Bach - Ascension Oratorio - American International Church, London

The American International Church on Tottenham Court Road welcomed the City Bach Collective for a performance of J. S. Bach's 'Ascension Oratorio' [BWV 11] on Sunday 21st May 2017. The performance took place as part of the 11am service. 

It was directed by the American International Church's Director of Music, Scott Stroman, who also gave an informative and entertaining 'Children's Sermon'. The children came to the front of the church for a good view of the orchestra and Scott Stroman explained about Bach, Bach's music, where he had worked and the instruments he composed for. Several musicians played short musical examples to individually illustrate the sound of their instruments. 

Scott Stroman gave an excellent and accurate description of the period instruments, saying that "these instruments are designed to look and behave something like the instruments that they had at the time". I was pleased that he worded it in this way, because it is honest, clear and succinct, and you could tell that the children understood. Other explainations often include grandiose or misleading terms and some make audacious or bold claims*, and I imagine would leave some children feeling quite perplexed. I really enjoyed his educational and light-hearted contribution to the proceedings. 

I enjoyed playing for Scott Stroman. He perfectly understood our need to breathe (you'd be surprised by how few conductors give you chance to get a decent breath) and he approached the music with flexibility. This helpful flexibility brought a wonderful, perhaps esoteric, sense of impermanence to the music, that I am sure would have been felt in Bach's performances [*audacious claim alert!?]. Playing with elaboration, experimentation and improvisation was encouraged.

I read later that Scott Stroman is involved in all kinds of musical styles, including Jazz. Indeed, he is a Professor in the Jazz Department at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama. Early Music and Jazz share many ideals; both disciplines apply an understood set of conventions to a set of printed symbols to create a certain 'house style'. 

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I played in a section, consisting of: Russell Gilmour (1st Trumpet), William Russell (2nd Trumpet), Gareth Hoddinott (3rd Trumpet) and Barnaby Archer (Timpani).

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As well as performing Bach's 'Ascension Oratorio', the service also included the final chorale 'Darum wir billig loben dich' from BWV 130, which was played instrumentally and then with voices, both from the choir and from the congregation.


Photograph by Josephine Simmonds
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