Emmanuel Music is dedicated to enriching the life of the community through the transformative power of music. Expanding on a 45-year tradition of presenting weekly Bach cantatas in a liturgical setting, we perform concert repertoire from baroque to contemporary in large and small ensembles, inviting audiences to explore and discover familiar and unfamiliar masterworks. The commitment and discipline of performing together more than 50 times a year nurtures a core of established and emerging musicians and fosters unparalleled artistic excellence. In our outreach we are committed to training the next generation of musicians, mentoring young students, and inspiring broad audiences in free concerts, lectures, and master classes.
The Craig Smith Years, 1970-2007
In 1970 Craig Smith founded Emmanuel Music to perform the complete cycle of sacred cantatas by J.S. Bach in the liturgical setting for which they were intended. The entire cycle of more than 200 cantatas has been performed twice, and the tradition continues today. These weekly cantata performances have created a close-knit and artistically excellent ensemble of vocal and instrumental musicians.
Craig Smith believed in developing the careers of promising young musicians. As he put it, “In creating a nurturing environment for artistic development, Emmanuel Music has always crossed generational lines, with young musicians rubbing shoulders in rehearsal and performance with more experienced players and singers. Over the years, we realized that the works of Bach in particular are the best training for the musician's technique and soul.” Smith had a good eye for talent and gave musicians opportunities to develop their skills. As a result, many Emmanuel musicians have become among Boston’s best, sought after by other local ensembles. Several, including Sanford Sylvan, James Maddalena, and the late Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, became renowned at the national and international level.
Beyond providing occasions for musicians to perform both as ensemble players and soloists, the weekly cantatas create special opportunities for musical exploration. In Smith’s words, “The sheer number of performances of Bach, Mozart, Handel, Schütz, and others by our small core group of performers has made for our unusual unanimity of viewpoint and synergetic rapport. This group of musicians, who have been together for so long, has created an ‘Emmanuel style’ that is recognizably different from the usual sight-reading of the music. Our musicians are in this journey with me: they are giving us the results of their exploration and wrestling with this often difficult material. In the world of classical music, many of the concerts we hear are familiar works rehashed. By the very nature of our projects, that does not and will not happen here. EveryEmmanuel performer's life is enriched by the exploration of music this great. Every audience member is in turn changed by this exploration of the literature.”
Early in its history Emmanuel Music began presenting a wide range of concerts outside the cantata repertoire, from large-scale and operatic works by Bach, Handel, Schubert, and Mozart, to smaller-scale but in-depth explorations of chamber works by composers including Debussy, Brahms, Schubert, Schumann, and Beethoven. Highlights include the 2006-07 season when Emmanuel Music performed the three Handel Ariosto operas, Orlando, Ariodante, and Alcina, and the seven years of Schubert chamber concerts, when Emmanuel Music performed most of the songs, chamber, and piano works. Such concert performances extended the musicians’ range and reached out to ever-widening audiences.
Emmanuel Music has also engaged in much ground-breaking collaboration with leading artistic visionaries. Craig Smith and Mark Morris presented a choreographed setting of Handel’s L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato and Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas; Emmanuel Music continues to perform with the Mark Morris Dance Group. Smith and stage director Peter Sellars presented the three Da Ponte Mozart operas, Così Fan Tutte, Don Giovanni, and Nozze di Figaro, in contemporary urban settings that challenged operatic conventions of the time. Emmanuel Music singers were featured in key roles. Smith, Sellars, and Lorraine Hunt Lieberson collaborated on staged settings of two Bach cantatas, Ich habe genug and Mein Herz schwimmt in Blut. The performance, later recorded, was an award-winning CD.Under Craig Smith’s leadership, Emmanuel Music became a significant and valued part of Boston’s musical life. The ensemble has won critical and popular acclaim for its music, perhaps summed up best by Jeremy Eichler of The Boston Globe: “He (Smith) instituted weekly performances of Bach Cantatas at Emmanuel Church, and his charismatic presence drew a committed core of local musicians to the ensemble at the same time as his expansive programming established Emmanuel Music as a hub of local concert life.” And John Harbison described Craig Smith’s special gift by saying, “A typical Craig Smith performance was evidence of his great trust in the performers he had chosen, which is a great part of the reason performers loved working with Craig. Detail came from Craig’s opening the performance to their imaginations.”
The John Harbison Years, 2007-2009
Upon the death of founder Craig Smith in 2007, Pulitzer Prize-winning composer John Harbison stepped in as Acting Artistic Director, with the collaboration of Michael Beattie, who retained his role of Associate Conductor. Both musicians had been involved with Emmanuel Music for many years, and both were committed to continuing the tradition that Craig Smith began.
In the words of Executive Director Pat Krol, “John’s generous offer to anchor Emmanuel Music while a full search took place for a new Artistic Director gave a stability and continuity to the organization. He deliberately made artistic decisions during his term that helped to pave the way for new artistic leadership while respecting the integrity of the Emmanuel ensemble.”In these difficult transition years John Harbison and Michael Beattie kept the ensemble together and ensured that Emmanuel Music maintained its level of musical excellence through the weekly tradition of Bach cantatas, and a continued exploration of innovative programming. Highlights included two performances of the St. Matthew Passion (Craig Smith’s final wish and for Emmanuel Music a posthumous tribute to its founder) and one season featuring two of the most radically innovative composers of their times, Franz Josef Haydn alongside Arnold Schoenberg.
The Ryan Turner Years, 2010 - the story will continue. . . .
A two-year search ended in March 2009 with the selection of Ryan Turner as the second Artistic Director of Emmanuel Music. Turner is a testament to Craig Smith’s philosophy of developing young talent: he performed as a tenor with Emmanuel Music since 1997 and was chosen by Smith to conduct a number of cantatas, particularly in the last year of Smith’s illness. Turner recalled his training under Smith: "He would tell me, `Watch out for that soprano entrance here, and make sure the altos can be heard there.' I felt like I was getting the keys to the kingdom.”
In larger ways Turner is a talent nurtured by Emmanuel Music and deeply steeped in its traditions. His guiding principle comes directly from the founder: "Part of the genius of Craig Smith as a conductor and musical architect is that he had the uncanny ability to inspire and enable artistry around him. He saw the bigger picture, and he created a space for people to make music. That's the biggest thing I hope to take from Craig's legacy, a philosophy of enabling great artistry."
Turner has begun to put his own stamp on Emmanuel Music’s programming. In addition to the large Bach choral works that he plans to keep in repertoire, Turner has introduced the music of Stravinsky, ending his first season with The Rake’s Progress, an opera in the style of Mozart that Smith never had his wished-for chance to perform.