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It wasn’t long before the Society branched out beyond the university. For many years, it was the go-to chorus for the Minnesota Orchestra, Boehnke said.
A decade ago, then-artistic director Thomas Lancaster refocused the group on the music of Bach. For starters, Lancaster assembled a small group of professional artists, including musicians who played period instruments. All in all, Lancaster “changed the nature of the group,” he said.
Boehnke, who stepped into the artistic director role in 2007, said he’s tried to build on that, while also finding creative ways to keep the music fresh and relevant.
For example, the group leads daylong workshops for amateur players who are interested in learning a Bach cantata. The Bach Society also has teamed with the jazz trio Framework for some performances. The idea is “not just to put jazz clothes on Bach, but to find out how they can influence each other,” Boehnke said.
Steve Staruch, a classical music radio host for MPR who is playing his viola in the Bach Society’s upcoming holiday concert, said it’s that level of professionalism that keeps him involved with the group.
As a freelance musician, there’s often a “heat and serve,” mentality, where “You go do the gig and then you’re done,” he said.
But Boehnke has helped the players to coalesce as a group. He’s been “very good at trying to raise the level of performance and commitment among the period-instrument players,” Staruch said.
When players are called to do a job, “They know they’re making music at a very high level,” he said.
Anna Pratt is a Twin Cities freelance writer.