Los Angeles Music Preview: BACH’S ST. MATTHEW PASSION (Los Angeles Master Chorale at Disney Hall)

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by Frank Arthur on January 29, 2015

in Theater-Los Angeles


The majority of Bach’s choral music dates from 1723 onward during his long tenure as Cantor of the St. Thomas Church in Leipzig. It was during that lengthy period, which lasted until his death, that he composed more than 230 cantatas (many lost to posterity) and five “passions,” of which only two have survived—those of St. John and St. Matthew. The earlier St. John Passion is shorter and more overtly dramatic than the St. Matthew, which was in fact Bach’s longest and most ambitious work (over three hours long), embracing a roster of multiple solo vocalists, double choruses and children’s chorus, and an orchestral battery of four flutes and oboes (two doubling on oboe d’amore), strings and continuo, employing viola da gamba, lute and organ.


This weekend, the Los Angeles Master Chorale joins forces with the period instrument ensemble Musica Angelica Baroque Orchestra and the Los Angeles Children’s Chorus to present two historically informed performances of Bach’s towering masterwork St. Matthew Passion, conducted by LAMC Artistic Director Grant Gershon, on Saturday, January 31, 2 pm, and Sunday, February 1, 2015, 7 pm, at Walt Disney Concert Hall.


In today’s parlance, “passion” refers to intense emotion and is often used with reference to affairs of the heart, political beliefs and myriad human activities ranging from hobbies to the heat of battle. Historically, the term has a specific Christian religious meaning—a musical and dramatic treatment of the final events of Jesus’ life: the Last Supper, Betrayal, Arrest and Crucifixion as related in the New Testament. In this context, the term “passion” means “suffering” and derives from the Latin “patior” (“I suffer”).

Los Angeles Master Chorale LOGOIn our current secular age a visitor from another planet might wonder why this conspicuously Christian story captures the hearts of nonbelievers. The answer is apparent to anyone who resonates to the depth of human feeling that permeates the unfolding tale as illuminated by Bach in the St. Matthew Passion. In common with Handel’s ubiquitous Messiah, St. Matthew embraces the emotional realities of humanity. Bach expresses intense feelings of love and hatred as well as the pain of betrayal—moral, philosophical and emotional dilemmas we all face in our lives.

Along with 40 singers, soloists include Pablo Corá, Tenor; Janelle DeStefano, Mezzo Soprano; Arnold Livingston Geis, Tenor; Callista Hoffman-Campbell, Mezzo Soprano; Elissa Johnston, Soprano; Jon Lee Keenan, Tenor (Evangelist); Chung Uk Lee, Bass (Jesus); Steve Pence, Bass/Baritone; Vincent Robles, Baritone; Zanaida Robles, Soprano; Anna Schubert, Soprano; Laura Smith, Mezzo Soprano; and Niké St. Clair, Mezzo Soprano.

photos courtesy of Los Angeles Master Chorale

Los Angeles Master Chorale
Music Director Grant Gershon
Bach: St. Matthew Passion
Walt Disney Concert Hall, 111 South Grand Ave
Saturday, January 25 at 2 pm
Sunday, January 26 at 7 pm
ListenUp! pre-concert talk with Gershon and Alan Chapman 1 hour prior to curtain
for tickets, call 213-972-7282 or visit www.LAMC.org

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