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Bach’s b-day coincides with concert

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Maxine Thévenot was pleased when she learned of the convergence: The 329th anniversary of Bach’s birthday is March 21, a Friday.

And it happened that the Cathedral of St. John was presenting a series of Friday Lenten concerts this spring.

The result is that audiences will have an opportunity to hear, in concert at the church, Bach’s 13 Lenten and six Easter chorales on Bach’s birthday.

“In Bach’s time, the choir or the congregation would have sung the chorale in unison. But since this is a special occasion, our 16 people will be singing each chorale in four parts as an introduction to the chorale tune,” said Thévenot, Polyphony’s artistic director and director of cathedral music and organist at the church.

In this series concert, Polyphony: Voices of New Mexico will sing a chorale followed by Thévenot playing the same chorale on the church’s organ. In other words, the vocal ensemble and organist Thévenot will alternate back and forth throughout the concert.

“It’s something that’s often done on recording projects but not necessarily in a live environment, in a concert setting,” she said.

The length of the chorales vary, but they’re between two and three minutes each.

“They are sung a cappella but the chorales themselves are not challenging for the choir, not as challenging as Bach’s Christmas Oratorio or even Handel’s Messiah,” Thévenot said. “They’re meant to be contemplative in nature and they’re very powerful in that way.”

She said that the Episcopal cathedral’s organ is the largest pipe organ in New Mexico and it’s considered to be an all-American classic, meaning that music from pre-Bach to modern day can be played on it.

“It just has the color capabilities to emulate organs at the time of Bach,” Thévenot said.