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Friday, December 3, 2021

American Bach Soloists perform ‘St. John Passion’

“St. John Passion” will show at the Davis Community Church on Mar. 1 at 8 p.m. A pre-concert lecture at 7 p.m. will also be held. Ticket prices start at $18 for students.

Jeffrey Thomas will lead the American Bach Soloists, ABS Choir and five guest soloists in an interpretation of this story that tells of the arrest, trial and crucifixion of Jesus, with interjections from onlookers. The soloists are soprano Ellen Hargis, alto Judith Malafronte, tenor Aaron Sheehan, baritone William Sharp and baritone Joshua Copeland.

Steven Lehning, violone and contrabass musician as well as director of the pre-concert lecture, said that the story was originally created to be performed as part of the Lutheran liturgy as the Vespers service on Good Friday.

Composed of narration and dialogue directly from scripture, German Lutheran Hymns and arias with freely composed texts, St. John Passion holds various elements that give the audience different focal points for their understanding of the story as a whole, Lehning said.

Director Jeffrey Thomas said that the piece is a favorite among composers and choral societies alike.

“Ever since 1827 when Mendelssohn found this music by Bach and brought it back to the concert stage, it has been performed hundreds of thousands of times,” he said.

Director and conductor of more than 25 cantatas, Thomas has appeared in nearly every American baroque orchestra from Baltimore to Berkeley to Detroit. He has also appeared in orchestras in Austria, England, Germany, Italy, Japan and Mexico.

After attending the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, Manhattan School of Music and the Juilliard School of Music, Thomas later went on to teach at the Amherst Early Music Workshop, Oberlin College Conservatory Baroque Performance Institute, San Francisco Early Music Society and Southern Utah Early Music Workshops before becoming a professor of music and direction of choral ensembles at UC Davis.

Thomas said that in addition to having soloists from around the country and Canada, the St. Johns performance will also feature some unique instruments from the Baroque period that are not often heard.

Alto Judith Malafronte noted that some other defining features of the performance are the many themes and components that St. John Passion incorporates.

“The piece touches on so many issues, not just theological, but matters of duty, courage, community,” Malafronte said. “Listeners can likewise appreciate the work on many levels.”

Malafronte said that as the alto, she has two important solo pieces. They include “Es ist vollbracht” (“it is finished”) that serves as a reflection on the final words of Jesus.

“Passion is just one of those musical works you can come to again and again, always finding deeper insights and varieties of expression,” she said. “First time listeners may be overwhelmed by the drama and by Bach’s genius in addressing various aspects of the story; people who know the work well may be anticipating treasured musical moments and eager to hear how the performers will respond.”

Lehning encourages UCD students to attend the performance.

“Our presentation gives UCD students the rare opportunity to experience a major artistic work from the eighteenth century in much of the same way that it was heard at that time,” Lehning said.

For more information on St. John Passion and the American Bach Soloists, visit their website at americanbach.org.

ELENI STEPHANIDES can be reached at arts@theaggie.org.

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