Leipzig and a United Germany (Alleluia!)

Guten Tag! Today is the day that my spectacular conductor friend and I board our plane and fahren nach Deutschland. We’ll arrive in Berlin in the middle of the day (but it will feel like the middle of the night!) and then travel by bus to the Hauptbahnhof, or train station, in Leipzig. Leipzig is a relatively small but vibrant city filled with incredible historical significance—and not just to the music world. 

A few blocks from the Hauptbahnhof and directly across the cobblestone street from where we stayed in 2010 and 2012 is the St. Nicholas Church, or the Nikolaikirche. The architecture and acoustics are stunning, and many of Bach’s compositions were debuted or performed there, both during his tenure as Cantor of the Thomaskirche and after his death in 1750. The sanctuary is slightly smaller than that of the Thomaskirche, but the building itself is an enormous symbol of hope and possibility. After World War II, the city of Leipzig was right in the middle of communist East Germany and a state of cultural and religious derision. Speaking against the oppressive communist rule was dangerous, but in the late 1980s and early 1990s, East Germans felt die Wende begin to shift, and a desire for an end to economic and societal oppression led to peaceful protests in the form of Monday night meetings that began in Leipzig’s very own Nikolaikirche. News of the Monday Meetings spread via West German television and the Western world took notice. The Berlin Wall fell. Germany was officially reunified in 1990. 

The Hebrew word of praise “Alleluia” is often used as a term of celebration, and Leipzig’s place as an igniter for German peace and freedom makes it the perfect place to sing it. The Bach Choir will perform two settings of the text, both acapella but in contrasting styles. Randall Thompson’s “Alleluia” received its first performance of many on July 8, 1940, a time when the world needed musical comfort. The four-part setting starts slow with long, sweeping phrases and entrancing rubato. Later, the tempo and the choir find a celebratory voice, a glimmer of light in darkness. In 2013, Jake Runestad, a 29-year-old modern composer, used that same text for his energetic, mixed meter romp that finds a moment of peace near the halfway point. 

Now, as I pack my music in my carry on (for in-flight score study, of course), I look forward to making musical magic in a magical city. 

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