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A fresh take on Bach

Silvia Lauppe / gswJune 27, 2014

The 2014 Bachfest Leipzig reached out to young people with programs for the whole family and a stage for young players. A German-Polish youth orchestra gave two concerts, from which DW presents recordings.

The German-Polish youth orchestra playing in Leipzig
Image: Bachfest Leipzig/Gert Mothes

During rehearsals, the young musicians gathered at the Saint Thomas Church in Leipzig only had to turn their heads to see the bronze plaque on the floor marking Johann Sebastian Bach's grave.

But there was little time for musing on the building's rich musical history. Instead, all eyes were fixed on conductor Tomasz Adamus in the run-up to their big debut at the Bachfest.

Long and intensive rehearsals preceded the performance, with frequent repetitions of individual passages. Leipzig offered them a chance to demonstrate all that they've learned as part of the Bachfest Leipzig's Orchestra Academy project.

The members of the German-Polish youth orchestra performing in Leipzig
The Bachfest performance took place in Saint Thomas ChurchImage: Bachfest Leipzig/Gert Mothes

Finding a common voice

The young talents met for the first time in Poland at a music center near Krakow bearing the name of Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki. There, they barely had three days to learn their program.

"The entire time, we just rehearsed, ate and slept," recalls Polish cellist Pawel Czarakcziew.

Many ensemble members kept working on the pieces even after the rehearsals ended. Violinist Caroline Müller from Leipzig says, "People's proficiency differed a lot in the beginning, and we had to get used to each other first."

The musicians spent the week before their Leipzig performances southwest of the city in Colditz Palace, where they refreshed the program and fine-tuned details. The music was coming together more and more, as was the ensemble as a whole.

"Of course, you still have the German and the Polish groups - there are a lot more of the Polish players than there are of us," Caroline Müller said. "But in Colditz, we had a lot of free time and could get to know each other. We even learned a little bit of Polish."

Conductor Jan Tomasz Adamus, performing in Leipzig
Jan Tomasz Adamus led the orchestra before and at their concertImage: Bachfest Leipzig/Gert Mothes

That marks the fulfillment of an important goal for the Bachfest's Orchestra Academy project. Aside from promoting musicianship from an early age, international exchanges are supposed to be at the core of the program.

"Culture brings people together," as conductor Jan Tomasz Adamus puts it. "And at the academy, young people play with one another and sense they're working together on something. That's good, and that's important."

At the Bachfest

The musicians needed team spirit, because of a demanding program that included Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 5, a concerto by Telemann, a sinfonia by the Polish late Baroque composer Jan Engel and two sinfonias by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach. The youth orchestra performed the pieces on June 15 for the fourth time, following two concerts in Poland and a performance at Leipzig's central market square.

"If someone had told me a couple of years ago that I'd be playing at the Bachfest in Leipzig, I would've laughed out loud," says cellist Pawel with a grin. "Now we're here, and I'm pretty excited."

A video screen at a Leipzig square displays the performers
The orchestra also performed outdoors ahead of their Bachfest gigImage: DW/R. Fulker

The group's nervousness was perceptible right up until the concert. But the tricky passages went off without a hitch, and the intonation was almost always spot on. Applause and cries of "Bravo!" filled the church after the final notes.

The Polish and German players have since packed their bags and gone home, taking a wealth of new experiences with them. Oboist Magdalena Sulkowska says she discovered her love of Bach by taking part in the Orchestra Academy. "Previously, I hadn't played very much Bach. But now that I know him better, I love his music! I think we should play him much more often and take pleasure in it," she said.

The audio files below were recorded on June 15, 2014, by DW in Saint Thomas Church in Leipzig. The German-Polish Orchestra Academy performs under conductor Jan Tomasz Adamus.