When I began the group now known as Emmanuel Music in 1970, it was for the performance of Bach Cantatas. It was only nearing the end of the first cycle of cantatas when it occurred to me that we should try to perform all of the cantatas at Emmanuel Church, in a liturgical setting as they were originally intended. Initially, there was no idea of completeness. One piece after another would simply occur to me as interesting to perform. The cantatas are like that, all of them fascinating, nearly all of them masterpieces. As great as they are individually, there is something else to be learned by doing them all; they are greater than the sum of their parts. This philosophy guided Emmanuel Music through its initial years.
Since then, we have expanded our detailed studies of a composer's entire body of work to perform a majority of the sacred works of Schütz, all of the Lieder of Schumann, all of the vocal, chamber, and piano works of Debussy and Brahms, completed a seven-year, fifty-one-concert Schubert chamber series, and are embarking this year upon a daring foray into the new musical arena of contemporary music with John Harbison and His World.
Artists of the sort of Schubert, Bach, Schumann, and for that matter all of the composers that have been the subjects of our surveys have changed the course of history. If one believes in the arts as an important, integral part of our culture, then a relatively small list of people has changed the way we are, the way we think. Imagine what our world would be like if the twenty greatest composers, writers, artists, poets, playwrights, and sculptors had never existed.
In the summer of 2000, when six Emmanuel musicians coached young professionals in the arias and ensembles of Bach at the Tanglewood Festival, it quickly became apparent that even without extensive discussion the Emmanuel coaches were in unusual agreement about the meaning and the shape of the music. Our text-driven interest in the overtly expressive nature of the music and our interest in projecting the meaning of the music, as well as the performance, dominates all musical activities at Emmanuel.
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.
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.Barely an Emmanuel performance goes by that does not have some kind of major discovery -- a work that I had seen in a catalogue, had read through briefly at the piano, but never fully digested, never figured out what it meant – that is fleshed out in a fine performance by Emmanuel musicians.