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BPO and three choruses combine to present Bach's St. Matthew Passion


Sat, Mar 5th 2016 10:25 am

The Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, the Masterworks Chorus of SUNY Fredonia, the Chancel Choir of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church and the Chautauqua Youth Chorus will join forces for a rare performance of J.S. Bach's epic masterpiece, the St. Matthew Passion.

The work will be presented at 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 9, at King Concert Hall on the SUNY Fredonia Campus, and at 7 p.m. Friday, March 11, at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, 1080 Main St., Buffalo. The concert will be conducted by Dr. Gerald Gray, director of choral activities at SUNY Fredonia, a specialist in Baroque-era music and performance practice.

Internationally celebrated artists William Hite and Aaron Engebreth, also specialists in the work of Bach and the Baroque style, will sing the roles of The Evangelist and Jesus, respectively.

The work will be sung in German, with English supertitles projected on a screen suspended over the chorus.

Three choirs and more than 20 soloists lend their voices to the performance as the story of Jesus' journey to the cross unfolds. Several period instruments not frequently heard in Western New York are also featured in this performance.

This will be only the sixth time in the BPO's nearly 80-year history that it has participated in a performance of this work, and the first time since 1997.

Dr. Melvin P. Unger, director of the Fredonia School of Music, wrote, "Bach conceived the St. Matthew Passion in two sections, to be performed during the Good Friday Vespers service, 1727. The St. Matthew Passion is an antiphonal work for double chorus and orchestra. The spatial element was apparently important to Bach's conception. The characters in the drama are represented by soloists, whom Bach assigned to particular choirs."

Hite said, "It's hard to talk about Western music without talking about Bach, and it's hard to talk about Bach without talking about the St. Matthew Passion. It is one of the 'crownings' of one of the greatest composers in Western music, and has the capacity to affect one significantly.

Many people who are not religious believers will routinely come out and hear a piece like this because the spirituality truly bridges the religious message."

Engebreth wrote, "The St. Matthew Passion is quite simply one of the greatest artistic creations in Western civilization. That may sound hyperbolic, but it's just true. From the opening wave of sound, which envelops both the performers and the listeners, all the way to the final notes, the piece is such elevated expression that it really can't be overstated. And we all experience it together - that's why people should come out! The piece can utterly change you if you allow it to."

The audience will be invited to sing on three hymns (in English), which Bach intentionally included in the work during the Friday performance. Though heard as a concert piece now, this music was originally intended as service music for Good Friday, with a sermon between parts one and two.

In lieu of a sermon, there will be an intermission.

Holy Trinity's fellowship and hospitality committee is sponsoring a champagne reception following the performance in Redeemer Hall, the undercroft of Holy Trinity's sanctuary.

For more information about the soloists, visit:

  • http://www.williamhitetenor.com/
  • http://americanbach.org/Artists/EngebrethAaron.htm

General admission tickets are $25. They can be purchased through the BPO box office at 716-885-5000, or online at bpo.org.

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