St.-Johannis-Kirche (St John’s church) lies in the green parkland to the south-west of the City of Rostock, in the Barnstorfer Wald. The church was built in 1950 from the stones of old St.-Jakobi-Kirche (church of St James), which was destroyed during the War and torn down at the behest of the Communist authorities. The Lutheran Parish of St. Johannis came into being only after the War, and since the new church was built this has been its home. From 1960 onwards the Kirchenmusikdirektor (Director of Music) Prof. Hartwig Eschenburg worked in a most commendable manner to build up the four choirs of the St.-Johannis-Kirche.
The members of our choirs are all individuals, but one thing above all unites them: the joy of singing in church. The choir is a meeting place for children in the younger and older beginners‘ groups known as the Little Trawlers and Big Trawlers, for young people in the Chorale Choir and for adults in the Figural Choir and the Rostock Motet Choir. Former choir members and other older people who enjoy singing meet once a month for an Open Sing. Between them, the choirs give about 40 concerts each year.
Prof. Markus Johannes Langer has been the new Director and Choirmaster of the St.-Johannis-Kantorei since February 2000.
The Motet Choir
The Rostock Motet Choir was founded in 1964, and even in GDR times the choir drew attention to itself on account of the concerts that it gave in the famous churches and concert halls of East Germany, including the Dresden Kreuzkirche, the Thomaskirche and the new Gewandhaus in Leipzig, or the Berlin PlayHouse. However, for many years this church choir was forbidden to go on tours abroad. In 1988 it was finally allowed to travel to Poland and in 1989 to Schleswig-Holstein. It was the only church choir authorised by the GDR government to make records: recordings were made of a number of Bach motets, and there was one record entitled Abendstille [Evening Hush].
As well as giving numerous concerts in western Germany – for example at the graduation ceremony of the Bach Academy in Stuttgart – the choir has already appeared as guests in Luxembourg, Denmark, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic.
One particular highlight was in 1995 when the choir sang at the Oregon Bach Festival in the USA, where among other things it took part in an international performance of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem.
The Figural Choir
With approximately 120 members, the Figural Choir is the largest of the choirs. It devotes itself primarily to the great oratorios, sings regularly in church services and as such is closely bound to musical life in the Hansa City of Rostock.
The Passions and the Christmas Oratorio by Bach, masses by Haydn, Mozart, Schubert and Kodály, works by Mendelssohn (Elijah; Paul), Brahms (Requiem), Dvorák (Stabat Mater), Stravinsky (Symphony of Psalms), Szymanovski, Honegger (Dance of the Dead; King David), Britten (War Requiem) and others – all have been performed by the Figural Choir with renowned soloists and different orchestras.
The Cantata Orchestra
The Cantata Orchestra is an instrumental ensemble of young musicians, most of whom play with well-known German orchestras. It is closely linked with the work of the St.-Johannis-Kantorei and plays with its choirs in Rostock and abroad.
The Chorale Choir
Enthusiasm for music and unforgettable experiences with your peers – this exciting combination has brought hundreds of children and young people under the spell of the Chorale Choir since it was founded in 1977. At any one time there are up to 80 members in the choir, their ages ranging from about 13 to 20. They remain in the choir for some 7 years – time which has a lasting influence on them. They do not only come into contact with high-quality music through the intensive work on motets and cantatas by Schütz, Buxtehude, Bach, Mendelssohn, Distler, and Hessenberg, but at the same time the language of music makes the content of the Biblical message come alive for them. They are much praised by the general public for their singing at church services and musical evenings.
One particular highlight was working on Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem with the adult choirs. The Chorale Choir has also made guest appearances outside Mecklenburg, for example in Schleswig Cathedral and in St. Michaelis, the main church of Hamburg.
One of the most popular activities is the Singing Ramble through Mecklenburg which has taken place every summer since 1978. For one week the young people walk up to 15 miles a day, giving concerts each evening in one of the many churches in the villages or small towns. An adventure close to nature which is closely connected with conservation, heated discussions about current and past events, social training through dependence on each other during the walks as well as in the music-making, and the wonderful evening music – these are all things which have a lasting effect on the lives of the choir members.
In the two Trawlers groups there is a total of more than 100 children from 6 to 13 years of age. Whilst the „littl’uns“ in school classes 1 and 2 are taught in the Little Trawlers how to sing and read music, the children in the Big Trawlers, from classes 3 to 7, sing at church services and at musical evenings. For this they practise hymns, canons, cantatas for children’s choir and instruments, as well as sacred music by composers of different periods. Every summer the Trawlers come together somewhere away from Rostock for a children’s singing week.
Since 1969 it has been a tradition, carried out with much enthusiasm, for the choir to perform the Christmas story by Carl Orff, written in the local dialect (Plattdeutsch). In collaboration with the young people of the Chorale Choir, the Trawlers present the work on stage with colourful costumes and a large number of Orff instruments to accompany the singing. The choirs have presented this work not only in many towns in Mecklenburg but also in Schleswig (cathedral), Bad Segeberg, Kiel (St. Nikolai), Lübeck (St. Jakobi) and several times in Hamburg (St. Michaelis, the main church).
Prof. Dr. h.c. Markus Johannes Langer
took over the post of Choirmaster in February 2000 when Hartwig Eschenburg retired after many years‘ service.
Markus Johannes Langer was born in 1971 in Erlangen. Even before he had taken his school-leaving certificate he began studying as a guest student at the College of Music in Munich, with organ as his main subject. After completing his national service (in a non-combattant role) in 1992 he began studying Protestant Church Music at the same college, and in his final examination in 1997 he gained an „A“ grade. His teachers included Professor Hedwig Bilgram (organ), the Director of Music Professor Hanns-Martin Schneidt (conducting), and Professor Hanno Blaschke (singing). In 1997 he also completed an advanced course in his main subject, conducting, with Professor Michael Gläser.
Among the awards and honours which he has won, the most important include the grant awarded in 1993 by the Richard Wagner Grants Foundation and the 1st prize for young artists given by the town of Coburg which he received in 1996.
From 1993 to 1999 Markus Johannes Langer was Choirmaster at the Laudate Church in Munich-Garching, where he worked with the choirs on a broad repertoire. In 1998 he took over the artistic directorship of the Munich choir known as the Konzertchor (Concert Choir), with whom he also appeared outside Munich – for example in Berlin Cathedral.
Translation: Mary Newman