Germantown choir to perform Bach’s ‘Magnificat’

by Michael Caruso
Posted 5/23/24

"Bach's 'Magnificat' is undoubtedly one of his most fun and most challenging pieces for a choir to sing."

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Germantown choir to perform Bach’s ‘Magnificat’


John Walthausen will conduct the Oratorio Choir of the First Presbyterian Church in Germantown and a period instruments ensemble in a performance of Johann Sebastian Bach's "Magnificat" on Sunday, June 9, at 3 p.m. The church is located at 35 W. Chelten Ave. in the Germantown section of Philadelphia. A free-will offering will be collected.

"Bach's 'Magnificat' is undoubtedly one of his most fun and most challenging pieces for a choir to sing," Walthausen explained. "The choral writing is consistently virtuosic and speaks with extraordinary power and energy.

"During Bach's lifetime," he continued, "the 'Magnificat' was one of the liturgical texts that people would have known best, as it was sung as a hymn most Sundays of the year at evening services. Bach's setting of this text was most likely written for a festive occasion, such as Christmas, Easter or Pentecost, when he would have had the fullest complement of singers and instrumentalists available."

The concert will bring together the church's Oratorio Choir with excellent soloists and a period instruments orchestra comprised of some of the best players in the region.

Philadelphia Ballet

Philadelphia Ballet closed out its 2023-24 season with a stunning double-bill May 9-12 in the Academy of Music. The program opened with George Balanchine's "The Prodigal Son," set to the music of Sergei Prokofiev. After intermission, the ensemble danced Sir Frederick Ashton's "The Dream," set to Felix Mendelssohn's acclaimed incidental music to William Shakespeare's comedy, "A Midsummer Night's Dream."

Although the moniker of the latter work was the program's "title number," it was "The Prodigal Son" and its performance that most impressed me Saturday evening. Choreographed by Balanchine for Sergei Diaghilev's Ballets Russes in 1928-29, its libretto by Boris Kochno takes a few liberties with Christ's parable as told in the New Testament's Gospel of St. Luke. Yet it remains faithful to the story's intent – the tale of a rebellious young man who forsakes the security of his family for the high life of "wine, women and song." Needless to say, he comes to regret his decision and returns in full penitence to the bosom of his father.

Just as "The Prodigal Son" stole the evening, so too did his portrayer steal its performance. Newly named principal dancer, Ashton Roxander, cut a striking figure as the rebellious son – initially a bundle of pent-up energy refusing to conform to the staid family life surrounding him, eventually a broken body and spirit desperate to return to a world in which he is safe. His meticulous yet bounding technique enabled him to express both emotional extremes while his surpassing acting talent provided him with the wherewithal to communicate to his audience all the conflicting feelings of joy and sorrow without uttering a word.

Roxander was surrounded by an excellent cast. Sydney Dolan was superb as The Siren who seduces the innocent boy and her supporting retinue were delightfully wicked.

Ashton's choreography suits the exuberant score by Mendelssohn, which suits Shakespeare's delightful romp of fantasy in an enchanted forest. Isaac Hollis was a captivating Puck, the instigator of the Dream's mix-ups, proffering lighter-than-air virtuosity that delineated his penchant for creating chaos. Yuka Iseda made an elegant if foolish Titania while Sterling Baca was a noble and sweeping Oberon.

For more information about Philadelphia Ballet’s 2024-25 60th anniversary season call 215-551-7000 or visit

Local Conductor

Chestnut Hill's Donald Meineke is fast becoming Philadelphia's "choral czar." He is both the artistic director of Choral Arts Philadelphia and the director of music at the Episcopal Church of the Holy Trinity, Rittenhouse Square. Over the weekend of May 11 and 12, he led Choral Arts in a superb performance of Henry Purcell's "Dido and Aeneas." He followed that triumph by leading a moving performance of "One Faith – Many Voices: Hail, Full of Grace" at St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Church, 24th and Poplar Streets in Fairmount.

Based on Virgil's epic poem, "Aeneas," which details the founding of Rome, Purcell's version is one of the earliest operas written in the English language. Meineke masterfully conducted an ensemble comprised of Choral Arts, the Philadelphia Bach Collegium, and soloists soprano Jessica Beebe as Dido (the Queen of Carthage), soprano Rebecca Myers as Belinda (her sister), and bass-baritone Steven Berlanga as Aeneas (Prince of Troy and founder of Rome).

Beebe's performance was particularly noteworthy for her dramatic delivery of the text, her expansive range, the clarity and sweetness of her tone, and the regal stature she brought to her portrayal. Myers sang with impressive authority but Berlanga's singing was pale and strained.

Meineke was equally memorable as leader and tenor soloist at St. Nicholas Church in a repertoire that spanned the centuries as well as the Eastern and Western musical traditions honoring the Blessed Virgin Mary. He was ably joined by soprano Clara Swartzentruber, alto Robin Bier, and bass Doug Yocum. I only wished that the program had been longer.

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