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St Johns Southgate

12 Nov 2013

Expectation and excitement are always rising fast by the third Sunday in Advent but at St Johns this year spirits will be positively soaring.

On December 15, in the heart of Southbank, Brett Dean’s The Annunciation will have its Australian premiere – with the composer himself conducting.

The cantata, which was commissioned as part of the 800th anniversary celebrations last year for the Thomanerchor, the famous choir of St Thomas in Leipzig, Germany, once directed by Johann Sebastian Bach.

Dean was one of five eminent contemporary composers asked to produce new works in the Lutheran cantata tradition. His commission was for a Christmas work.

The result was The Annunciation, which was first performed last December in the Thomaskirche by the Thomanerchor and the Gewandhaus Orchestra under the direction of the Thomaskantor Georg Christoph Biller.

St Johns, through the Bach cantata program directed by Dr Graham Lieschke, has established strong connections to the Thomanerchor and Dr Biller. The performance of the The Annunciation strengthens those connections and, at the same time, brings them closer to home.

Brett Dean, one of the most internationally performed composers of his generation, is an Australian and a former artistic director of the Australian National Academy of Music in South Melbourne. He still lives at least part of the year in Melbourne. The text of 

The Annunciation is a poem by Melbourne poet Graeme William Ellis.

In his composer’s notes Brett Dean writes:

“We wished to capture something of the sense of drama and darkness out of which the Christmas story and the miracle of Christ’s birth emerges. Graeme directed me to the Old Testament’s star prophecy, the first reference in scripture to Christ’s eventual birth (‘A star will come out of Jacob.’ Numbers 24:17). From this starting point, our work then uses the story of the three kings as both vehicle and metaphor for this journey from dark to light.”

Dr Lieschke, director of music at St Johns, believes St Johns makes the perfect setting for the first performance in Australia of  The Annunciation. He sees the congregation’s established cantata program and its close connections with the Thomanerchor as providing the performance with a sense of occasion and the liturgical purpose that was integral to the work’s conception and its performance in Leipzig.

The Annunciation for choir and small orchestra (three clarinets, three horns, harp, three violas, three cellos, two double basses) will performed at St Johns’ 9 am service.  The choir will be formed from the Choir of Trinity College and the Consort of Melbourne.

Michael Leighton Jones will be chorus master.  And, of course, in charge will be Brett Dean himself.

The performance has been made possible with support from two local philanthropic bodies, the Robert Salzer Foundation and the Vizard Foundation.

Excitement is already mounting and seats are sure to be in high demand. Join us at St Johns on December 15.

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