Johann Sebastian Bach was a man of fathomless imagination and sublime expression. The Choral Society presents his great sacred drama, the Passion according to St. John, on Sunday, March 24th with a cast of superb soloists and the leading musicians of the Ottawa Music Company under the baton of Jean-Sébastien Vallée.
It was 1723 and the City Councillors of the Lutheran city of Leipzig, located at the very heart of the trading crossroads of Europe, were looking for a new Music Director. Five other eminently qualified candidates already had declined the Council‘s strict conditions of employment; now only Johann Sebastian Bach remained standing. Perhaps not his wisest career move, Bach accepted the job despite its killing workload, its pitiful compensation package, and the certainty of gimlet-eyed scrutiny by the town‘s political and religious hierarchy.
Bach‘s new bosses had made it eminently clear from the outset that they wanted their Church‘s music to be free of frivolous theatrical extravaganza — piety yes, but not a hint of drama — a tall order in view of what was brewing in the nearby city of Hamburg where the passion story was being told in settings that verged on the operatic (without sets and costumes — yet).
Undoubtedly, Bach would not have wanted to put that genie back in the bottle. But what he absolutely wanted was to use every tool at his disposal to engage his congregations in a visceral, personal experience of the scriptures. A year into his tenure, JSB delivered a St. John Passion that must have stunned his Leipzig bosses — a masterpiece that would come to be ranked with the most sublime creations of the Baroque period.
JERUSALEM, 1ST CENTURY JUDEA
ROMAN COURT DECREES DEATH SENTENCE ON JESUS OF NAZARETH
The Cast and the Narrative
The Evangelist, Sri Lankan-born tenor Asitha Tennekoon, delivers an eyewitness account of the arrest, the trial and the execution.
In the Garden of Gethsemane: Christus (Jesus), sung by baritone Geoffrey Sirett, is meeting with his disciples. He is accosted by the soldiers of the High Priests of Judea, betrayed with a kiss by Judas, and accused of the crime of blasphemy. He is mocked and tortured by the High Priests‘ soldiers and arrested.
At the High Court: Christus is examined by Pilate, Caesar‘s Roman Governor. Sung by bass-baritone Sean Watson, Pilate finds no treasonous fault in him. The High Priests, determined to get rid of a pretender to their throne without bloodying their own hands, demand a guilty verdict and a Roman execution. Pilate washes his hands of all responsibility and Jesus is crucified. He is laid to rest in the tomb.
Throughout the narrative, the soloists and chorus have assumed various personae on either side of the politics. At times, in the thrall of mob psychology, they hurl abuse at Jesus and demand a crucifixion. In other scenes, they assume the role of Jesus’s disciples and faithful followers mourning the fate of their Lord in heart-rending arias and beseeching chorales. At his death, they sing him what is possibly the most poignant lullaby ever composed…. Ruht wohl, ruht wohl… Rest well you blessed limbs … rest well, and bring me to peace. Your grave encloses no further suffering, opens heaven for me and closes off Hell.
Since its premiere almost three hundred years ago, the St. John Passion has kept worshippers and music lovers glued in their pews. We invite you to join us on Sunday afternoon, March 24th at St. Joseph‘s Parish Church to experience this monumental achievement.
Jacqueline Woodley, soprano
Daniel Cabena, countertenor
Isaiah Bell, tenor
Asitha Tennekoon, tenor
Geoffrey Sirett, baritone
Sean Watson, bass-baritone
Orchestra, Ottawa Music Company
Jean-Sébastien Vallée, conductor
Free parking in nearby Ottawa City Hall, on street, and Churchyard and University lots.