Friends – as across the world we find our own ways of commemorating the most solemn day of the Christian calendar, let me commend a wonderful project which Maggie and I have just been watching.
The ‘Oxford Bach Soloists’ were going to be performing Bach’s St John Passion; but because of the enforced lockdown and isolation that seemed impossible. So they have got together – electronically! – and are performing it in half-hour segments, with every single one of the singers and instrumentalists, and the conductor as well, in their own homes.
It is moving at two quite different but interlocking levels.
First, those who like me have loved Bach’s ‘Passions’ from childhood (and every repetition, whether singing or listening, adds another layer of memory and prayer) will find this a performance worthy of the music. And, particularly, worthy of the story that Bach is setting.
But second, the team have done a wonderful Easter thing: they have taken the constraints, darkness and sorrow of this ‘isolation’ time, this ‘exile’ where we cannot even meet our friends let alone make music with them, and have turned it into something truly beautiful. The technology alone is mind-blowing – when you watch it you will see sometimes up to thirty small screens simultaneously, with the singers and instrumentalists all in their own rooms. And it all works.
Some of the performers are people Maggie and I knew in our previous life in Oxford, thirty years ago. The whole thing is in the best traditions of Oxford music – high standards but with a sense of inventive delight, refusing to be beaten by circumstances but instead making something new and powerful out of it all.
You will find the link on the Oxford Bach Soloists webpage: ‘St John Passion in Isolation’. This first episode gives you an introduction by Roderick Williams who is singing Christus, and then the first twenty minutes or so of the music. The rest will come in due course. There is also a link for anyone who would like to donate to a charity which helps out-of-work musicians (as most of them are) at this difficult time.
Warm greetings to one and all as we await the Easter dawn
Prof N T Wright