Tuesday, February 8, 2011

To be profound

You've all heard of J.S. Bach's St. Matthew Passion, right?
(just nod your head 'yes')
And you know we're living in a postmodern age, yes?
(again, nod the head. and smile.)

Well, Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev composed an original piece -- a fresh look at St. Matthew Passion -- for choir, soloists, and chamber orchestra. And last night, the English-language version premiered at Church of St. Paul the Apostle.
And I was there!

(so, you've never heard of Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev?
Well, he's fluent in multiple languages, has written over 600 publications, is a bishop in the Eastern Orthodox Church and a public ecclesial representative, besides being a renowned composer.
so now you know.)

Dr. Greg Hobbs, director of music at Highland Park Presbyterian Church in Dallas, apparently conducted the performance. He did very well.
And he'll be conducting it again next week in Dallas somewhere.
So check it out, if you're nearby.

The Passion has already been performed
in Toronto, Rome, Melbourne, and Moscow,
and received standing ovations, as it did again tonight.

But, for all that hullabaloo and excitement,
it really didn't seem all that impressive to me.

Now, I'm not claiming to be a classical music expert.
Nor am I claiming to be all that disappointed.
The liturgical-chant reading of the Gospel went from foreign to familiar. The waves of music ebbed and flowed over my mind. The blend of orchestral and choral; the regular interchange of chorus, recitation, reading, aria, and fugue; the pleasant interjections of female soloists (my favorite part, surprisingly); and the general subdued tone, appropriate to a Christians' retelling of their Savior's suffering, death and betrayal (Judas seemed to play a major role in the piece) -- all combined to make for a memorable experience.

But it wasn't a mind-blowing spectacle.
It wasn't shocking or surprising or spell-binding.
It wasn't epic, like I figure Bach was epic.
It wasn't disruptive or disturbing; nor was it exceptionally stimulating.
It was more soothing and soft, mellow and mild.
It felt more like an elaborate church service, like perhaps at Easter-time.

And so far, of all those I've asked who heard the performance,
none have said much differently.

But what do you think?
For those of you who heard it, any second thoughts?
For those of you who haven't, listen to a bit on YouTube (or, better yet, go to Dallas to hear it live, and maybe meet some Super Bowl stragglers), and tell me: What did I miss? Should I have been more impressed? Was I just not paying enough attention?

Maybe it's that today in the twenty-first century, to be profound
it's better to be understated.
Or maybe it's just that the piece didn't do enough that was NEW.

All the same, I'm glad I went.   Thanks, Hilarion, for the good music.

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