URBANA — A Champaign native and recent University of Illinois graduate in music has created the Urbana Bach Cantatas Project, the first professional choir in Champaign-Urbana that will be accompanied by an orchestra of a dozen or so musicians, all performing on period instruments from the 1700s.
"These specialist instrumentalists, who are university faculty, advanced graduate students and professionals, will come from all over the country to present this wonderful music," said founder Christopher Holman, who just received a bachelor's degree from the UI in organ and vocal performance.
"The eight singers are along the same lines — university faculty and professionals," he said. "We have somebody from Princeton, Montana, New York. We have a couple of people from Illinois Wesleyan and Millikin."
The Urbana Bach Cantatas Project — Holman is its music director as well — will offer three concerts this summer, all free and all starting at 5 p.m. at First Presbyterian Church of Urbana, 602 W. Green St. The first will be next Sunday.
Holman is paying the musicians — the Urbana church is co-sponsoring the new venture, and so are the East Central Illinois Chapter of the American Guild of Organists and individual donors such as M. Gay Roberts and Chester "Chet" Alwes, founder and director of the Baroque Artists Ensemble of Champaign-Urbana.
Free-will offerings will be taken at each event to support the new series.
The concerts actually are vespers, or evening prayer services, presented in a context similar to their original presentations during the time of Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750).
The vespers will focus on his sacred cantatas — extended works for instruments and voices, choral motets and psalms. Organ and orchestral works as well as music by Bach's contemporaries also will be presented.
The vespers are not considered performances but instead services with participation by the audience, or congregation, with spoken responses and sing-alongs of hymns from Bach's time.
— June 29, Vespers for the Second Sunday after Trinity, featuring chorus, orchestra and organ, with cantata "Die Himmel erzhlen die Ehre Gottes" ("The heavens are telling the glory of God), BWV 76.
— July 13, Vespers — music for solo soprano, featuring 2014 Krannert Center Debut Artist Alexandra Nowakowski singing cantata "Mein Herze schwimmt in Blut" ("My heart swims in blood"), BWV 199.
— July 27, Vespers — music for the meeting of the town council, featuring chorus, orchestra and organist Christopher Holman, with cantata "Wir danken dir, Gott, wir danken dir" ("We thank you God, we thank you"), BWV 29. Holman is a 2010 alumnus of The High School of St. Thomas More in Champaign. He plans to attend graduate school in organ performance and literature this fall at the Moores School of Music at the University of Houston.
Holman, a 22-year-old Champaign native, began playing piano at age 10. He had a church job when he was 11 at Shiloh United Methodist, outside Mahomet, and enjoyed playing the organ there.
In high school, he became acquainted and studied with UI organ Professor Dana Robinson and became interested in Baroque music. He applied at several colleges but decided to remain at Illinois, where he worked with Alwes and harpsichord Professor Charlotte Mattax, who directs an early music ensemble at the UI. For more information, see firstpresurbana.org/bach or call Holman 417-0979.