The spirit of Johann Sebastian Bach collides with the streets of Yarraville in Ricercar, a new musical performance by the Present Tense ensemble.

Bryce Ives said this “opera for the 21st century” he co-conceived with Nathan Gilkes is a vivid celebration of life, death, love, memory and legacy, marking the point at which the ordered artistry of Bach meets the explosive energy of contemporary theatre.

“We wanted to create a work that examines the work of JSBach, with a classical music element – but it’s also very accessible,” he said.

“We are mixing in electric violins with opera singers – it’s a very uplifting, inspirational sound.”

A ricercar is a form of early Baroque instrumental composition.

The music, design and choreography for the 12-movement piece are based on loops, number and patterns inspired by Bach’s gift for improvisation. Ives said that even centuries after Bach’s death, his musical genius lives all around us and is “built into our DNA”.

“There are little stories, fragments of memory … it’s really a meditation on beginnings and endings, birth and death and legacies.”

Ives said the epic scale of the work is a big step for Present Tense, but one for which they are ready, taking heart from the applause they hear from the street as they rehearse at Yarraville.

Ricercar is at Theatre Works, 14 Acland Street, St Kilda, closing December 12. Tickets $35/25 at or 9534 3388.