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Sydney Philharmonia Choirs Presents ST. JOHN PASSION REIMAGINED

Sydney Philharmonia Choirs Presents ST. JOHN PASSION REIMAGINED

Sydney Philharmonia Choirs return to the majestic surrounds of Sydney Town Hall for their annual Easter concert, presenting JS Bach's powerful St John Passion, interspersed with re-imaginings from two Australian composers.

One of Bach's most nuanced and daring compositions, setting scripture and poetry to music of heartbreaking beauty, this deeply human telling of Jesus' crucifixion is at times turbulent and anguished and, at others, comforting and serene.

Originally written for the Good Friday Vespers service at St Nicholas Church, Leipzig - where Bach was employed as Music Director, the work had its debut in 1724.

Whilst the Biblical story of Jesus' betrayal is at the heart of the performance, it's the brilliance of Bach's techniques that give life to the composition, for example through the use of specific characters and instruments to highlight the mood, characters and emotions of the musical journey.

Herein the personal grief of humanity is symbolised by the soloists, yet at the heart of the drama is the chorus - bringing a fierce, almost visceral realism to the crowd scenes and irresistibly drawing us into a spirit of contemplation in the chorales.

Equally the instruments play a unique role, such as in the beautiful duet between alto soloist and viola da gamba, 'Es ist Vollbracht- It is Finished'. The instrument chosen by Bach for most closely resembling the human voice.

Thus, a true representation of St John's Passion requires a recreation of Bach's sound world, and in developing this performance Sydney Philharmonia have sourced period instruments from far and wide, for a full Baroque orchestration.

Yet almost 300 years on, on the occasion of Sydney Philharmonia Choirs' Centenary, Artistic Director Brett Weymark also asks, what relevance is the St John Passion today?

In answering this question, he commissioned two Australian composers - Los Angeles based Joseph Twist and Sydney's Brooke Shelley, to reflect on Bach's legacy, and create their own musical responses.

Sketched while visiting family in Australia over Christmas, Joe Twist's Heaven, Tear Apart ("Himmel Reisse") reflects his experience watching the bushfire crisis unfold.

"Inspired by the dramatic imagery of words like "Heaven, tear apart, world tremble ... see my torment and fear," I felt compelled to mix Bach with musical ideas that somehow conveyed the expressions of anger and frustration I saw on television and social media," Twist comments.

"The original "Himmel Reisse" was one of three Arias from the 1725 version of Bach's St John Passion that were later omitted from the work. My piece revives and adapts it into a 21st century musical and emotional context: opening with great anger, descending into sadness and despair, occasionally resting with momentary glimmers of hope and joy."

After being commissioned by Sydney Philharmonia, Brooke Shelley kept asking herself "How do I compose a reflection on Bach's St John Passion?" Meaning, "How on earth can a 'dabbling' composer reflect respectfully on the mastery of J. S. Bach?"

Not long after beginning working on her piece, she received the news that the son of a dear friend had ended his life.

"I found myself drawn to fragments of texts in the Passion that spoke of pain and suffering, and light and rest. Treading oh so carefully, I have come up with this small musical tribute, taking these fragments and inserting them into the work, my friend's family's grief and loss weighing heavily on my mind, "Shelley says.

Interspersed within the performance, these new movements bring a fresh 21st Century perspective and modern-day contemplation to one of the world's most majestic choral masterworks.

Book now for this one-off performance and the ultimate Easter concert treat: St John Passion Re-imagined, Sydney Town Hall, 3pm Easter Saturday, April 11, sydneyphilharmonia.com.au/concerts/2020-season/stjohn/

Conducted by Brett Weymark and featuring performances by special guest soloists: Richard Butler, Andrew O'Connor, Celeste Lazarenko, Anna Dowsley, Timothy Reynolds and David Greco, with Sydney Philharmonia's combined Symphony Chorus and Chamber Singers, and the Sydney Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra.

The performance also includes the premiere of Deborah Cheetham's Tarimi Nulay (Long Time Living Here) for choir and orchestra, an Acknowledgement of Country performed in Gadigal language. Commissioned by Sydney Philharmonia as part of their 2020 Centenary celebrations, Tarimi Nulay made its debut on the steps of Sydney Opera House in January.


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