Conductors Caleb Hopkins and Joseph Taff to lead the first Bach Cantatas of the Season

Conductors Caleb Hopkins (left) and Joseph Taff (right)

By Sarah Forestieri and Caleb Hopkins

The Eastman Bach Cantata series begins this Sunday October 7, 2018 at 3:00 pm, with BWV 48: Ich elender Mensch, wer wird mich erlösen (Miserable Man that I Am, Who Will Free Me?), and BWV 8: Liebster Gott, wenn werd ich sterben? (Dearest God, When Shall I Die?) The Bach Cantata series has become a long-standing Eastman tradition since its inauguration in the fall of 2013, with the goal of eventually performing the entire cycle. This series allows Eastman conductors, singers, and instrumentalists the opportunity to delve into this important music. The concerts are performed with one instrumentalist and singer per part, which is considered to be accurate performance practice by many Baroque scholars. Featured performers for both cantatas include Ela Kodzas and Ryan Cheng, violin; Isaiah Chapman, viola; Maurice Cohn, cello; Yue Li, double bass; Yi Xiang, flute; Stephanie Becker and Alex Lynch, oboe; Paul Tingley, trumpet; and Alice Chauqui Baldwin, organ.

First-year choral conducting DMA student Caleb Hopkins will conduct Ich elender Mensch, wer wird mich erlösen. Originally from South Carolina, Hopkins was the Director of Music at Boulevard Baptist Church where he oversaw a fully graded choir and instrumental program and conducted four ensembles. He also served as an adjunct professor at Anderson University, conducting the University Choir and Advanced Women’s Choir. As a vocalist, Hopkins has appeared with professional choirs including the Kinnara Ensemble, Cecilia Ensemble, and Herring Chamber Ensemble, as well as singing behind Kathleen Battle and Andrea Bocelli.

Ich elender Mensch, wer wird mich erlösen centers on thoughts of self-accusation. It was written in 1723 as a part of Bach’s first cantata cycle. In this text, the singer pleas for their soul to be spared and rescued. Scored for scored for alto and tenor soloists, a four-part choir, and a Baroque instrumental ensemble of trumpet, two oboes, two violins, viola, and basso continuo, this cantata will feature soloists Rachel Kobernick, soprano, Alexis Peart, mezzo-soprano, Jeremy Lopez, tenor, and Seoyoung Lee, baritone.

Second-year Master’s choral conducting student Joseph Taff will lead Liebster Gott, wenn werd ich sterben. Taff serves as the Music Director at Mendon Presbyterian Church and sings with the professional choral group, Voices. Prior to Eastman, Taff lived in Oakland, California, where he directed the choir at Santa Teresa Hills Presbyterian Church in San Jose, served as Assistant Conductor of the San Francisco Bach Choir, and taught music in public elementary schools throughout the Bay Area. He has been a baritone soloist with the San Francisco Choral Artists and Bolinas Bay Performing Arts, and a member of the San Francisco Choral Artists. In addition to his singing and conducting, Taff is also fluent in a variety of guitar styles, with a primary focus in electric and acoustic blues.

Bach wrote Liebster Gott, wenn werd ich sterben a year after Ich elender Mensch, wer wird mich erlösen in 1724. BWV 8 takes its name and textual themes from Kaspar Neumann’s hymn, and its outer movements incorporate the tune written by earlier Leipzig organist Daniel Vetter. The middle movements feature a quartet of vocal soloists, with a solo aria or recitative for each, and the cantata closes with a surprisingly polyphonic setting of Vetter’s chorale tune. Taff will be joined by soloists Peiji Huang, soprano, Carolena Lara, mezzo-soprano, Henry Benson, tenor, and Ben Johns, bass.

Don’t miss out on what is sure to be an afternoon of incredible music performed by the talented students of the Eastman School of Music this Sunday, 3:00 p.m., at Reformation Lutheran Church. This event is free and open to the public.