“The Passion According to St. John” by Johann Sebastian Bach will be performed on April 18 in the Memorial Church. The music, based on St. John’s Passion, will be conducted by Gund University Organist and Choirmaster Murray Forbes Somerville and performed by the Harvard University Choir, the Harvard Baroque Chamber Orchestra (directed by Robert Mealy), guest soloists, and Thomas Gregg as the Evangelist.
The masterwork will be performed as it was originally heard, with the orchestra using authentic instruments at Baroque pitch and the entire piece sung in the original German. As in Bach’s time, the audience members will be invited to sing the chorales, although in an English translation. A translation of the text will be provided.
Somerville explains the universal human accessibility of the larger imagery in St. John’s Passion: “The reference to the Orpheus myth in the instrumentation – the multiple combinations of perfection and imperfection, divinity and humanity, musically throughout the piece; the violent drama of the crowd scenes; and the contrast of the chorales make it clear that this story is about [all of] us, our weaknesses, and our capacity for doing deeply wrong things from the best of intentions.” This theme is illustrated throughout the work in the instrumentation and leading up to the crescendo, which strikes its deepest and most central chord, “Thee will I praise eternally.”
The concert will also celebrate over 12 years of service Somerville has given Harvard through his ministry of music at the Memorial Church. Somerville will depart for his new appointment as director of music at St. George’s Episcopal Church in Nashville, Tenn., this June.