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A baroque celebration

Profile image for By Lucinda Breeding / Features Editor
By Lucinda Breeding / Features Editor

Bach society to perform composer's Christmas oratorio

Prof. Henry Gibbons, a retired University of North Texas music faculty member who still commands the Denton Bach Society, said the upcoming performance of a beefy Bach Christmas oratorio feels like a real accomplishment.

“This is Bach at the peak of his powers,” Gibbons said. “It was written in the 1730s, after the passions and all this choral music that he wrote. This is his best work, and it’s about a happy subject matter, something that Bach didn’t do a lot of at that point.”

The accomplishment, Gibbons said, is performing the oratorio in a single performance. Das Weihnachtsoratorio – even the Denton Bach Choir and Denton Bach Players call the piece “the Christmas oratorio” – is made up of six cantatas and backed by a big baroque orchestra. Sung as a single concert date, the music lasts more than two hours.

Gibbons said it’s most common to hear the cantatas performed separately.

“To my knowledge, no one has done this in its entirety since I’ve been here in the Dallas-Fort Worth Area,” he said. “I heard the piece in its entirety once in New York City, but I never did get to hear it in Germany. This piece is done pretty frequently in Germany – it’s as popular there as Handel’s The Messiah is here.” Gibbons said he knew the chorus could work up to the cantatas, and he already had a reliable pool of talented soloists to tap into. For this performance, soloists are: soprano Heidi Dietrich Klein, alto Dianna Grabowski, tenor Derek Chester and bass Aaron Harp. 

“And this would have been impossible without the collaboration of Denton Bach Players,” Gibbons said. “Musicians are coming in from all over to take part of this. And I’m talking about Cleveland, Albuquerque, Austin and Wyoming. We have people flying in because they want the chance to perform this music.”

The players is the core group of baroque musicians who accompany the Denton Bach Choir, the society’s chorus, on historical instruments. The players recruited the additional musicians needed to round out the 23-instrument orchestra. The piece calls for trumpets, oboes, flutes, timpani and a number of historical strings.

What can attendees expect? An oratorio with a narrator, called “the evangelist” and operatic elements that take the listener from the birth of Jesus to the shepherds in the field, to the shepherd’s adoration of the child in Bethlehem, to the prologue of the Gospel of John. The oratorio then moves to the circumcision and naming of Jesus, and finally to the journey and eventual adoration of the Magi.

Because the performance will be in the Winspear Hall in the Murchison center, the society will use supertitles to narrate the German text in English.


LUCINDA BREEDING can be reached at 940-566-6877. Her e-mail address is



What: Christmas oratorio of six cantatas by J.S. Bach

When: 3 p.m. on Dec. 9

Where: Winspear Hall at the Murchison Performing Arts Center, 2100 Interstate 35 frontage road

How much: $20 for adults. $12 for students