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For the hundredth time, the Toulouse Baroque Ensemble plays the cantatas of Johann Sebastian Bach

Launched with the project of introducing the public to the complete 200 cantatas of Bach, at a rate of approximately one per month, the Ensemble baroque de Toulouse is giving the 100th on Sunday, 17 years after the start of this lifelong adventure.

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For the hundredth time, the Toulouse Baroque Ensemble plays the cantatas of Johann Sebastian Bach

Launched with the project of introducing the public to the complete 200 cantatas of Bach, at a rate of approximately one per month, the Ensemble baroque de Toulouse is giving the 100th on Sunday, 17 years after the start of this lifelong adventure. .

“Without a doubt, there was from the start the somewhat stupid idea of ​​a challenge that would oblige us over the years, of a loyalty of the musicians but also of the public”, remembers, mischievously, Michel Brun, the founder of the Baroque Ensemble and instigator of the project called Cantatas sans filet. “And it became a reality,” he rejoices.

Since then, the ensemble has played the cantatas voluntarily and free of charge one Sunday afternoon a month approximately, outside of school holidays, the ritual having only been disrupted by the Covid pandemic. And this long-term challenge is coupled with another particularity: these recitals invite the public to participate.

The name Cantate sans filet is explained by the fact that it is only rehearsed in public an hour and a half before being played, that it is explained by Michel Brun, and that the audience is invited to sing the final chorale of each.

The idea is thus to evoke the conditions of the time of Johann Sebastian Bach, when the latter, chapel master in Leipzig (eastern Germany) had to compose urgently and have his musicians learn these works accompanying each Sunday liturgy. “These cantatas are masterpieces, but somewhat secret masterpieces,” specifies Michel Brun. Only 200 of the 300 that Bach composed between 1723 and 1750 have survived the centuries until today.

For violinist Véronique Delmas, who was in the first of the cantatas and played most of them, Bach “brings people together around something that goes beyond us even if we are not believers”. “There is a spirituality in his music that brings people together and when the whole audience sings the chorale at the end, it’s still magical,” she told AFP.

For each cantata, several hundred people fill the Saint-Exupère church, a baroque building in the city center. And this is what excites the flautist Frédéric Naël, recent director of the Tarn conservatory who joined the adventure a few months ago to, above all, democratize access to classical music. In the usual baroque audience, there is a “sorting by age and social category”, he laments, while in the cantatas, “there is no such filter”.

“It’s extremely varied,” adds his companion Laurence Martinaud, first violin. Every time there are people standing at the back, we say to ourselves: it works! This music is accessible to everyone.

In 17 years, there have been very strong moments: the first, cantata 72, given twice on the same day due to too many crowds, or 147 of which the choral Jesus, that my joy remains is the best known of all. “That day, 1,300 people attended the cantata” in the Saint-Étienne cathedral in Toulouse, says Michel Brun. “And when I turned around to make the audience sing, I felt like I was taking a huge slap from music, I was shocked to tears.”

Harder episodes also almost interrupted the project, such as the death in 2013 of Laurent Pellerin, concertmaster of the Ensemble, first violin of the Orchester du Capitole, husband of Ms. Delmas and co-initiator of the cantatas with Mr. Brun . The latter also almost stopped last year, judging the reduction in the Ensemble's subsidies incompatible with the pursuit of its mission.

But at 67 years old, he will finally hold the baton for the 100th performance of the cantatas on Sunday, No. 100, played exceptionally at the Halle aux Grains (2,200 seats), the usual hall of the Orchester du Capitole. While waiting for the 200th...

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