After over sixty years, the Cornell University Chorus and Glee Club will bring Johann Sebastian Bach’s “St. Matthew Passion” back to campus in a historic joint production this spring.
The chorus and glee club are collaborating with music department graduate students, 30 nationwide professional instrumentalists and six world-class vocal soloists to showcase the piece on May 5, according to a description of the event.
This “epic, heartfelt oratorio” is considered by many musicologists and performers as the single greatest major work in the western canon, according to the event description.
This ambitious project began in part with a Sage Chapel concert presented by Bach’s own choir, the ensemble from the St. Thomas Church in Leipzig, according to the description. English and German tenor Rufus Müller, one of the world’s finest interpreters of this performance’s Evangelist role, coached and taught the chorus and glee club in a vocal masterclass.
“Everyone’s really excited about it because we’re working with professionals … [Müller] is really well known for singing one of the solo parts in this piece,” Natasa Kostic ’18, chorus publicity manager, told The Sun.
The Cornell University Chorus and Glee Club have been working on this huge project all year — the sheet music for just the vocal portion is over 300 pages long and entirely in German, Kostic said, adding that they rehearse four hours per week.
Even in the midst of rehearsal, “The St. Matthew Passion” has already found favor and appreciation among the Cornell performers themselves.
“This has been an incredible learning experience for all of us because it’s very different music from what we’re used to doing, and very passionate,” Kostic said.
Due to the scale of its production, the piece is not commonly performed other than by symphonies and big professional organizations, Kostic told The Sun. She said that this performance is not only atypical in size but also in musicality, as the performance is split into two different choirs that engage in a back and forth call and response.
Although “The St. Matthew Passion” has biblical origins and narratives, Kostic emphasized that this performance can be enjoyed by everyone.
“This is a huge cultural experience. Going to this concert will be an awesome thing to do because you get a glimpse at a really impactful piece of music,” Kostic said. “It’s something that a lot of people can connect to — some people can connect to spiritually with the story, or even just musically.”
“It’s so incredibly innovative for that time period, with crazy harmonies and things you wouldn’t expect,” she added.
This production will be held on May 5 at 7:30 p.m. in Bailey Hall, and tickets are currently available.