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Dandan (Jingfei) Wang: 2017 winner of the Australian Bach Society Award

Congratulations to 11-year-old Dandan (Jingfei) Wang who was awarded the 2017 ABS Award at the Melbourne Recital Centre's Bach Competition.

Dandan commenced her violin study at the age of three and she has been a student of Fintan Murphy since 2014. She joined the Melbourne String Ensemble in 2015 and has played solo Mozart Concerto with the Ensemble at its annual Concerto Concert in 2016, Dandan also enjoys performing chamber music. She was a finalist at the Melbourne Recital Centre 2016 Bach Competition.

Dandan's winning performance was Violin Partita No.3 in E, BWV 1006, I Preludio and III Gavotte en Rondeau.

More about the Competition
Winners in other categories are listed on the Melbourne Recital Centre website.

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Robert Costin's complete recording of 'Well-tempered clavier' released on 3 February

In July 2016, nationally and internationally acclaimed Robert Costin (UK) delighted us with his performance of the 'Well-tempered clavier, Book I' on organ at the Christ Church, South Yarra. We are pleased to announce that a complete recording by Robert is now available on Spotify and at iTunes and Amazon. Well worth checking out!

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Going East first, then to Brazil, the New World and the Future: a preview of the Australian Bach Society 2017 program

We are excited to announce the Australian Bach Society program for 2017. There is a line-up of accomplished local and international performers delighting us with works by J.S. Bach and many other composers:

  • During the month of March 2017, in a world premiere, Dr Mark Smith rediscovers the St. Matthew Passion: J.S. Bach ‘Funeral Music for Prince Leopold of Anhalt/Koethen’ BWV 244a. 
  • In April, Pavel Kohout from Prague, delights us with an organ recital themed 'Bach and The New World' 
  • Professor Friedemann and Alexia Eichhorn from the Franz-Liszt Conservatorium in Weimar/Germany take us to the 'future' with a violin concert which also features Din Din Wang, Winner of the 2016 Bach Competition – ABS Encouragement Award.
  • In June ABS will again this year sponsor the ABS Encouragement Award 2017 as part of the Bach Competition, Melbourne Recital Centre.
  • Around July/August, we are going 'East' with piano recitals by Dr. Roman Salyutov from St Petersburg and Cologne 
  • In September, Telemann meets Piazzola, Granados and Hebrew when Ester Schöpf (violin) and Norbert Groh (piano) take us on a musical journey. The same month, Bach continues the journey to Brazil when Friedemann Wuttke performs on the guitar. The September program is rounded off with J.S. Bach ‘Orgelmesse’ – Third Part of the Clavier Uebung (Organ Mass) expanded by chorale hymns, arranged by Jennifer Chou from the Toorak Uniting Church.
  • In October, as part of the 500 Years Reformation celebrations in 2017, Roland Voit from Hagen, Germany will play the organ at the Toorak Uniting Church. 
  • In December, ABS is proud to again present the J.S. Bach ‘Weihnachts-Oratorium’ (Christmas Oratorio) which has become a regular feature of the ABS program.

Check details on our 'Upcoming events' page. Some dates and venues still need to be confirmed so it is best to sign up to e-news to receive regular updates.

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And the winner is Din Din Wang

At Melbourne Recital Centre’s Annual Bach Competition on Sunday 26 June 2016 the Inaugural Australian Bach Society Encouragement Award was presented to 10 year old Din Din Wang (violin) who played J.S. Bach’s Partita No. 3 in E (BWV 1006), Preludio & Loure so superbly.

Now in its seventh year, the Melbourne Recital Centre’s Bach Competition is dedicated to young musicians who are aged 17 years or under with a passion of music of J.S. Bach. The ABS Encouragement Award was awarded for the first time this year as part of ABS' mission to ‘support talented young musicians'. The Australian Bach Society Encouragement Award carries a cash prize of $500 plus a concert engagement within our Annual Concert Series.


The Award was presented by our Hon. Treasurer Rebecca Nowak pictured her with Din Din. In her laudatio Rebecca said:

'It is so enthralling to witness so many young musicians develop their skills and their appreciation of Bach, and to dedicate their time to something that is so demanding yet rewarding. Especially when there are so many competing demands on your time! But I think after watching today, it has all been well worth it, plus such a great opportunity to perform on stage with your proud family and friends watching. I therefore hope that this encouragement award is not only financial, but a token of appreciation for your work in music, the music which reminds you of the wonder of life, and the incredible marvel of being a human being.'

Din Din is currently studying violin with Fintan Murphy. She has been determined to be a professional violinist since she was 6. Bach is her favourite composer and she is obsessed with playing his music. Din Din loves performing in public. She has accomplished her Grade 8 AMEB exam with High Distinction and she is working on her A.Mus.A. Din Din is a member of the Melbourne String Ensemble (MSE).

Congratulations once again to Din Din Wang! We will see and hear her at the Bach to the Future violin concert on 8 April 2017. The 2017 Bach Competition will be on 25 June 2017 at 3pm at the Melbourne Recital Centre.

Photo credit: Michael Christian

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The Mozart connection

Mozart, during his first and only visit to Leipzig remarked enthusiastically after listening to J.S. Bach’s motet 'Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied' ‘Now, there is something one can learn from’. And so he did!

After Bach’s death his music was almost forgotten. His memory was kept alive only in Leipzig and a few other little pockets of reverent admiration. In April 1782 Mozart wrote to his father: “Every Sunday at 12 I go to Baron van Swieten (President of the Court Commission Studies in Vienna) and there we play nothing but Händel and Bach. I am just building up a collection of Bach fugues – by Sebastian as well.  One of the most important phases in Mozart’s creative development begins with these Sunday afternoons in van Swieten’s home. Alfred Einstein writes: “For Mozart the encounter with these compositions resulted in a revolution and a crisis in his creative activity. He was too great and fine a musician not to feel deeply and painfully the conflict produced when his habit of thinking in terms of gallant and ‘learned’ music was shaken by the encounter with a living polyphonic style and other fundamental elements of Bach’s music.’ Mozart began by copying out and rearranging some of Bach’s works, went on by composing fugues in Bach’s style, and from there gradually blended that style into his own in a more and more personal way.

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Funeral music for Prince Leopold – a precursor for St Matthew Passion

Klagt, Kinder, klagt es aller Welt (Cry, children, cry to all the world), also called Köthener Trauermusik (Köthen funeral music), BWV 244a was probably composed by J.S. Bach throughout 1727 and 1728 for Leopold, Prince of Anhalt—Köthen. The music is lost, but the libretto survives. As Bach is known to have used musical material which also appeared in his St. Matthew Passion, it has been possible to make reconstructions. One reconstruction attempt was made by Dr. Mark Smith from Adelaide in 2001 and deposited in the Bach Archive Leipzig. We have asked Mark to write this story:

This funeral music was a fitting conclusion to a relationship important to both Bach and Leopold. However, it is also music that has come to us second-hand, imperfect, and poorly understood. Leopold had symptoms of a chronic illness already at the age of 20, and his portrait by J.C. Müller of 1724 shows a man who appears much older than his 29 or 30 years.

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First Rock, than Baroque: 
My unorthodox journey to western music’s greatest composer

By Robert Macfarlane (Leipzig)

While putting together my program for the Australian 
Bach Society’s concert ‘The Path to Bach’ on 7 May 2016, 
as the snow gently falls on Bach's Leipzig outside my 
window, I took a moment to reflect on my own path to
 his unique genius. For me there were two clear 'light bulb
 moments' and a good deal of luck that brought me to
 this seminal music.

The first of two ‘light bulb moments’ that led me to Bach,
 and classical music generally, came when taking my first
 singing lessons in my last year of high school. My generous 
and patient teacher struggled to find something that
 would interest me: I'd grown up playing rock music in 
the garage, and songs from hit musicals and light classical
 repertoire did absolutely nothing for me. It wasn’t
 until he threw me a few songs from Schubert’s masterpiece
 Winterreise that I finally saw something in Classical 
Music which thrilled me in ways that not even the
 Rock music of my childhood could. I immediately dove 
head first into this tremendous wealth of song literature,
 and six months later auditioned successfully for the 
Bachelor of Music at Adelaide’s Elder Conservatorium.

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Secure your tickets now for Schemelli Songbook on 7 May

Robert Macfarlane, an Australian tenor now residing in Leipzig will perform Schemelli Songbook and liturgical music of Weimar/Leipzig – with John O’Donnell (harpsichord) and Laura Vaughan (viola da gamba) at the German Lutheran Trinity Church. Tickets can be booked online.

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Did you know that Bach had a good sense of humour?

If you have a closer look at the above painting (the only true portrait), you discover that Bach is holding the sheet of music upside down. Bach had a very good sense of humour and liked surprising his audience which we can see in this painting: the canon on the sheet of music doesn’t show only three but six voices. As a beholder we can see three voices (at least the more experienced ones amongst us) and from Bach’s perspective, he can see another three.

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Visual symbolisation: how Bach illustrates the ecclesiastic context of his compositions

In several compositions such as in the St Matthew’s Passion or the St John’s Passion for example, Bach uses the crucifixion symbol in his notes to refer to the sufferings of Jesus Christ by means of visual symbols. A four-note motif is used, in which the first and the fourth note are the same or almost the same, whereas one of the two notes in between is higher, the other lower; thus he reminds of the crucifix.

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Thank you, Nikolaus Harnoncourt!

The Australian Bach Society would like to pay homage to Nikolaus Harnoncourt, who passed away on 5 March 2016 in Salzburg at the age of 86. An unparalleled interpreter of Bach, one of the great conductors of baroque music and a pioneer of historically informed performance. While still a student, Harnancourt took a great interest in old music and historical instruments. He collected systematically a set of suitable instruments, brought together a highly qualified ensemble of musicians and, in 1953, founded the ensemble CONCENTUS MUSICUS. 1962 was the year of the great breakthrough into the field of records: Harnancourt played the Brandenburg Concerts in the original version and with original instruments. This was followed by St. John Passion, Mass in B-minor, St. Matthew Passion and the greatest recording project in the history of records: all of Bach’s cantatas.

Thank you, Maestro!

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Ensemble Nobile: an interview with the five 'noble lords'

Ensemble Nobiles was founded in January 2006. The five young singers met during their nine-year education as members of the St. Thomas Boys Choir Leipzig. Their repertoire ranges from late medieval mass songs to modern age works. They are: Paul Heller (*1991) - Tenor voice  + Christian Pohlers (*1989) - Tenor voice + Felix Hübner (*1991) - Baritone voice + Lukas Lomtscher (*1989) - Bass voice + Lucas Heller (*1991) - Bass voice

The five ‘Noble Lords’ present themselves in this interview (provided by Sascha Hille) published in the ABS Newsletter No. in February 2015

What was the reason for founding Ensemble Nobiles? 

Paul: As a special treat for one of our Thomaner teachers at a Christmas party, a few classmates got together to form a male-voice choir. 

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HIP – another buzzword in musical performance? An interview with Rachael Beesley

Rachael Beesley is one of Australia’s finest violinists and a highly sought after concertmaster, director and educator. Internationally known as a leader in Historically Informed Performance (HIP), she has worked with some of Europe’s most distinguished ensembles. Since returning to Australia in 2009 she has been involved in a growing number of projects, the most recent a very rare soloistic performance of J.S. Bach’s ‘Mass in B minor’ by The Song Company and chamber ensemble Ironwood combined featuring one voice per part vocal scoring.

ABS Committee Member Meredith Beardmore spoke to Rachael. The Australian Bach Society is very grateful to Rachael for this interview.

What drew you to Historically Informed Performance?

As a performing musician, I am constantly studying and researching composers and the performance practices of the times, as well as discovering and rediscovering repertoire on period instruments. By learning about and absorbing the history of the music, I enjoy the challenges this creates as well as the versatility this gives to me as a performer and the ultimate affect on audiences. 

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'Homage to Bach': Composition Competition for Guitar

The Classical Guitar Society of Victoria in collaboration with the Australian Bach Society launched the 2013 Composition Competition ‘Homage to Bach’. More than 30 works were received but there can only be one winner. Michelle Nelson (VIC) was awarded first prize. Runner-up was Tom Adeney (QLD).

We invited Michelle Nelson to write about her piece:

‘The Guitarist’s Bach’ is a homage to the so-called ‘Lute Suites’ of J.S. Bach, composed for the modern classical guitar. It is modeled on the forms and musical style of those eponymous works and uses two well-known motifs as the starting point for the whole suite. It also features several structural, harmonic and textural references that experienced guitarists and lovers of Bach’s music will recognize. The suite, in E Major, comprises a Prelude, Courante, Sarabande, Bouree and Gigue. The two phrases that it is built on appear within the first 4 bars. The first is a 5/4 adaptation of the opening to Bach’s prelude in the prelude of BWV 1006a, and the second is a clear reference to the opening of Suite, BWV 997. 

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A Bach cello journey: going 'walkabout'

After 5 years of studying in the United States at Northwestern University in Chicago and the renowned Juillard School in New York, Australian cellist, Richard Narroway, will return to his homeland to complete a project revolving around the Bach cello suites.

For four weeks in May and June of 2015, Narroway will travel around Australia performing and presenting the entire Bach Cello Suites in all kinds of spaces - including concert venues, schools, public markets, churches, and shopping malls - in an effort to spread the music of Bach via performance and education. Traveling with him will be a team of highly qualified sound recordists and videographers, who will work with Richard to put together a high-quality video recording of the suites as well as a documentary-style production of the journey. 

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C.P.E. Bach's 300th anniversary: A genius musician

8 March 2014 marked the anniversary of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach’s birthday.  Johann Sebastian Bach's second eldest son is the most important representative of the sentimental movement in music. The sentimental movement finds itself at home in between the baroque epoch and the classical movement from Vienna. C.P.E. Bach's body of work is incredibly diverse. It includes a variety of musical styles of instrumental music, including symphonies, chamber music, piano sonatas, pieces for solo instruments as well as ecclesiastic and worldly vocal music

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'I can't imagine life without Bach' - an interview with Graham Lieschke

St Johns Southgate recently celebrated a milestone, presenting the 100th different Bach cantata in its popular series. Professor Graham Lieschke, Director of Music at St Johns, reflects on this vast achievement.

Professor Lieschke, you’re a clinical and research haematologist. You’re internationally renowned for your research into blood disorders and cancer, yet you’ve also received the Dame Roma Mitchell Churchill Fellowship for your work with the music of J.S. Bach. How do you find the time?

My profession is in medicine and medical research but I’ve always had a passionate love of music, and particularly the music of Bach. Through school I studied organ and accompanied the choir. I grew up next door to a Lutheran church and went to a Lutheran boarding school, so I played regularly for the church. Then I went to university, where I became the organ scholar at Ormond College under Douglas Lawrence. From my first days there, I started playing at St Johns. It’s been an intense passion outside my career. So I don’t know how I find the time but I can’t imagine life without music, and certainly not without Bach.  

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J.S. Bach and Gottfried Silbermann: two giants in the world of organ music

Johann Sebastian Bach worked for more than 25 years in Leipzig, one of the most significant cities for trade and commerce in Germany during his time. Gottfried Silbermann, who is without a doubt the most well-known organ maker of Bach’s days, was born only a couple of years earlier than Bach. 

Silbermann spent more than 40 years of his life in the old mining town of Freiberg, 30km south-west of Dresden, the royal capital of Saxony.  Freiberg’s earlier fame, which was based on the discovery of silver in 1168 and the tremendous wealth that followed, had faded by Silbermann’s time. 

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The Dean of St Paul's Cathedral Melbourne's love for Bach

The new Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral in Melbourne, German-born historian, musician and Bach scholar Dr Andreas Loewe (pronounced Lerver), recently spoke to Roland Ashby about his faith, his plans for the cathedral and his love of Bach.

“[…] He also believes God’s love can be expressed powerfully through music, not least in the music of J.S. Bach, about whose St John’s Passion he has written a theological commentary, to be published later this year. In his book, he describes Bach as ‘a preacher in sound’. He draws on the comments which Bach recorded in his own copy of the Bible in support of his thesis that Bach, a devout Lutheran, was theologically aware. The composer noted in his Bible that ‘In sacred music, God is always present in his grace.’ So what did Bach understand the purpose of sacred music to be?

‘Bach sees that there is a grace-filled presence wherever people make music to praise God, and that is something that very clearly comes out of the Lutheran tradition. Martin Luther himself was a very competent musician; he was a singer, a lute player and a music theorist. He was someone who also really appreciated the proclamatory, hermeneutical and homiletical dimension of music. Luther saw music, and hymns in particular, as a vehicle for making his reformation message known; a message of grace freely given. Therefore he deliberately fostered music education, of which Bach was a prime recipient. So it is no wonder that Bach stepped into this tradition where music is seen as an incredible channel for the word of God to be made known.

‘Bach saw that music can be transformational, and that music that reflects on the love of God can bring others to ponder that love. That is made clear again and again in the words of his cantatas: that there is a personal response that is expected of us to this great act of love in Jesus Christ’.

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How the St Matthew Passion came to Australia

An academic symposium on the first Australian performances of the J.S. Bach's St Matthew Passion, initiated by the Australian Bach Soceity, was an event long wished for by the musicologists Dr Janice Stockigt and Dr Samantha Owens.

On 15 September 2012, several leading early music scholars gave a fascinating insight into the first Australian performances of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion. Dr Andreas Loewe (photo), Chaplain of Trinity Col-lege, asked an audience of some 50 people “What happened to lead to a Melbourne performance of this previously unknown work being la-belled ‘the greatest of all the holiday gatherings’ in 1875?” According to Dr Janice Stockigt from The University of Melbourne, Mendelssohn’s resurrection of Bach, together with reports published in The Musical Times, had sparked British interest, which in turn influenced Australia. “The concert illustrates the rapidity with which Melbourne society emulated what was seen to be in vogue in England,” added Stockigt.

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