Concertbouw Orchestra streams Bach’s ‘St Matthew Passion’

Iván Fischer conducting the Concertgebouw Orchestra in Bach’s ‘St Matthew Passion’ – courtesy Het Concertgebouw

Maintaining a tradition dating back to 1898, the Concertgebouw Orchestra presents its annual Holy Week performance of Bach’s St Matthew Passion on Saturday, 27th March.

The scheduled performance under the direction of Belgian conductor Philippe Herreweghe has had to be cancelled due to the health risks involved, and instead the Concertgebouw will stream a recording of the performance led by Iván Fischer from 1st April, 2012.

The Orchestra was joined by the Netherlands Radio Choir, the National Children’s Choir, and tenors Mark Padmore and Peter Gijsbertsen, basses Peter Harvey and Henk Neven, sopranos María Espada and Renate Arends, and mezzo-sopranos Ingeborg Danz and Barbara Koselj.

In the Netherlands every year during Holy Week – the week prior to Easter – Bach’s magnificent St Matthew Passion is performed by the Concertgebouw Orchestra, the ensemble which was instrumental in the establishment of this tradition. The first performance of this work by the Concertgebouw took place in 1891, the third year after the founding of the Orchestra, and from 1898 until the 1970s, this became an annual event. Since the 1970s, the St Matthew Passion has alternated with Bach’s St John Passion, and in recent years with more contemporary Passions, but this year the St Matthew Passion will be performed, and streamed online for viewers around the world to enjoy.

The first performance of Bach’s St Matthew Passion took place on Good Friday, 11th April 1727. In the words of St Matthew the Evangelist, the oratorio tells of the last days of Jesus, his betrayal, trial, crucifixion and burial. The lyrics were compiled by German poet and librettist Christian Friedrich Henrici (known as Picander), and it is thought that this was done in close consultation with Bach himself, with added chorales and arias at key moments in the story.

Intriguingly, Johann Sebastian Bach appears to have become obscure after his death in 1750, but in the early 1820s, Carl Zelter, director of the Berlin Singakademie, laid hands on a copy of the St Matthew Passion and rehearsed some of the choral movements with his singers – two of whom happened to be Fanny and Felix Mendelssohn. In April 1829 – and despite some strong opposition – the 20 year-old Felix Mendelssohn mounted the first modern performance of the work, with the help of Zelter and the actor Eduard Devrient. This abbreviated form of the oratorio was performed in Berlin over Easter that year, resulting in a revival of interest in the music of Bach.

Iván Fischer, founder and Music Director of the Budapest Festival Orchestra, has been appointed Honorary Guest Conductor of the Concertgebouw Orchestra as of this current season. He is also Honorary Conductor of the Konzerthausorchester Berlin, of which he was previously Music Director, a position he has also held at Kent Opera and Opéra National de Lyon, as well as that of Principal Conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington.

Director of his Iván Fischer Opera Company, he is also the founder of several festivals, including the Vicenza Opera Festival. As a composer, Maestro Fischer has had his works performed in the United States, the Netherlands, Belgium, Hungary, Germany and Austria.

Iván Fischer leads the Concertgebouw Orchestra in a recorded performance of J S Bach’s St Matthew Passion on Saturday, 27th March. The concert can be viewed on the Concertgebouw Orchestra website, on Facebook and Youtube from 20h00 (CET) and will be available for two weeks after the initial transmission.

Information sourced from:

Concertgebouw Orchestra programme notes

J S Bach

St Matthew Passion

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