Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, Performed By The DigiEnsemble Berlin

The DigiEnsemble Berlin – a group dedicated to exploring the possibilities of live performance with mobile music devices – is pushing boundaries with their arrangement of  großer Herr, o starker König from Bach’s Christmas Oratorio.

The performance features baritone Tobias Berndt and a solo by DigiEnsemble Berlin founder Matthias Krebs.

While the group’s work is sometimes met with skepticism, Krebs says that the audience at “was pleasantly surprised and quickly won over.”

Krebs adds that the Bach performance is an important step in the group’s growth, due to the requirements of the piece. In order to achieve their goals for performing the work, the group had to incorporate new MIDI controllers and techniques. Details below.

About The Performance

The DigiEnsemble Berlin uses digital devices to perform the aria “Großer Herr, o starker König” from the Christmas Oratorio by Johann Sebastian Bach. The baritone part is sung by Tobias Berndt.

The realization of the musically challenging aria is a culmination for the mission of acquiring virtuous playing techniques with smartphones. Matthias Krebs chose this aria consciously with the intention of accomplishing a signifying step in the ensemble’s development. Experts like music professors from the Berlin University of the Arts were consulted to optimize the musical adaption and musical interpretation.

The performance was enhanced by using a number of elaborate controllers. An important sound quality improvement was enabled by the use of a new motion control app called “MIDI In Motion” by Florian Schwehn. Krebs notes that, in the process of the project, the digital devices became ‘serious musical instruments on a high level of proficiency and differentiation that has not been reached before’.

All sounds, except for the baritone part, are performed on the digital devices themselves. Three apps are used by the instrumentalists. These are:

  • ThumbJam as a sampler for all instruments;
  • Geo Synth as the instrumental surface; and
  • MIDI In Motion as a motion controller for volume, connected by Virtual MIDI. (Schwehn has provides the group with a beta version.)


  • DigiEnsemble Berlin
  • Tobias Berndt – bariton
  • Tammin Julian Lee – conductor
  • Matthias Krebs — solo trumpet
  • Miriam Akkermann — flute
  • Tim Neuser — violin 1
  • Dustin Dick — violin 2
  • Sven Ratzel — viola
  • Uwe Schamburek — bassoon/cello
  • Timon Kossack — bass bowed
  • Daniel Grote – organ
  • THX to: Prof. Dr. Richenhagen and Prof. Dr. Supper
  • THX to: Florian Schwehn

Music Production

  • Daniel Kemper (Emil Berliner Studios)


  • Markenfilm Crossing

Video Production

  • Matthias Krebs (vision, project management, punos)
  • Liesa Rademacher (cutter, feinfilm)
  • Mathias Geck (color grading)
  • Lukasz Fabijanczyk (logo animation)
  • Bastian Schick (logo sounds)
  • Susanne Hassepaß (ass., feinfilm)
  • Nastasia Mohren (ass., punos)

The film was shot on 20th September 2012 at the old theatre stage of the Heimathafen Neukölln in Berlin.

19 thoughts on “Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, Performed By The DigiEnsemble Berlin

  1. This is impressive – they’ve obviously put a lot if work into this and they’re making music with it!

    I’d like to see something like this with the group embracing electronic sounds. I liked the recent post on Richard Gailbreath’s Polyphony, for example, which is modular synth arrangements of 16tg century music.

  2. Sorry this is my first on beloved Synthtopia but it is a bit of a rant…

    I mean I fail to see the point in this. The results are such a pale rendition of what acoustic instruments can do in this repertoire. I don’t get what statement this group is trying to make. Surely not that electronic instruments really ARE instruments, right? I mean nobody is still doubting that… except maybe a minority of classically trained people? Maybe?
    Pun aside, there are so many creative and innovative instruments out there. Is THIS ‘la crème de la crème’?!?

    It just strikes me as a pedantic joke of sorts. But maybe I am just yet another one who doesn’t get it…

    1. Why do you think that this needs to be a ‘statement or have a ‘point’, beyond people getting together to have fun, make music and see what’s possible?

      It’s cool to see electronic musicians performing stuff like this. It’s challenging and not many can do it as well as this.

    2. Music is Music, thats the point. Your comparison to real acoustic instruments sounds like a 4 year old learning to speak. Video games are not real, so why play them if they are based in reality? Or why watch movies that use compositing to put a scene together… If they cant film 2000 soldiers running up the beach with special effects.. then its not watchable because its being made with 3 people and digital compositing?… If it works… it works….

    3. Its not a joke, its Bach, which is the gold standard for precision. I have no serious issues with this, but it still chills me a bit to see people smiling and pushing buttons as if they were playing a viola. Even if a piece DOES “sound good,” there is a disconnect going on. I spent years playing piano and various keyboards, so I have a firm advantage over someone who only plays an iPad or MPC. A vital personal subtlety is lost without a greater commitment. So while I am always impressed by anyone who can pull off a Bach piece, I’m still looking for that breakthrough where a synth-based piece gets across to The Crowd on its own terms. I give squat for most dance and pop; I’m restless to hear the next “Timesteps.” Bach is the standard for universal notational precision; Carlos’ modular epic is the gold standard for pretty much the entire synth lexicon, even with all the technical advances since then. C’mon, kids, don’t just trigger, actually emote more:P.

      1. Wendy Carlos’ music might have been important to some people but if that’s what all music was like we would live in a very ugly world. As far as the looks on their faces, it’s not the instrument’s fault, they probably just don’t want to fake being emotional during their performance, it’s not even an emotional song so I don’t see why they should.

  3. Naa…its just a glimpse of a oratorio for hipsters…Haters and hipsters… please feel free to provide your thumbs down on my comments please…of course…please be welcome to do it thru your I-devices 😉

  4. Very very nice.

    I am sure this kind of arranging will develop in various niches. I agree about dynamics – that’s something that will need to be addressed and perhaps someone will come up with an app that will do that with more finesse, but for what has been achieved here – kudos – great demonstration.

    Here we have a new implementation adapting to an old artform – and doing it quite well. The question here is should there be imitation or innovation. The original inception of electronic synthesis did a bit of both but the emphasis was on innovation. So, perhaps, the question is what would innovation look like in arrangement of classical pieces – beyond, say, switched on Bach – or this?

    Derek Jones, Owner: MusicInclusive LLC.

  5. Let me see… here we have 21st century instruments containing more computing power than Apollo 11 had when it went to the moon, being used to replicate (and not improve or change) instrumentation and and arrangements from 200 years ago. Why am I so underwhelmed?
    Just because something can be done doesn’t necessarily mean that it should be….

    1. If anything can be done creatively, it should be done. If that wasn’t the case, a lot of music wouldn’t even exist.

  6. ‘If anything can be done creatively, it should be done’ – sheesh, no room for compromise in that statement! Can’t wait for ‘iPad plays the Wiggles’

    My question is: what’s the story here?

    Is it that this group plays Bach? Well so do hundreds of other ensembles

    Or is it that they use iPads and smart phones to do so? In which case isn’t this just a case of ‘man bites dog’?

    Is the message in the music or the medium by which it’s delivered?

  7. This is great, hats off to those involved. I think they should focus on squeezing more expression out their chosen software. The lack of movement in the envelopes and filters or whatever controls are available to them, means it is vaguely sounding like a standard midi file being played back on a general midi engine.

    If they choose software with more scope for expression and velocity control, it will sound even better.

  8. playing classical music on ipads IS NOT a good idea.

    ipad’s apps are good for real electronic music, not for covering acoustic one!

  9. Also, Wendy Carlos “Switched on Bach” is too overhyped imho. Isao Tomita’s “Snowflakes are dancing” and other works were much more EXPRESSIVE.

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