Anne Midgette's holiday gift you can't put a price on: Bach cantatas

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Bach's sacred cantatas are a gift that keeps on giving. He wrote more than 300, of which around 200 survive; chances are, you know no more than a handful of them. They generally represent a high and consistent level of inspiration: a cornerstone of the output of one of the greatest composers who ever lived. And you can hear a cornucopia of them every year, absolutely free.

So give the music lover in your family the present of Bach. Hand-draft a gift certificate entitling the bearer to attend the Washington Bach Consort's season of free noontime cantatas, 50-minute concerts on the first Tuesday of every month at the Church of the Epiphany downtown. This professional chorus, which J. Reilly Lewis founded in 1977, cycles through Bach's entire sacred cantata output systematically (performing 215 of them). It took 16 seasons to get through the cycle once, whereupon it started over again, in 2007, with original instruments, juxtaposing them with works on the church's Aeolian-Skinner organ.

If you want to add a more Christmassy flavor to your gift, throw in some musicmaking of your own: Take the recipient along to listen to or join in the holiday caroling in the Rotunda of the National Gallery of Art on Dec. 19 and 20.

The Bach cantatas will be performed Dec. 1, March 2, April 6 and May 4 at 12:10 p.m. at the Church of the Epiphany, 1317 G St. NW, 202-429-2121,

-- Anne Midgette

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