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Reviving Bach: Music of iconic German composer brought to life in long-awaited Dublin shows

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Irish choral conductor Blánaid Murphy, based in Dublin, is conducting a series of Sunday classical concerts for the first time in a decade.

“Dublin was quite famous for doing Bach’s cantatas,” Ms Murphy said.

“There was a great conductor called John Beckett in the 1970s – he always put on Bach’s cantatas. They were revered around the world.

“And then from 2001 to 2010, Linsday Armstrong and the Orchestra of St Cecilia also put on the complete Bach’s cantatas over 10 years.

“So that was a really loved Dublin cultural thing, something that Dublin was well known for. We’ve been wanting to bring that back to life.”

Dublin will see a revival of Bach’s church cantatas with three classical performances in St Ann’s Church on Dawson Street over the next three Sundays, starting tomorrow. The performances start at 3.30pm.

Conductor Blánaid Murphy and producer Germaine Carlos.

It is being done to honour the 18th-­century composer’s tenure as director of music at St Thomas Church in Leipzig, Germany.

“They’re always done in January and February, so we’re doing a set of three concerts,” Ms Murphy added.

“Bach would write a different cantata every week. That was an extraordinary achievement.”

The concerts will bring together some of the best of Ireland’s choral and orchestral community as the artists will perform eight cantatas across three concerts: three cantatas each at the first two concerts, with two cantatas at the last performance.

Bach wrote more than 300 cantatas, but only 200 survive.

“The Bach cantatas are absolute jewels in the choral repertoire,” Ms Murphy said.

“No two cantatas are alike. You can really see the blueprints of some of his greatest masterpieces in these miniature works.

“It’s an extraordinary display of how he was able to be so inventive and so original.”

Ms Murphy founded Dublin Bach Singers in 2002, the acclaimed chamber choir. It, too, will perform in the series.

Blánaid Murphy, Conductor and Musical Director at the Dublin Bach Cantata Series. Photo: Steve Humphreys

She is now the director of the Palestrina Choir at Dublin’s Pro Cathedral and professor of conducting at the Royal Irish Academy of Music.

“I think for most musicians, and definitely for me, Bach is like the master,” she said.

“You feel a sense of real wonder and yet something even very real.

“He had 20 children. He had a very normal life, and then his wife died. It feels, on the one hand, like you’re approaching the work of a complete master, maybe unrivalled in music history.

“On the other hand, there’s something very accessible, comforting, and really uplifting about Bach. It’s a great privilege to be doing it.

“You feel a sense of responsibility because you want to make sure it goes well and that people enjoy coming, and that the series can then flourish into future years.”

The concerts will be performed by the Dublin Bach Singers, Continuum Choir, and Marlborough Baroque Orchestra, with soloists Katy Kelly, Alison Browner, Andrew Gavin and Nathan Phipps-O’Neill. Tickets for The Dublin Bach Cantatas series are €20.

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