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Lutherania Choir (Choir)

Founded: 1904 - Budapest, Hungary

Lutherania Choir ((Lutheránia énekkar)) is the choir founded in 1904 by the Lutheran Church of Deák tér (Budapest), the episcopal seat of the Hungarian Lutheran Church. In the main stream of the ensemble's activity is fostering the musical heritage of J.S. Bach. In the early history of the Choir, organist Aladár Zalánfy played a significant role. Zalánfy had studied composition from János Koessler, master of Béla Bartók and Zoltán Kodály, and playing the organ from Karl Straube in Leipzig. Zalánfy and his trusted colleague, choir master Jenő Weltler, created a “Bach-cult”, singular ever since in Hungary.

At times - for several decades - when official state politics spared no effort and means in an attempt to thwart the performance of religious pieces of music, the Lutheran Church of Deák tér was the only place in Hungary where J.S. Bach's St. John Passion (BWV 245), Mass in B minor (BWV 232), Cantatas and Motets were played. Many of the era's most renowned singers liked to take part in these concerts, so the Church of Deák tér welcomed, among others, famous opera stars Magda Tiszay, József Réti, György Melis, Magda Kalmár, Judit Sándor, Margit László, or a little later Julia Hamari, Mária Zádori, István Berczelly, Ibolya Verebics, Judit Németh, etc.

Undoubtedly, however, notwithstanding the outstanding soloists, the main attraction of the concerts was the choir's performance. Lutherania, namely, did not limit its performance of J.S. Bach's major works to single occasions; on the contrary, it performed them on a regular, annual basis, according to the feasts of the ecclesiastical year; this practice thus making the choir an expert in J.S. Bach's music. The St. John Passion (BWV 245) at Deák tér especially became a legend and the music-loving audience again and again filled the church to capacity. However, these performances of the Passions cannot be regarded as mere concerts; more than that, they are sacred and festive rites, best to be compared with the processions and midnight masses of the brethren of Catholic faith.

Following the political changes in Hungary, hence under the baton of Salamon Kamp, Lutherania started to exploit the possibilities provided by political and religious freedom and, while continuing to promote its best traditions, the Choir focused on raising the artistic standard of the performances. Its goal was to create productions at Deák tér that are noteworthy even in an international context. At that it became obvious that no increase in the artistic level could be achieved with occasionally recruited orchestras, even if these eventually include top level musicians like violinist Vilmos Tátray, for instance. Therefore, the earlier accompanying orchestras were replaced by professional ensembles (first the Hungarian Symphonic Orchestra or the Matáv Symphonic Orchestra, later the Weiner-Szász Orchestra, the Erkel Ference Chamber Ensemble and, ultimately, the Budapest Strings Orchestra). As with the accompanying musicians, professional and in the given style expert singers were invited to the soloist positions. Pieces of music for a long time on the Choir's repertoire were submitted to thorough and meticulous grinding in a re-learning process.

As a result of all these efforts, performances of J.S. Bach at Deák tér are living their renaissance. When visiting Hungary, Helmuth Rilling held his Bach Master Class at Deák tér. The home of Lutherania was the foundation place for the Hungarian Bach Society in 1992. In the year 2011 the traditional Budapest Bach Week, an annual festival of J.S.Bach's music, celebrated its 22nd edition. In addition to top-class Hungarian artists (Mária Zádori, István Berczelly, Judit Németh, Gergely Bogányi, Borbála Dobozy, Eszter Perényi, Zsuzsa Pertis, János Sebestyén, Márta Ábrahám, Béla Drahos, Zoltán Gyöngyössy, Weiner-Szász Chamber Symphony, Erkel Ference Chamber Ensemble, Matáv Symphonic Orchestra, Budapest Strings Orchestra) a number of internationally renowned musicians care for the high standard, like Gustav Leonhardt, Johann Sonnleitner, Jacques Ogg, José Vazquez, Dénes Zsigmondy or Helmuth Rilling. The founder and Artistic Director of the Budapest Bach Weeks is Salamon Kamp, conductor and National Director of Church Music, a laureate of the Liszt Order.

Since 1998, Sunday worship services with cantata music have been held regularly. At such, within the liturgic framework of the regular Sunday worship service, each time a Cantata by J.S. Bach corresponding with the Sunday's actual character is performed by the Choir, outstanding soloists and the Lutherania Chamber Orchestra.

The Lutherania Choir celebrated the Centenary of its foundation in 2004. In the jubilee year it was decorated with the Kölcsey Prize by the local Municipality and it received the Order of Hungarian Heritage.

Lutherania, however, is principally not a concert ensemble but a communion for service. It means that - although it gets more and more invitations to perform outside its home - the Choir is closely linked to the Lutheran community and church of Deák tér, as well as its worship services and festivities.

It is important to note that Lutherania is a Lutheran choir; its main objective being to present the treasures of Lutheran religious music. The overwhelming part of its repertoire therefore embraces J.S. Bach's oeuvre.

Lutherania is a congregational community, people whose main purpose in singing is not to delight but, giving their best, to preach.

Although the Choir has made several tours abroad (mainly to Germany and Austria, but also to Sweden, to Kolozsvár, Nagyvárad), it cannot be regarded as a touring choir. Its travels outside the country are infrequent and exceptional occasions.

Source: Lutherania Choir Website (January 2012, English Translation by Anikó Móra)
Contributed by
Aryeh Oron (May 2012)

Salamon Kamp: Short Biography | Debreceni Kodály Kórus | Lutherania Choir | Recordings of Vocal Works: Part 1 | Part 2 | Budapest Bach Weeks | Bach Kantátazenés Istentiszteletek

Links to other Sites

Lutherania Choir (Official Website) [Multi-lingual]


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