JSB which I now endeavour to pass on to successive generations of students at the RAM where we are currently engaged in a series of the complete performances of the cantatas.
Along with countless other students at the RAM at that time, I owe to Peter an enormous debt of gratitude for his inspiring work in so many ways and for the many opportunities he gave me to perform this great music. He is one of the under-sung heroes of the profession and of music education, one of our finest and a 'pure gold' musician. I am pleased to have this opportunity of paying this tribute and I salute him on this fortieth anniversary of the founding of the cantata series at St. Mary-at-Hill."