Bach’s Passions and Premiere of Ēriks Ešenvalds’ Passion
On the 1st of June 1723, Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750) was appointed Cantor of St Thomas Church in Leipzig, running the church’s musical life until his death. One of the countless duties of the cantor was to organise annual performances of passions at the end of the Holy Week, usually on Palm Sunday and Good Friday. To this end, Bach used passions composed by Handel, Telemann, Graun and other colleagues of his, as well as writing several passions himself – most sources tend to believe that the composer created five passions in all. Two have survived to this day – St John Passion and St Matthew Passion.
Only the libretto for St Mark Passion has survived, while Bach’s music (or at least a good deal of it) has been lost. St Mark Passion was reconstructed by German conductor, organist and composer Diethard Hellmann, and had its world premiere in 1964. In Latvia, the reconstructed version of the St Mark Passion was first performed on Good Friday in 2005, conducted by Sigvards Kļava. It is important to note that the St Mark Passion is not just an archaeological relic interesting to a limited number of experts – it is extraordinarily beautiful music that retells the story of Christ’s death with the laconic, striking and divine beauty characteristic of Bach’s music.
Conductor Sigvards Kļava comments: “I’m one of those who strive to see and discern the message in Bach’s compositions, to get closer to some kind of divine fulfilment. Mark’s Gospel offers teachings for readers (listeners) who uphold Christian values, and St Mark Passion created by Bach leads us into a musically and spiritually charged event, leaving it up to us how to find a path to the things we hold important. The Holy Trinity is everywhere, including in how it reaches us: the message, the revelation, the fulfilment.”
Bach’s monumental and balanced St Matthew Passion is one of the pillars of musical culture, where the story of the Passion of Christ conveyed by Bach’s music marks the highest pinnacle in this music genre. St Matthew Passion may be seen as an opera, in the very best meaning of the word: the sequence of the events will make you walk the Way of Sorrows together with Christ, and the emotional impact will bring you closer to the greatest experience of the liturgical year – the miracle of the Resurrection, rewarding you for the suffering, reflection, and battles you have fought with yourself during the Lent. “Les Passions de l'Ame”, an early music ensemble from Switzerland, and the Riga Dom boys’ choir will join the Latvian Radio Choir in performing St Matthew Passion. One of the world’s most renowned choir conductors – Hans-Christoph Rademann will be conducting at the concert.
The dramatic and opera-esque St John Passion is a grand piece of music, vivid and based on dynamic contrasts, with a dramatically striking message. The concert in Riga presents a performance by globally-acclaimed baroque music interpreters: the Danish orchestra “Concerto Copenhagen”. The orchestra, conducted by harpsichordist Lars Ulrik Mortensen, will perform St John Passion on period instruments. The Evangelist’s part will be sung by the popular tenor Julian Prégardien, who was nominated for the best new artist in 2010 by the magazine Opernwelt and is the winner of the Orphée d'Or and MIDEM Classical awards.
Soloists for Ēriks Ešenvalds’ St Luke Passion are Ieva Parša, Sergejs Jēgers and Jānis Kurševs, whereas Elīna Šimkus, Daumants Kalniņš and Sergejs Jēgers will be the soloists in Bach’s St Mark Passion.
Tickets to the concert are available from “Biļešu paradīze” outlets and online.