For at least the last eighteen centuries, some formula for prayer at the end of the day has been part of the Christian tradition. While no one knows precisely what the earliest form of Vespers looked like or sounded like, certain themes have managed to endure, including confession, gratitude, and light. While Vespers never quite became a significant part of Lutheran piety, that it is still kept at all in the Lutheran tradition may be thanks to one church: the Thomaskirche in Leipzig.
In 1968, as Holy Trinity Lutheran Church marked its 100th anniversary, the church set out to celebrate its history and the rich tradition of music in the Lutheran Church. Drawing from the high level of music performance in the City of New York, a series named “Evenings with Johann S” was established in homage to the twenty-seven years Johann Sebastian Bach served as the Kantor of the Thomaskirche in Leipzig, where most of his cantatas were composed.
Though Bach’s cantatas were generally performed at the primary Sunday morning liturgy in Leipzig, our practice at Bach Vespers imagines what can happen when we juxtapose the ancient tradition of Vespers with the cantatas of the principal musician of the city that helped it endure. As a result, Bach Vespers is the first music series in the Western Hemisphere to present the cantatas of the great Lutheran composer Johann Sebastian Bach within a liturgical context. Since it is a service of worship, Bach Vespers is free and open to the public, with neither tickets nor reservations required.
The 75+ musicians (playing period instruments) who regularly contribute to Bach Vespers are some of the finest early musicians in the nation. Over fifty years, eight hundred worship services, thousands of candles, and two Grammy nominations later, having performed 158 of the 200 extant cantatas, Bach Vespers at Holy Trinity continues this series on many Sunday evenings from October to May.
Whether you identify as faith-filled or not so sure, Lutheran or Luther-who? you are welcome to participate in the singing, prayer, and ritual of Bach Vespers only to the extent you feel comfortable doing so. Welcome. There will always be a place for you here.
Good Friday: BWV 199 "Mein Herze schwimmt im Blut"
March 31st - 5pm
Easter: BWV 4 "Christ Lag in Todesbanden"
April 28th - 5pm
BWV 165 "O heilges Geist und Wasserbad"
May 18th - 7pm
Gala Concert: BWV 232 Mass in B-minor (ticketed event)
Johann Sebastian Bach was 38 years old when he arrived in Leipzig, Germany in 1723 to start his new position as cantor at St. Thomas’s Church. The three years that followed his first three years in Leipzig were a time of intensive creative expression in which he composed many of his key cantata cycles for the liturgical calendar.
To celebrate the 300th anniversary of Bach’s arrival in Leipzig, the 56th Season of Bach Vespers at Holy Trinity marks the enormous promise of that moment with “Becoming Bach,” a season-long program that curates key works of that highly-influential period in Bach’s musical journey.
Bach had great expectations for his new post in Leipzig, and we are the beneficiaries of that extraordinary era. In this role, Bach would finally realize the fullness of his ‘Endsweck’ - his ultimate life’s ambition for a “well-regulated church music for the glory of God.” Without the works presented during the church calendar of 1723-1724, Bach’s legacy would be significantly less gargantuan. Highlights of the anniversary retrospective include Bach’s Magnificat which premiered in 1723, and the Easter Sunday cantata BWV 4 Christ lag in Todes Banden and BWV 199 Mein Herze schwimmt im Blut, which both debuted in the 1724 cycle. Also included will be a number of Bach’s first Leipzig cantatas including BWV 75 Die Elenden sollen essen and BWV 22 Jesus nahm zu sich die Zwölfe. Three unique programs will be presented in addition to the Vespers service schedule; in a tribute to the rich coffeehouse tradition of Post-Enlightenment Europe, Holy Trinity will host a Zimmerman’s Coffee House Experience on the 24th of September featuring favorite musical selections from the Bach Players and Bach Choir vocalists. During Lent, Director of Music at St. Thomas 5th Avenue Jeremy Filsell will be guest organist in a special Vespers service. The pinnacle of the season will be a gala concert presentation of Bach’s B-minor Mass. We can only imagine how thrilling it was to hear these great works in Leipzig for the very first time. At Holy Trinity we can experience what that anticipation and excitement must have been like in the same liturgical setting that Bach would have performed these pieces. Bach’s arrival in Leipzig was an inflection point for liturgical music, and in many ways Leipzig was where J.S. became Bach. We invite our Bach Vespers community to join us for this exploration of Johann Sebastian’s most transformational years.
Anthony Blake Clark is a leading voice among his generation of choral conductors. He is in demand by both amateur and professional choral artists because of his “readily apparent musicality” (Baltimore Sun) and his conviction that lives can be changed by participating in classical music, whether on the stage or in the audience.
Clark has performed with some of the most important ensembles in legendary venues throughout the USA and Europe. He has prepared choral ensembles for prestigious orchestras such as the Rundfunkchor Berlin with the Berliner Philharmoniker, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, ViennaRadio Orchestra, Dallas Symphony Orchestra, and the Richmond Symphony Orchestra for esteemed conductors such as Marin Alsop, Sir John Eliot Gardiner, Fabio Luisi, Mirga Gražinytė- Tyla, and Simon Halsey. He and his choirs have performed at the Berlin Philharmonie, the Vienna Konzerthaus, Symphony Hall Birmingham (UK), St. Martin-in-the-Fields London, The Kennedy Center, and the Washington National Cathedral, among others. Maestro Clark has recently been appointed as the Jean. D Wilson Chair Chorus Director for the Dallas Symphony. After preparing three critically praised programs for the Dallas Symphony Chorus in 2022 and 2023, Music Director Fabio Luisi appointed Clark to become Chorus Director beginning in the 2023-2024 season. In Dallas, Clark administers the choral programs of the Dallas Symphony, preparing the 200-voice ensemble for classical and pops programs. Highlights this season include Brahms’ Ein Deutsches Requiem and Schmidt’s Das Buch mit Sieben Siegeln. The Dallas Symphony Chorus under Clark’s preparation can be seen on Medici TV (Orff Carmina Burana and Catulli Carmina) and DSO’s “Next Stage” streaming platform (Beethoven’s 9th Symphony). At Baltimore Choral Arts, Clark has expanded subscription concert offerings while building a robust community outreach and education initiative. He has consistently received glowing reviews, both for work on the podium and as chorusmaster for performances with the Baltimore Symphony and other area partners. His work with BCAS has been recognized with an American Prize in Choral Conducting and a second nomination for best community ensemble, as well as the Chorus America/ASCAP Alice Parker Award. He annually conducts and produces the celebrated “Christmas with Choral Arts” television concert, first on ABC2 and now on Maryland PBS station MPT, for which the ensemble has received three regional Emmy nominations. Clark has secured invites to several important festivals and collaborations; after a sold-out and enthusiastically received UK tour, BCAS was in residence with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and Chorus for performances of Mahler’s 8th Symphony. Recently, Clark and Baltimore Choral Arts made their Berlin Philharmonie debut with the Freie Universität Orchester. On the same tour, BCAS collaborated with the Vienna Singakademie to perform with the Vienna Radio Orchestra under Marin Alsop. Anthony Blake Clark is also the Artistic Director of Bach Vespers in New York City. In residence at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church on the Upper West Side, the Bach Choir and Players are composed of some of the finest early music professionals in the nation, presenting works of Bach using historically informed practices within the liturgical context of a Vespers service. Anthony Blake’s passion for Baroque historical performance has been able to take flight with Bach Vespers and in the coming season they will present many cantatas celebrating the 300 the anniversary of Bach’s arrival in Leipzig as Thomaskantor, culminating in a performance of the B-minor Mass. He has also served as the James Erb Choral Chair Director of Choruses for the Richmond Symphony Orchestra. Anthony Blake Clark is equally adept in the orchestral field and made his Baltimore Symphony debut in 2021 and made his Richmond Symphony debut in 2022. He has also appeared as cover conductor for the National Symphony Orchestra, assisting conductors such as Ton Koopman, Gianandrea Noseda, Teddy Abrams, Christoph Eshenbach, and Manfred Honeck, and has assisted Marin Alsop at the Baltimore Symphony. Maestro Clark is a passionate teacher and served as Director of Choral Activities at The George Washington University in DC. His university choirs performed at the Kennedy Center and National Cathedral and sang with the Washington Chorus, Baltimore Choral Arts, Naval Academy Glee Club, and the Baltimore and Annapolis Symphonies. Recently he was Guest Conductor/Lecturer for the Westminster Choir College Symphonic Choir. He regularly leads workshops and clinics for school and community ensembles. Legacy and mentorship are paramount to Maestro Clark; he is a mentee of Marin Alsop’s, having worked with her extensively and studied with her at the Peabody Institute in the doctoral conducting program. Mr. Clark completed a master’s degree under three-time Grammy Award winner Simon Halsey CBE at the United Kingdom’s University of Birmingham and considers Halsey his lifelong mentor. During his time in the UK, he embedded himself in the choral life of the UK and sang under the batons of Sir Simon Rattle, Edward Gardiner, and Andris Nelsons, and had opportunities to conduct the London Symphony Chorus and the CBSO Chorus. Other teachers include Simon Carrington (Yale Norfolk Festival, Sarteano Workshop) and Lynne Gackle (Baylor University). An active composer and arranger, Anthony Blake Clark’s music has been performed in Washington DC, London, Oxford, Texas, and at Prague’s Dvorák Museum Concert Hall. In 2022 his new performance edition of Mozart’s Requiem was recorded by Acis Records.