This April, we welcome renowned Baroque specialist and conductor Jane Glover to the teak walls of Jones Hall to lead the orchestra in a spirited Easter weekend program highlighting Bach’s sacred cantatas. During his lifetime Bach composed over 200 church cantatas, quickly solidifying his reputation as a gifted composer. Also included on this program is his Suite No. 2 in B minor, which was composed during his brief tenure writing secular work, and his Concerto in C minor for Oboe and Violin. Providing her thoughts on this concert weekend, guest conductor Jane Glover shared the following insights on what audiences can expect from this program.
Houston Symphony: Can you provide a brief description of the role of a cantata in telling a narrative musically? What distinguishes a cantata from an oratorio?
Jane Glover: A cantata is a kind of mini-oratorio, or sacred concerto, in that it conveys a Christian message but on a much smaller scale than an oratorio. Bach actually wrote over 200 of them, almost all of which were relevant to a specific liturgical occasion. A cantata consists of several contrasting sections, and generally involves a choir. But there are some magnificent solo cantatas too, two of which we are doing here.
HS: You were last with us for our annual performance of Handel’s Messiah in 2018, along with mezzo-soprano Elizabeth DeShong, and you are also a leading expert on Handel’s works. What is your personal relationship with the music of Bach? Do you find many similarities between the two composers?
JG: Bach and Handel were both giants! They were born in the same year—1685—just a few weeks apart, and indeed just a few miles apart, but they never met. They did though have enormous mutual respect. Bach’s output was largely liturgical music—including of course his two mighty Passion settings and the B minor Mass—and instrumental music, while Handel is mainly remembered for his dramatic music, both opera and oratorio, and instrumental music. It would be simplistic to say that Bach was the intellectual and Handel the showman because Handel had a huge intellect and Bach could certainly be a showman too. Bach does challenge his performers, and his audiences too, with an intensity that few other composers do. I personally am in awe of him and learn from him all the time.
HS: Bach wrote an astounding number of cantatas in his lifetime. What makes the two featured on this program particularly appropriate for Easter weekend?
JG: We should have been performing Bach’s Easter Oratorio and Magnificat, but these large-scale pieces with choirs are not possible at the moment. So, we replaced these with two solo cantatas to reflect the mood, not just of Easter devotions, but perhaps too of the world situation at large and our needs for reassurance and the rediscovery of joy. Cantata 170 brings an extraordinary sense of peace and Cantata 51 is exuberant praise.
HS: How involved were you in the programming of this concert?
JG: We frame these two cantatas with instrumental works which will feature some of the Houston Symphony’s great principal players as soloists.
HS: Which piece are you most looking to conducting?
JG: All of it!
Revere in the poignant majesty of Bach on April 2 & 3 with the Houston Symphony. In-person and livestream tickets are on sale now.