We’ve now had our full run-through, and things are sounding exceptionally beautiful. I was in the car the other day, thinking deep thoughts while stuck in traffic, and it occurred to me that Bach introduces one more paradox into John’s recounting of Christ’s passion (which is full of paradoxes and dualisms: darkness and light, life and death, love and evil): that a topic so horrifying as the torture and death of Jesus could be rendered with such utterly exquisite beauty. Beauty takes many forms, of course, and Bach chases it to the farthest corners of the human experience, rendering each scene or tableau in the passion with extraordinary fealty to the text, an unerring sense of the dramatic arc, a cinematic sense of text-painting, and an achingly humble sense of devotion. Because Christ’s passion moved Bach so deeply, he, in turn, moves all of us with a sense of gravity and power that simply is unparalleled.
Something else struck me this afternoon while in the midst of our rehearsal: tomorrow’s performance would be one that would be greeted gladly by early music circles in any major metropolitan area. Our orchestra is playing with such sensitivity and skill, our band of soloists is absolutely top-notch. Isaiah Bell’s Erwäge is so deeply moving. Often, because of the extraordinary demands of the piece (in terms of its tessitura or range), one just hopes the tenor soloist makes it through without hurting himself. Not so, in Isaiah’s case. His singing is strikingly beautiful. The energy between William Sharp’s Jesus and David Newman’s Pilate crackles with dramatic zeal. Thomas Cooley continues to wow us all with his dramatic sense and the care and sensitivity he lavishes on every note of his page after page of recitative. My wife rightly observed that we’re very much accustomed to a somewhat omniscient style of Evangslist, but Thomas is completely integrated into this performance, and the synergy between him, the other performers, and the Choir is palpable. Laurie Himes sounds devout and beautiful in her first aria, and full of achingly evocative lament in her second. Dashon’s movements are full of devotion and great beauty – it was as though time stood still during his Betrachte meine seel. We’re especially delighted to make the acquaintance of Laura Atkinson, our mezzo soprano soloists, who has a rich and expressive voice, which she uses with great skill.
Instrumental soloists are also sounding fabulous, as well. The viola d’amore dream team of Paul Miller and Henry Valoris will raise the hairs on the back of your neck as they duet. John Mark Rozendaal, in his first Bethlehem performance, is taking the gamba solo in Laura Atkinson’s profoundly moving Est ist volbracht to new heights. Loretta O’Sullivan and Charlotte Mattax Moersch bring such experience and skill to their continuo roles. Mary Watt and Nobuo Kitagawa and Robin Kani and Linda Ganus bring the long phrases and cross relationships of their respective parts on oboes and flutes into such bold relief. Indeed, I’ve never heard our orchestra sound finer (and am tempted to name every player, such is the extent of their fabulous contributions). Greg’s hand on the till is sure and committed, and he’s leading us all with the passion, zest, and emotional commitment for which he is justly renowned.
In short, I feel confident that tomorrow’s concert will definitely be one for the ages. In the Choir, we feel very well-prepared, and I sense in all of my colleagues a desire to bring all of this to life with every fiber of our beings. If you’re reading this and don’t yet have tickets, come hear us. Tickets will be available at the door. I can personally guarantee that you won’t regret it.