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This year marks the 300th anniversary of J. S. Bach’s monumental St. John Passion. We pay homage to this masterwork by presenting five chorales from the passion story, interwoven with other pieces that also contemplate the themes of love and sacrifice. Ecce quomodo moritur by Renaissance composer Jacobus Gallus Handl was originally composed for the Saturday of Holy Week; it was included in the same Good Friday service as the first performance of Bach’s St. John Passion in Leipzig in 1724. The Lenten meditation Greater Love Hath No Man by John Ireland has been a staple of cathedral and church choirs in England for over a century. The elegantly simple and universally beloved Ave verum corpus is one of Mozart’s final pieces, composed in 1791 for the Feast of Corpus Christi. The music of French composer Maurice Duruflé is heavily influenced by Gregorian chant; Ubi caritas is the first of a set of four motets composed in 1960 based on ancient plainsong melodies.



The Courage for Love is my first extended work, scored for SATB choir, soprano and bass soloists, and chamber orchestra. I composed it while on sabbatical from Eastern Kentucky University during the Spring 2019 semester. The piece was premiered by the EKU Choirs and EKU Symphony Orchestra on March 2, 2020 at the EKU Center for the Arts. During the summer of 2020, I created a version for string quintet and piano, which is the version being performed tonight. As I began to consider the size, scope, and theme of the composition, I knew I wanted it to have a Kentucky connection. Naturally, this led me to the poetry of Wendell Berry. I read every poem in his vast oeuvre, making note of the ones that resonated with me. As I began to winnow the list, a recurring theme revealed itself: LOVE. I then sought brief excerpts of poems by other writers that I felt would complement and unify the libretto. When I shared the compilation with my dear friend, Dr. Marc Ashley Foster, he beautifully encapsulated my intent: “The poems and excerpts take us on a journey from hopeful wandering and wondering, through the valleys of despair and suffering, and finally arrive at a place of love and grace. Each movement explores a complex duality of emotions and experiences: fear/hope; hate/love; darkness/light; despair/peace.” The Kentucky connection is also present in the beginning of the fourth movement, as the Appalachian folk hymn Bright Morning Stars is combined with the well-known canon Dona nobis pacem (“Grant us peace”). The two melodies are interrupted by several measures of intense cacophony, from which a solo cello emerges with the haunting “Sarabande” from J. S. Bach’s Fifth Cello Suite. The ensuing bass solo is a deliberate homage to similar poignant moments in Bach’s St. John Passion (“Es ist vollbracht”) and Mendelssohn’s Elijah (“It is enough”).



I find beautiful symmetry in the fact that several people who helped make this project come to fruition have a current or previous affiliation with the Kentucky Bach Choir. Former Artistic Director Marlon Hurst conducted the EKU University Singers during my sabbatical. Current singer Kelli Evans was my graduate assistant at the time; she led the EKU Chamber Singers and sang the soprano solo for the premiere performance. My colleague at EKU, Dr. Curtis Streetman, has appeared as a soloist with this ensemble and sang the bass solo at the premiere performance, as he will again tonight. Two current other singers in the Kentucky Bach Choir were also students at EKU for the premiere performance of this piece that will always hold such a special place in my heart.

- Richard Waters


Johann Sebastian Bach's Weinachtsoratorium, BWV 248

Christmas Oratorio


Parts IV, V and VI

Sunday, December 10, 2023

7:30 pm

First Presbyterian Church

174 N. Mill St., Lexington, Kentucky

Greater Love


In celebration of the 300th anniversary

of Bach’s St. John Passion,

the first half of our Spring program will include several chorales from this powerful and dramatic work as well as music by Tomaso Albinoni, Maurice Duruflé, Jacobus Gallus, John Ireland, and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.


The second half will feature the Kentucky premiere of the chamber version of

“The Courage for Love” composed by our Artistic Director, Richard Waters,

with poetry by Wendell Berry, Emily Dickinson,

John Keats, and Sara Teasdale.


Sunday, March 3, 2024

Time and Location TBA

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