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Bach Concert Series Presents "St. John Passion"


"St. John Passion"     Photo Credit:  Niehenke Photography

The Bach Concert Series will present, St. John Passion, Sunday, March 7 at 4 PM at Christ Lutheran Church, 701 S. Charles Street in the Inner Harbor.

Maestro T. Herbert Dimmock and the Bach Concert Series Choir will be joined by a large baroque orchestra and leading Bach soloists from the US, including: Inez Mendezona, soprano; Biraj Barkakaty, countertenor; Jeffery Fahenstock as the Evangelist; Joseph Regan, tenor; David Dimmock, bass; and Troy Clark as Jesus.

Validated parking for the concert is available in the church's garage on Lee Street. Remember to bring your ticket into the church for validation. Tickets are $30/adult and $15/student.  Tickets, directions and details on parking may be found on the web site, www.bachinbaltimore.org.

Performance Notes by T. Herbert Dimmock, Director


 

St. John Passion

The story of Christ's suffering and death is known as the Passion of Christ. Since the earliest days of the church, Christians have read and reenacted the passion story on Good Friday and/or Passion Sunday. By the fourth century, this custom had been firmly established within the church. Beginning at about the eight century, the words of Jesus were emphasized by having the priest sing them in the more elaborate style of plainsong (chant) as opposed to the recitative form of the rest of the story.

As years went by, the performances of the passion became ever more elaborate. By the twelfth century, the story was generally told by three clergy --- one each representing Jesus, the crowd and the narrator.

In the years that followed music grew more sophisticated, as did the settings of the passion. By the fifteenth century the crowds were often sung by entire choirs in an elaborate style. Priests would still chant the parts of Jesus and the other characters.

It comes as no surprise that Bach took the setting of the passion to heretofore undreamed of heights of expression, feeling, and theological insight. In Bach's setting of the Passion according to St. John, we find all the musical forms of the high Baroque being utilized. The "Evangelist" sings the story word for word right out of John's gospel as a recitative. Other soloists interrupt the flow of the story with poignant arias, affording the listener the opportunity to meditate on the emotions that the actions of the unfolding story suggest.

Bach uses his choir in two ways: as the crowd in the story - and to provide a commentary at the beginning and end of the passion. Most of the choruses are highly dramatic, forcefully exploiting the terror and the anger of a group of people who cry out in hatred for bloodshed. Bach's congregation would also have been involved, as they (probably) joined in the singing of chorales (or hymns) which represent a reaction to the story as it unfolds.

Bach designed the hymns to interrupt the unfolding story with a response representing a mature Christian's reaction to the Passion as it unfolded. Thus, when Judas betrays Jesus, the hymn that follows proclaims that not just Judas, but every person who has sinned, has betrayed Jesus. In a similar manner, at the moment of Jesus' death, the hymn speaks of the miracle of salvation, the depth of the sacrifice, and is full of wonder that Jesus would die to save all humanity.

Bach wrote three passions: one each on the gospels of Mark, John, and Matthew. The Passion according to St. Mark has been lost.

As alluded to above, Lutheran congregations understood "performances" of sacred music to be a highly-developed form of worship. Martin Luther noted: "It was not without reason that the fathers and prophets wanted nothing else to be associated as closely with the Word of God as music. Therefore we have so many hymns and Psalms where the message and the music join to move the listener's soul. (emphasis, mine) After all, the gift of language combined with the gift of song was only given to man to let him know that he should praise God with both words and music, namely, by proclaiming through music and by providing sweet melodies with words."

MARK BEACHY
Performing Arts Reporter
Baltimore Examiner
beachyreporter@yahoo.com
 

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