The following is part of a 6-part series of articles about ABS’s
“Bach’s Legacy” concerts coming up on April 25-28, 2014.
Swedish composer Sven-David Sandström enjoyed an international breakthrough in 1972 when his orchestral work Through and Through was performed by the Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam two years after its premiere in the composer’s homeland. From that point, leading musical assemblages worldwide have performed his compositions making him one of Sweden’s leading composers. Within contemporary choral music, Sandström’s music occupies a unique position that is both firmly rooted in the traditions established by predecessors like Bach, Mendelssohn, and Brahms, yet also rigorously twenty-first century modern.
American Bach Soloists first performed one of Sandström’s works in May 2005 for “Sonic Tapestries,” an all-choral program that presented different approaches to consonance and dissonance in works by William Byrd, John Tavener, Arvo Pärt, and others. On that occasion, Jeffrey Thomas and the American Bach Choir performed Sandström’s Agnus Dei and it made a terrific impression on audiences and critics. San Francisco Classical Voice commented, “The final piece, Sven-David Sandström’s Agnus Dei, was the clearest example on the program of a contemporary composer’s upsetting the traditional hierarchy of consonance and dissonance. Because the choir performed the piece with such virtuosity and ease, however, the difference in dissonance treatment in this piece seemed like just another change of color. The slow collapsing of the dissonant final chord into triadic consonance was exquisite.” ABS performed Agnus Dei again in 2008 as part of the “Vocal Visionaries” program along with Sandström’s setting of Henry Purcell’s “Hear my prayer, O Lord.”
“I think that everyone who heard our performances of Sandström’s Agnus Dei, and certainly every singer who participated in those concerts, has never forgotten the experience. Sandström’s deep admiration, even love, for Bach’s music is undeniable. Like Bach, he knows how to elicit an exact and specific emotional response from his listeners. He understands how we hear music and how we equate unrestrained willingness on the part of performers to reveal the music to their audiences with a safe and promising invitation to let ourselves go as we experience the sweeps of passionate authenticity that are such a great part of all of Sandström’s works.”
– Jeffrey Thomas
Central to Sandström’s output of vocal music is a series of six motets composed after Bach’s originals. For “Bach’s Legacy” (April 25-28), Jeffrey Thomas will direct the American Bach Choir in Bach’s Komm, Jesu, komm (BWV 229) and Sandström’s 2005 setting. Utilizing the text and spirit of Bach’s motet, Sandström’s is a meditative work for the twenty-first century. It reinterprets the original with a different melodic and textural approach, yet retains the expressiveness and moving quality associated with the original.
“Bach’s Legacy” will feature juxtapositions of extraordinary compositions by Bach with those of later composers. Along with dual versions of Komm, Jesu, komm, Bach’s setting of the chorale Verleih uns Frieden ganädiglich will be performed alongside Felix Mendelssohn’s version, and Bach’s Komm, süßer Tod will be paired with a setting by Knut Nystedt. We hope you will join us as we explore these fascinating connections and celebrate the Legacy of one of music’s greatest inspirations.