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In support of low-rise

St Johns Southgate

17 Jul 2012

On the face of it, there is not much to link the small church nestled in the heart of Southbank to the ancient European cities of Leipzig and Freiberg and to Boston and New York but step inside some Sunday soon and you are likely to hear the evidence.

St Johns Southgate is steadily gathering renown for its program of services featuring the magnificent music of JS Bach.  What may not be quite so well known are the strong links with the Bach community in Europe and the United States.

The St Johns Visiting Music Director program is testimony to the strength and great value of these links. In the past decade, three church musicians of international standing have been hosted at St Johns, including Georg Christoph Biller the Thomaskantor from Leipzig, Germany – the job held by Bach himself more than 260 years ago. The other visiting directors have been Albrecht Koch, Domkantor from Freiberg, where he is custodian of a precious 1714 Silbermann organ, and Thomas Schmidt, from St Peter’s Church in New York City.

Links with Leipzig are particularly strong. Thomanerchor, the famous boys’ choir of St Thomas founded in 1212, performed at St Johns under the direction of Georg Christoph Biller, during the choir’s visit to Australia in 2009.

The connections have been established and fostered by St Johns director of music Graham Lieschke as part of the St Johns Bach cantata program, which is now in its 15th year.

In 2004, Dr Lieschke’s energy and passion for Bach was rewarded with the Dame Roma Mitchell Churchill Fellowship to study church-based presentations of Bach’s music overseas.  He chose to go to Boston in the United States, where he worked with conductor Craig Smith at Emmanuel Church, and to the Thomaskirche in Leipzig, where he formed a strong relationship with Georg Christoph Biller.

In subsequent visits to Germany, Dr Lieschke has pursued his long-time interest in historic organs and has had the opportunity to play on many, including the surviving organs of Gottfried Silbermann, grand examples of which are in the Freiberg Dom and the Dresden Hofkirche. He also played on many smaller versions which are similar in size to the Smenge organ in St Johns.  Although the Smenge was built only in 1992, it is constructed in the style of organs built in north Germany in the 18th century. Dr Lieschke said the experience had made him aware of how fortunate the community at St Johns was to have such a fine organ.

He has also taken an international approach to other instruments at St Johns, which now has two hand-made oboes da caccia from Sand Dalton in the United
States and two new baroque timpani hand-built in Germany.

Dr Lieschke has deservedly won wide recognition for the strength of the St Johns’ cantata program, in which about eight cantata services are presented each year and this, in turn, has attracted eminent musicians to take part in the performances.

This is the case with the next cantata, to presented at the 9am service on July 29. Ich lasse dich nicht, du segnest mich denn
(BWV 157), a cantata for two soloists, strings, oboe, flute and continuo will feature the renowned  oboist  Geoffrey Burgess. The Australian-born Mr Burgess, who is now based in the United States, is with the American Bach Soloists.

However, the connections are local, too, with the cantata program recently involving collaborations with the Choir of Trinity College, University of Melbourne, Consort
of Melbourne, Australian Chamber Choir and the Early Music Studio of the University of Melbourne.

All of this makes a visit to a cantata service at St Johns a great experience and a link to a whole world of Bach.

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