With our next Tryon Concert Association’s event being Calmus Ensemble on December 12, 2017, I wanted to get board member Kym Mahnke’s take on what treats lie in store for us. We sat down for a discussion, which I hope our bloggers will enjoy! Kym: Hi Rex! It’s good to sit down with you again, and to talk about Calmus Ensemble. Rex: Kym, when I read that Calmus Ensemble is from Leipzig, Germany, I thought about two things. First, the upcoming concert is just another example of Tryon Concert Association bringing in “world-class” talent from far off places. But I also remembered that you and your wife, Susie, traveled to Leipzig a few years ago on a sort of musical pilgrimage. I thought this might be a chance to generate another interesting conversation about music, or whatever. Kym: Rex, nothing would be more fun than to talk about Leipzig, and the amazing cultural background of that city. The fact that Calmus Ensemble is based there has a lot of significance. Rex: Well, why don’t you start by telling our subscribers something about Leipzig, and its musical traditions. Kym: Sure, Rex. Leipzig may not be on everyone’s “A-list” of cities to visit if they are going to Europe for the first time. It is in eastern Germany, in the area known as Saxony. The other major city in Saxony is Dresden, only about an hour away by car. Dresden has always been the seat of past kings, and today remains the capital of Saxony. Leipzig, on the other hand, is a city that was founded by trade merchants. Its trade fairs date back for centuries. The Leipzigers are proud of that tradition, and have always been fiercely independent. Your readers might not know or remember that it was in Leipzig that the first great demonstrations occurred in the former communist East Germany that led to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. In this regard, Leipzig was to Germany what Gdansk was to Poland. The beginning of the end of the Iron Curtain. Rex: Really! I did not know that. But what about Leipzig and music? Kym: Well Rex, I wanted to give you that background to make a point. Typically, for centuries, music was patronized and supported financially by royalty. Although in Saxony the court was in Dresden, and the King certainly supported music there, the Leipzigers, being prosperous themselves due to the merchant trade, felt that they could culturally compete and have great music themselves. Between both the town and the big churches, they were able to do just that. Rex: Kym, when I think of Leipzig, I think of Germany’s greatest author, Goethe, and of Johann Sebastian Bach. Wasn’t Leipzig the place where Bach spent a large part of his life? Kym: Rex, you are exactly right! Goethe’s greatest work, the famous Faust, is set in Leipzig. And for the last 27 years of his life, Bach was employed as the Cantor for the great St. Thomas Church there. Interestingly, Bach was not just responsible for the music at St. Thomas. He was also responsible for the music at five Lutheran churches across the entire city, including that at the famous Leipzig University, and also directed the University’s student ensemble there, the Collegium Musicum. Rex: You are kidding me! Responsible for the music at five churches at the same time? How is that possible? Then, there is also all the music he was composing at the same time! Kym: Rex, as you might guess, even Bach was not able to be in five different places at the same time. St. Thomas had at that time, and still has today, a boarding school, the famous Thomasschule (St. Thomas School). The school’s students served as the boys choir for the church, but also for the other churches in the city. Bach selected talented students, who were called “Prefects,” to assist in the direction of the music at the various churches. One of the most disruptive times in Bach’s life was a period when the leader of the town council (the entity that hired Bach, not the church) tried to tell Bach who the Prefects should be. You can just imagine! In any case, the members of Calmus Ensemble are all graduates of the St. Thomas School. One of its members, countertenor Sebastian Krause, was a Prefect! What a tradition! Rex: So when you and Susie visited Leipzig, was it to chase down Bach’s ghost? Kym: Well, partly. You know, there are a lot of other musical ghosts to chase down in Leipzig. Felix Mendelssohn, during the 1830’s and 1840’s, became the most famous musician in Europe while conducting the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, the world’s largest orchestra today in terms of personnel. Robert Schumann wrote his greatest compositions, especially the great piano music, during his Leipzig years (our subscribers will hear arguably Schumann’s greatest piano work, his Fantasy, at Stephen Hough’s piano recital in late January). The great opera composer, Richard Wagner, spent formative years there. We wanted to chase down all these ghosts— and we did! There are museums in Leipzig and surrounding environs that pay homage to all of these composers. If you know something about classical music, you cannot help but be overwhelmed by this great tradition. Rex: So, help us tie together a little more about how Calmus might be tied to this great tradition. Kym: Well, as you know, Calmus Ensemble consists of four men and one woman. What an interesting combination! The range that combination gives them allows them to sing and arrange almost anything. Combine that with the musical skill and training they acquired at the St. Thomas School and other music schools in Germany. While at St. Thomas, they could stroll across the street to the Bach Museum there and see, in Bach’s and his students’ original hands, the actual authentic original handwritten parts for the voices and instruments for many of Bach’s cantatas and other music (no copy machines in those days!) They can walk into a room at the side of the nave in St. Thomas Church and see the actual string and wind musical instruments that Bach owned or used for the performances of his music. They can walk into the actual houses, and into the very rooms, where Schumann and Mendelssohn composed their greatest works. How can that environment not affect someone’s musical core? Subscribers with good memories will remember that we had Calmus Ensemble on the series back in 2012, when they sang the works of the Leipzig composers we have mentioned, and others. We are particularly excited about this concert because it comes at Christmas. Their program will reflect that emphasis, and we anticipate it will be loads of fun. A night not to be missed.