Bach’s Mass in B Minor: a triumphant anniversary celebration for the ISM

April 30, 2024

The Yale Institute of Sacred Music celebrated its 50th anniversary on April 27 in grand style. A glittering performance of Bach’s Mass in B Minor provided the capstone to a multi-day celebration, and simultaneously commemorated the end of David Hill’s tenure as conductor of Schola Cantorum. At the conclusion of the concert a passionate audience cheered David Hill, Schola Cantorum, and the Institute of Sacred Music. The same concert will be performed in late May and early June on a tour of six cities in England and Scotland.

The performance was engaging throughout. Hill is a master at pacing and texture. Articulation was crisp, tempos were lively but not rushed, and choral filler lines diminished to make each new entrance clearly audible. Members of the chorus never flagged, masterfully executing challenging movement after challenging movement. Instrumental accompaniment and decorative duets were provided by the period orchestra Juilliard415. Vocal solos by Juliet Ariadne Papadopoulos, Sandy Sharis, Michaël Hudetz, and Fredy Bonilla contrasted elegantly with the full chorus.

The ISM has a special relationship with Johann Sebastian Bach—his cantatas, passions, and motets are often sung by Yale ensembles, and for 35 years the Yale Camerata concluded its annual Advent concert with the “Dona nobis pacem” from the Mass in B Minor. It seemed fitting for that same “Dona nobis pacem” to close David Hill’s Yale career and to honor the ISM’s first half-century.

The ISM has one more large-scale event planned for its anniversary year, a hymn festival on the theme “All Creation Sings.” That ecumenical festival will be held on Sunday, May 5, at 4 p.m. in Woolsey Hall. The event is free and open to all.

Photo: Harold Shapiro