If there is a classical star for the year 2000, Johann Sebastian Bach is the man. On the 250th anniversary of his death, Bach is big—both with large audiences and with specialized, respected music ensembles. And while pop may be taking over much of the music inside churches, the great musical monuments to the faith continue to be sung and celebrated in concert halls the world over. In many areas, particularly in Europe and Japan, concerts that feature such works as Brahms' German Requiem and Mendelssohn's Elijah tend to draw fans like a pop rocker's tour of the United States.

Bach festivals and world tours abound. The Monteverdi Choir and Orchestra undertook a Bach Pilgrimage earlier this year, performing all of his cantatas on the Sundays of the church year for which they were written. The tour covered 60 churches throughout Europe and will culminate in New York City this month. The English Concert, an ensemble known mostly for its instrumental performances, has traveled the world with its choir this year performing Bach's St. Matthew Passion.

With Scripture and traditional worship services such as the Mass as their texts, the sacred works pack a biblical punch. Still, many in postmodern audiences may know little or nothing of the faith behind them, and the conductor and musicians may not share the faith.

"I think the works are mainly received as music, not so much as sacred music," says Gerd Turk, a professional tenor soloist from Frankfurt, Germany, who teaches at Schola Cantorum Basiliensis. "People are enchanted by the beauty of the music, the beauty of the voices, and the quality of the performances."

Turk performs classical works around the world, including frequent appearances with Bach Collegium Japan, which is in the ...

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