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What could be  the largest orchestra of period instruments ever gathered in Montana will perform four concerts Jan. 18-21 in four cities.

Musikanten Montana will continue the magic of Christmas with an historical musical experience of German composer Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Christmas Oratorio.” It's Musikanten Montana's 16th annual Montana Early Music Festival, Jan. 18-21.

The Christmas concerts will be held in four Montana cities – Bozeman, Butte, Helena, and Missoula.

In 1734, Bach composed the music for the major church festival days of the Christmas Season in Leipzig, Germany.

A 17-member chamber orchestra with musicians from Seattle, San Francisco, Minneapolis, New York, Indianapolis, Denver, and Montana will play period instruments – Baroque oboes, bassoon and traversi (flutes), natural trumpets, gut strings, and historic timpani.

Event organizer Kerry Krebill, artistic director of Musikanten Montana, will conduct the vocal soloists, chamber orchestra, and singers of Musikanten Montana.

In 1979, Krebill formed the Musikanten Montana choir and ensemble that has performed more than 1,000 performances in 31 seasons including at the National Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institution, Kennedy Center, many states, and 19 international tours, including Venice, Buenos Aires, La Plata, and Ayacucho, Argentina.

Krebill said she is excited about these Montana performances of Bach’s “Christmas Oratorio” because they closely match the original performances.

“We have some amazing musicians playing these Baroque instruments; our three trumpets and timpani for the joyful celebration of Christ’s birth, and Bach wrote for four oboe players in these cantatas, playing three different types of oboe – Baroque oboe, oboe da caccia, and oboe d’amore (an “alto oboe” with a more mellow sound),” Krebill said. “The oboes are used especially in the second cantata of the ‘Christmas Oratorio,’ to set the scene of the shepherds watching over their flocks in the fields.”

Krebill said she decided to open the program with Bach’s Cantata 61 “Nun komm der Heiden Heiland” (“Saviour of the Nations, Come”).

“It is an Advent cantata full of longing and waiting, with the wonderful image of Christ knocking on the door, and the beautiful soprano aria “Oeffne dich,” opening her heart to the coming of the Messiah,” Krebill said. “Then the trumpets and drums arrive for the birth – Cantata I of the Christmas Oratorio. That is the first half of our concert. Then after intermission will be cantatas II and III of the Oratorio – the Annunciation to the Shepherds, and the Adoration of the Shepherds at the manger.”

Krebill said she is saving cantatas IV, V, and VI for performances next year.

Carrie Krause, concertmaster of the Bozeman Symphony and a member of Apollo’s Fire and other world-renowned Early Music ensembles, will be concertmaster.

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“This concert will feature a band of early instruments, likely the largest orchestra of period instruments ever gathered in Montana,” Krause said. “Players are coming from across the country to share their specialization, depth of experience, and love of this repertoire.”

Krause said that large-scale works with soloists, chorus, and orchestra are her favorite productions because “the collaboration creates a palpable electric charge.”

“This performance features so many people of varied talents all pulling to breathe life into a masterwork by Bach, something we each love and revere and, as period musicians, have dedicated our lives to realizing” Krause said.

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Organist Keith Reas and cellist Sarah Stone are the continuo players. Vocal soloists are Amanda Balestrieri (soprano), Marjorie Bunday (contralto), Daniel Hutchings (tenor), and Rob W. Tudor (baritone). All are specialists in “music before 1800.”

First oboe player Curtis Foster said it is exciting and rare to have the quality talent and instruments assembled together for the performances.

“It is music of radiant joy, and the perfect antidote to those who may tire of hearing Handel's Messiah every year,” Foster said. “Far removed from the serious, dense Bach known so well through the massive edifices of the passions and many of the cantatas, this is the smiling, gentle, lesser-known Bach that I personally love best, and I think it will be a special treat for audiences around Montana.”

Bitterroot Baroque collaborated with Musikanten to make a performance in Missoula possible.

Alex Shaffer, president of Bitterroot Baroque, said this is the third year of realizing these large-scale Bach works.

“It is a treat to see many of these early music colleagues return to Montana and enjoy making music at such a high level and bring it to four different cities in four days,” Shaffer said “There are some significant challenges, especially for the double reed folks dealing with high altitude and super low humidity. I can’t say it’s not exhausting for the performers, but it’s been very rewarding to experience how much it is appreciated.”

For the Missoula concert, which will begin at 7:30 p.m. on Jan. 20, at St. Francis Xavier Church, 420 West Pine St., purchase tickets at the door for $30 ($10 for students) or pre-purchase them at Chapter One Book Store in Hamilton or Rockin’ Rudy’s in Missoula. For more information call 314-852-5099 or visit online www.bitterrootbaroque.org.

Additional evening concerts are at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 18, at Holy Rosary in Bozeman and Friday, Jan. 19, at Immaculate Conception in Butte. The final festival concert will be performed at 4 p.m. on Sunday Jan. 21, at the Cathedral of St. Helena in Helena.

Seating for the concerts is general admission, with a reserved section for Musikanten Angel donors. Tickets will be available at the door and at other outlets. For more information call 442-6825 or online visit www.musikantenmt.org.

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