There’s a great write-up about James MacMillan’s St. John’s Passion in the Sunday Boston Globe. This is a rare treat, as usually coverage of the Symphony is relegated to the Friday paper reviewing the Thursday night opening performance.
Some of my favorite quotes:
Although Davis has since conducted another set of performances with the Concertgebouw, he still finds himself a bit daunted by the piece.
“I open up the score and think, ‘Oh my God, how did I ever do this?’ ’’ says the conductor, now 82, with a tentative laugh. “And you work again at the difficult bits, and you hope that, when you get there, you’ll be able to pull yourself together and do this.’’
It’s nice to know that it’s not just the chorus sometimes asking ourselves how we got into this as we’re drilling ourselves on some of the more intricate passages of the piece.
MacMillan comments on the “halo effect” that I noted in an earlier post that distinguish every utterance from Jesus:
The writing for the baritone soloist is unusually florid – long, ornate melodies on a single syllable that mark Christ out as different from those who surround him. “I wanted to give Christ’s words a special emphasis that would have a different character from all the other voices,’’ says the composer.
There’s also a deep discussion about how remarkable the close of the second movement is, another point I marveled at earlier while memorizing that part:
One of the most striking of these reflective moments occurs when Peter, having denied three times that he knows Christ, hears the cock crow, just as Jesus had prophesied. As the wrenching moment concludes, MacMillan writes a fulsome chorus on the text “Tu es Petrus”: “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I shall build my church.” It’s a remarkable dichotomy: a disciple’s most pitiable moment juxtaposed with his role as the first shepherd of the church.
“At that moment, he’s being a coward, he’s being a typical human being,” MacMillan explains. “And yet Peter was the one who was chosen as the foundation stone of the whole ecclesial movement that came out of Christ’s life here.
“There is something contradictory about that. But also strangely affirming – the fact that there’s a divine acknowledgement that we are all human, we can all fail, but yet the church’s role is to face up to the dilemmas of our humanity.”
All in all, a very good article that I plan to send along to friends and family interested in what makes this piece tick.