Tonight is the first of three performances of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion performed by the Berliner Philharmoniker and their chief conductor Sir Simon Rattle. The line-up of soloists is virtually untouched from the 2010 début of Peter Sellars’ semi-staged “ritualized” version (it has since been released on DVD). The only casting difference is the renowned American baritone Eric Owens (Thomas Quasthoff, who sang two years ago has since gone into retirement). Tickets for all three shows (tonight, tomorrow and Saturday at 7) are already sold-out, so be prepared to show up early and wait in line for the 20-odd standing room slots available. And as always, beware of scalpers that loiter by the Philharmonie entrance.
SIR SIMON RATTLE Conductor
Camilla Tilling Soprano
Magdalena Kožená Mezzo-Soprano
Topi Lehtipuu Tenor (Arias)
Eric Owens Baritone (Arias)
Christian Gerhaher Baritone (Jesus)
Simon Halsey Chorus Master
Boys of the Staats- and Domchor Berlin
Kai-Uwe Jirka Chorus Master
Peter Sellars Staging
Johann Sebastian Bach St Matthew Passion
“Not all musicians believe in God, but they all believe in Johann Sebastian Bach,” said Mauricio Kagel, who grappled intensely with the life of the cantor at St. Thomas’s Church, plagued by bureaucratic city fathers and unmotivated Latin pupils, when he composed his own Passion. The term “Passion” is inextricably linked with the name “Bach”, first and foremost due to his St. Matthew Passion, already a work of superlatives in terms of its external dimensions. That’s because the oratorio of the suffering and death of Christ, which in Bach’s lifetime eclipsed anything conceivable in the field of music, consists of no fewer than 68 individual movements (formerly counted as 78), which include, among others, the monumental opening chorus, the chorale setting “O Mensch, bewein dein Sünden groß” and the epic final chorus.
Already in the first version of the work from 1727 an extensive double choir setting of choir and orchestra is also required: the impressive stereophonic effects have lost none of their fascinating impact. (Bach himself demonstrably dared at a 1736 performance to separate the ensembles completely, enabling the real-spatial differentiation of the dialogue between the two vocal-instrumental ensembles.)
Jointly with the Rundfunkchor, boys from the Berlin Staats- und Domchor and a top-notch soloist ensemble, for the 50th anniversary of the dedication of Hans Scharoun’s Philharmonic Hall and opening the festival week, Sir Simon Rattle will be addressing Bach’s greatest passion music, a work one can become addicted to, a work in which you can always discover something new even if you’ve listened to it repeatedly. But seeing will not come up short on these three evenings either: as in April 2010, St. Matthew Passion will be performed in Peter Sellars’s unforgettable staging.