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  • Fiona Prior

St Matthew Passion

St Matthew Passion

Johann Sebastian Bach

I must begin this essay with the fact that I couldn’t stay for the entire Passion and that I do not have the privilege of a traditional faith. It is within these parameters that I will give my impressions of this sublime two and a half hour event though I only had the privilege of attending round half of the repertoire.

Firstly, a little history. Bach’s St Matthew Passion is consider the Sistine Chapel ceiling of metaphysical musical works. Transcendence is something we can all experience whether believers or not. Sheer audio or visual beauty and the story of a very good man who came to an astonishingly brutal end for his saintly life must leave us all humbled and open to higher aspirations.

Conductor Brett Weymark’s take on St Matthew Passion: “Here is one of the most complex, beautiful, difficult and cathartic scores which matches an equally important event in the history of the world as we understand it today.

Presented by Sydney Philharmonia Choir and featuring Robert Macfarlane as Evangelist, Christopher Richardson as Christus, soprano Celeste Lazarenko , mezzo soprano Sally-Anne Russell, Tenor Jonathon Abernethy, baritone David Greco, Sydney Chorus, Chamber Singers, VOX, the NSW Public Schools Senior Singers , with the Sydney Philarmonic Orchestra and concertmaster Fiona Ziegler, these music professionals, according to Conductor Weymark, brought with them a palpable air of excitement and expectation from the very first rehearsal.

Always, when listening to such greatness in Sydney Opera House the inadequacies of the Concert Hall acoustics become apparent but it is in these moments that the immediacy of one’s surroundings hit home. My experience was to notice a delightful family with two rather 'uncomfortable' teenagers. My companion suggested that ‘mum’ probably had decided that she and hubby had catered so much to their children’s enjoyment this extended weekend that she was just going to do this one thing for the adults of the tribe. I couldn’t help smiling when I realised that their extreme interest in the accompanying program, which to most in the audience was a way of understanding, line by line, the narrative being presented on stage was these youngsters’ way of calculating how long to interval!

Again, the words of Weymark are most suitable to describe the feeling in the Concert Hall: “In the end, this is a work about humanity. It is about us today, in this time, in this country, this choir, this event that we will share together. It’s with a deep sense of gratitude that we embark on this journey together… “ and I would add, with those reluctant teenagers in tow for the ride!

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