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St Johns Southgate

12 Feb 2015

By Malcolm Schmidtke

Pass by St Johns any time soon and you are bound to feel the buzz – and hear the music – of big things happening.

The church at the heart of Southgate has a new pastor, Tom Hoffmann, and he begins his ministry this month.

Coinciding with his arrival is the build-up to another big year of music, featuring special performances and the renowned St Johns Bach Choir and Orchestra.

On the face of it, Tom Hoffmann’s move from very rural Maitland on the Yorke Peninsula in South Australia to the very centre of Melbourne might seem almost too much of a wrench. But it is actually a return to the familiar.

Pastor Tom was vicar at St Johns for nine months across 2009 and 2010 under the tutelage of the man he replaces, Pastor Ian Vainikka. The two are close friends.

Wider Melbourne is also very familiar to him. Tom grew up and went to school in the outer eastern suburbs. So, it should be no surprise that he is also smitten by AFL football: Melbourne footy club, no less. He, wife Kari, also from Melbourne, and their children, Eliza and Theodore, will have no trouble settling in.

Tom says he found the people of St Johns warm and welcoming five years ago and is excited by the challenge of leading them in reaching out to the people of Southbank and the wider community. He believes it is a task for which he is well equipped. Pastor Tom’s installation will occur at 2pm on the 15th of this month.

At the 9am service on the same day, St Johns Bach Choir and Orchestra will perform its second cantata for the year.

The music program at St Johns led by Dr Graham Lieschke, which is a key part of the congregation’s engagement with the wider community, has a rich offering this year.

While Dr Lieschke’s main focus in 2015 is, as always, the Bach cantata program, in which the wonderful music of J.S. Bach is presented in the context of worship as intended by Bach, among the highlights this year will be a performance that includes no cantata.

On March 8, the prize-winning Ensemble Nobiles from Germany will sing a capella (unaccompanied) music for Lutheran worship in the 9am service at St Johns. This group of five young men are all former members of the famous Thomanerchor, the St Thomas Boys Choir of Leipzig.

This service will conclude with Georg Christoph Biller’s motet on Luther’s chorale prayer for peace “Verleih uns Frieden gnädiglich”, a performance of which Biller himself conducted at St Johns in 2006.
Thomaskantor Biller, who was the 16th successor of Bach in that position, recently announced his retirement.

Highlights of the Bach cantata program, which features St Johns growing collection of specialist baroque instruments, range from the intimate but intense BWV159 “Sehet, wir gehn hinauf gen Jerusalem”(“Behold, we go up to Jerusalem”) on February 15 at 9am to the powerful BWV193 “Ihr Tore zu Zion” (“The gates of Zion”) for Ascension Day vespers on Thursday May 14 at 7.30pm.

As well, on Trinity Sunday, May 31, at 9am, St Johns collaborates with students from the University of Melbourne’s Early Music Studio in the presentation of BWV71 “Gott ist mein König” (“God is my King”). The performance features a large orchestra, including recorders, three trumpets and timpani. This work is notable as the only cantata published in Bach’s lifetime.

It is a rich program for a challenging but exciting year at St Johns.

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