A lodestar guiding me through the autumn has been the advertised live performance of Ein feste Burg, Bach’s great cantata for Reformation Day, at the Dutch Church in the City of London. A previous Cantata performance in this church, which I’d been invited to introduce, nearly happened during Lent but got cancelled in the first lockdown.
As the October weeks progressed towards Cantata Day, I found myself checking the Dutch Centre website with increasing frequency – was it still happening ? I felt unsure about the reality of this right up to the day of the performance, but arriving at the venue for the dress rehearsal, I found everyone there; the Strand Consort and Ensemble (including students from KCL and RAM), conductor Joseph Fort and organist Anne Page. Following Covid-security to the letter, windows and doors were being flung open, permitting excellent ventilation and also adding a bit of an 18th century vibe to the church climate.
This was an utterly uplifting occasion. It was the first time I’d heard a live choir in seven months, and it meant a lot to me that Bach’s orchestra for this piece includes three oboes, the first live winds I’ve heard also since early March. It so happens that Ein feste Burg begins with a truly great chorus, a huge sweeping motet in (eventually) 7-part counterpoint. To hear this, of all things, after such a long period of musical starvation, gave a feeling of physical elation which still has not subsided, many days later.