LIVE REVIEW // Joseph goes to see Bach, the Universe & Everything


Bach, the Universe & Everything — Stepping on to the Cosmic Path
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
Kings Place in London, 13 November

Picture the scene: a looming fog blankets London on a cool November morning, obscuring the sky above. Meanwhile, a metaphorical open window to the universe and its wonders was manufactured through a mesmeric program of baroque repertoire and insightful talks. This was exactly the scenario at Kings Place in London on Sunday 13 November.

Kings Place in London has been the venue for the series Bach, The Universe and Everything since October this year, with this November concert Stepping on to the Cosmic Path being the second monthly instalment. The concert series is performed by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. With baroque music known for its contemplative and meditative qualities, it was an apposite choice of music for the premise of reflecting on the divine expanse of the universe.

The program consisted of repertoire by Johann Gottfried Walther (Das alte Jahr vergangen ist), Thomas Tallis (A New Commandment), J.S. Bach (Tritt auf die Glaubensbahn), and Georg Philipp Telemann (Sonata in F for Recorder, viola da gamba and continuo), as well as a reading of an extract from Last and First Men by Olaf Stapledon.

All the complexities of intricately woven harmonies, stimulating polyphony, elegantly timed cadences — and the antique tone colours of period instruments such as viola da gamba, violone, and baroque oboe — were the ideal acoustic blend, suiting the pensive atmosphere of the concert. The Christian iconography imbued within the lyricism of the repertoire, such as the line “We thank Thee, O our God, today That Thou hast kept us through the year When danger and distress were near” (translated from German) from Bach’s Tritt auf die Glaubensbahn, or “If you have love one for another. By this shall all know That you are My disciples, If you have love one for another” from Tallis’ A New Commandment, lent itself well to the intent of thinking beyond our immediate physical or material existence. There was even some audience participation led by OAE chief executive Crispin Woodhead in singing a verse in German.

Between two performances, respected British astrophysicist Professor Chris Lintott treated the audience to a small lecture and a slideshow of photographs taken through telescopes and from satellite images. Photos included landscapes from Mars, star formations and Earth as seen from afar.

The underpinning theme of the repertoire, slideshow, and of course the reading from Stapledon’s novel was the human tendency to wonder and contemplate the larger forces which exist far beyond our comparatively small existence. There was a refreshing sentiment of thinking about God and the universe from both a scientific and religious viewpoint. As an audience member, both ways of thinking worked as one entity. Furthermore, Professor Lintott jokingly commented on the prospect of an alien visit — they would not be asking questions over physics or engineering, as their interplanetary voyages would presumably render them far advanced in this arena. If anything, they would be interested in our culture; our music, our religious beliefs, our practices and our art. This thought, albeit strange, was a stirring and almost poignant one.

This captivating program of baroque music, intertwined with the human condition of wonder, was enlivening indeed.

Images supplied. Credit Emma Jane.

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