In this issue: Bach’s Opening Chorus from Cantata 66, Erfreut euch, ihr Herzen performed by Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists;  Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “You’ll Never Walk Alone” from Carousel performed by Brittany Howard; “Billie’s Boogie” performed by Preservation Hall Jazz Band and Billie & DeDe Pierce; Mahler: “Dancing with the Audience” from Deca Dance performed by Batsheva Dance Company and choreographed by Ohad Naharin; Bernstein: “Make Our Garden Grow” from Candide performed by Kristin Chenoweth, Paul Groves, New York Philharmonic, and Westminster Symphonic Choir

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Now, More Than Ever: Issue 45

Today’s videos spotlight at least two kinds of joy, including the intense satisfaction of participating in a large group effort, where human beings gather with the shared goal of creating something extraordinary; and the happiness to be experienced when individuals of great talent are performing at the top of their craft. For audience members and performers alike, the pleasure can be unsurpassable.

Bach: Opening Chorus from Cantata 66, Erfreut euch, ihr Herzen

English Baroque Soloists
Monteverdi Choir
John Eliot Gardiner, conductor

(This section ends at 8:54.)

Here, in one of his great Easter cantatas, Bach communicates a sense of intense religious joy, but music this stirring and virtuosic can inspire even those who do not share the composer’s deeply held personal beliefs. Bach seems to have been unable to write anything disingenuous—the sentiments expressed here are what he truly believed—and the way he whips everyone up into a sense of shared elation is simply intoxicating.

I can’t find a video of this performance, but here is an audio recording of the opening chorus from my favorite CDs, with conductor John Eliot Gardiner, the English Baroque Soloists, and the Monteverdi Choir. It comes from the artists’ now-famous Bach Cantata Pilgrimage in 2000. This piece can be difficult to get right, but with musicians this skilled, you’re never made uncomfortably aware of just how dangerous Baroque trumpets can be.

Rejoice, you hearts,
Run away, you sorrows,
the savior lives and rules in you.
You can chase away
the mourning, the fear, the anxious trembling,
the savior refreshes his spiritual kingdom.

Rodgers and Hammerstein: “You’ll Never Walk Alone” from Carousel

Brittany Howard, vocals

Brittany Howard has made quite a name for herself as the lead vocalist, guitarist, and main songwriter of Alabama Shakes and Thunderbitch, and it’s easy to see why. As the New York Times has said, “She deftly guides her voice—a divine, soaring, hand-to-hand, declarative, love-soaked instrument only made more expansive in service of herself and her sound alone—through the varying registers of the blues.” Her singing is entirely original and no one would mistake her for anyone else.

I love seeing Howard turn her attention to this ever-popular standard from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s 1945 musical Carousel. This is an abridged version that is currently featured in a major nationwide advertising campaign, so for a reminder of how the song is usually performed, you might want to take a look back to Issue 38 of Now, More Than Ever and check out the South African soprano Golda Schultz’s spellbinding performance in a nearly empty Royal Albert Hall at the UK’s “Last Night at the Proms 2020.”

“Billie’s Boogie”

Billie & DeDe Pierce
Preservation Hall Jazz Band

(If this video doesn’t begin at 3:39, please reset it. “Billie’s Boogie” ends at 9:40.)

What a pleasure to stumble upon this rare filmed performance by Billie and DeDe Pierce, masters of the old-time New Orleans Dixieland/jazz/blues sound and a regular presence on the New Orleans jazz scene (with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band) from the 1950s through the early 1970s. There’s something so joyous about this performance, something so right for this particular moment.

“Dancing with the Audience” from Deca Dance

Ohad Naharin, choreography
Batsheva Dance Company

(If the video doesn’t begin at 17:54, please reset it. This excerpt ends at 27:06.)

Of Deca Dance, Ohad Naharin—the brilliant Israeli dancer, choreographer, and artistic director of Batsheva Dance Company from 1990 until 2018—has said, “[This is] not a new work. It is more about reconstruction: I like to take pieces or sections of existing [dances] and rework [them], reorganize [them] and create the possibility to look at [them] from a new angle. It always teaches me something new about my work and composition.” Batsheva has performed different configurations of Deca Dance since 2000.

This popular section is often part of performances and features individuals plucked from the audience in choreography combining both formal structure and enough space for play by the amateurs onstage. “It could be corny or uncomfortable, but Mr. Naharin has a dry, unsentimental touch that leaves the actions feeling meaningful and poignant, the simplest way of asserting a common humanity [and demonstrating a] consistent fascination with ritual, group activities and the way individuality bursts forth” (The New York Times).

Bernstein: “Make Our Garden Grow” from Candide

Kristin Chenoweth (Cunegonde)
Paul Groves (Candide)
New York Philharmonic
Marin Alsop, conductor
Westminster Symphonic Choir

Is there a more moving or soul-stirring finale to any operetta or work of musical theater than “Make Our Garden Grow” from Leonard Bernstein’s Candide? I certainly can’t think of one!

Candide has a famously tortured history, with one problematic production after another never getting things entirely right. But if problems have plagued the show from the start, blame certainly can’t be cast at Bernstein’s luminous, endlessly inventive musical score. This is from a 2004 semi-staged version that I worked on (along with Cal Performances’ director of artistic planning Katy Tucker) at the New York Philharmonic, initially conceived as a starring vehicle for a preternaturally talented “force of nature” named Kristin Chenoweth. But once he started, director Lonny Price took the ball and just kept running; if the budget grew accordingly, the end result was worth every penny. Along with Chenoweth’s endearing Cunegonde, I’ll always recall with tremendous fondness Paul Groves’ winning Candide, Patti Lupone’s wonderfully campy Old Lady, Sir Thomas Allen’s dignified yet ever-so-lecherous Pangloss, and Jeff Blumenkrantz’s hilarious Maximillian.

Just try to keep a dry eye during the blazing a cappella section that begins at 3:21, when everyone comes together in hope of building something better.

Surely, a lesson for all of us from the best of all possible worlds!

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