There was, perhaps, no more imaginative a tribute to Bach in 2000, the year which marked the 250th anniversary of the composer's death, than The Bach Cantata Pilgrimage undertaken by the Monteverdi Choir and the English Baroque Soloists under their conductor, Sir John Eliot Gardiner. This was not only the most talked about celebration of Bach's music but also that which must undoubtedly have generated the most performances of it. In the course of a single year, these musicians performed Bach's entire surviving cantata oeuvre – amounting to almost 200 works – in Abbeys, Cathedrals, churches and chapels throughout Europe and, indeed, much further afield. It was as appropriate and as fulsome a tribute to the Leipzig Thomaskantor as anyone could wish for, beginning on Christmas Day 1999 in Weimar's Herderkirche, and concluding in St. Bartholomew's Church, New York on 31st December 2000. Fifteen countries were visited and ninety concerts given, attracting large and enthusiastic audiences, some of whose individuals followed conductor, choir and instrumentalists from one venue to another. Gardiner, himself, summed up this exciting, unique and quite extraordinary musical odyssey with these words: 'One source of constant amazement during this tour is the sheer variety and beauty of the music: week after week Bach surprises us with one masterpiece after another, and at the end of each week's concerts – though one is sad to have to say goodbye to the outgoing cantatas, one can hardly wait to begin rehearsals for the next programme. But alongside the transcendent beauty of the music itself, we are all touched by the human qualities which emerge from Bach's compositions: his way of overcoming personal grief and adversity, the sense of professional pride in his craftsmanship, tempered by his profound devotion and humility and the desire to put his gifts to the service of a greater entity – this is an inspiration to us all'.
Les Talens Lyriques – Festival de Saintes
John Eliot Gardiner in rehearsal with the Monteverdi Choir and the English Baroque Soloists