With an extraordinary performance of the St. John Passion, the Leipzig Bachfest will be bringing the world together on Good Friday in Johann Sebastian Bach’s church of St. Thomas – and the global Bach community is invited to sing along.
In many places it is a tradition – sometimes going back more than 100 years – to perform a Bach Passion during the week before Easter. Many people all over the world regard it as an indispensable ritual to listen to or actually sing Bach’s settings of the story of Jesus’ Passion during Passiontide. This year, it is overshadowed by the Covid-19 pandemic. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of performances of Bach’s Passions worldwide have been cancelled owing to the restrictions on movement. To give the global Bach community a chance to actively participate in a Bach Passion in spite of this, the artistic director of the Leipzig Bachfest had an extraordinary idea:
On Good Friday, 10 April, at the hour of Jesus’ death (3pm, CEST), a chamber music version of Johann Sebastian Bach’s famous St. John Passion will be performed at his tomb, and the global Bach community is invited to sing along. Prominent musicians from countries like the US, Canada and Malaysia will perform by video link. The concert will be livestreamed via the Bach Archive’s Facebook channel.
Prof. Dr. Michael Maul, Artistic Director of the Leipzig Bachfest is excited: At this year’s Bachfest in June entitled BACH – We are FAMILY!, nearly 50 Bach choirs from all continents were to celebrate the greatest Bach family festival of all time in Leipzig and make music together in all kinds of ways. Owing to the pandemic, this will no longer be possible. By advancing this very special production of the St. John Passion to Good Friday – originally scheduled to take place on Leipzig’s Market Square with 5,000 people singing along – we hope to have the global Bach family singing together at least once, virtually: at the right time in the right place. Of this I am certain: it will be a very moving event for all of us.
296 years ago, on Good Friday 1724, Johann Sebastian Bach’s St. John Passion was performed for the first time. It was the most extensive work to date by the cantor of St. Thomas’ in Leipzig, newly appointed in 1723: for two hours, the congregation followed the musically illustrated Passion of Jesus Christ. Many – together with the choristers of St. Thomas’ – joined in the singing of Bach’s immortal chorales and from them drew strength for difficult times. To this day, millions of people all over the world find comfort and hope by performing and listening to this unique music.
The actual Passion story will be performed by just three musicians. The Icelandic tenor Benedikt Kristjánsson tells the story of Jesus’ Passion on the basis of Bach’s Passion, taking on the role of the Evangelist and all the other characters – and also conducting the virtual choir. Harpsichordist Elina Albach and percussionist Philipp Lamprecht take the role of the orchestra, while for the chorales – besides the five singers in St. Thomas’ Church led by Thomaskantor Gotthold Schwarz – the artists and Bach choirs who were invited to the 2020 Bachfest will be participating by video link. In addition to which, all the viewers at home are invited to sing along. For the purpose, the Bach Archive and publishers Carus- Verlag will be providing a digital programme booklet with the music to download.
Prof. Dr. Michael Maul: Fantastic Bachfest artists, members of the THOMANERCHOR Leipzig, the choirs of Bachfest Malaysia and the J. S. Bach Foundation of St. Gallen, as well as the Ottawa Bach Choir have agreed to take part in the performance from their living rooms. BACH – We are FAMILY! – this is truer than ever!
Livestream on Facebook: www.facebook.com/bacharchiv
More information on Leipzig, the city of music: www.leipzig.travel/music