For the past few years, I’ve tried to find a liturgically appropriate, musically outstanding concert to attend on Easter weekend. One year I lucked out and got to hear Bach’s St. John Passion performed by the exemplary Collegium Vocale Gent Choir and Orchestra, but that sort of thing is surprisingly hard to come by. Apparently most people who celebrate Easter do so by attending church (who knew?), and those of us who wish to observe the holiday through music alone have few options.
That’s not really the sort of thing you can complain about, but it makes me sad all the same. I’m “retired” now, but I’ve spent most of my life as a church musician—starting out in the children’s choir and becoming an accompanist and organist in my teens—and if anything still gives me a sense of the divine, it’s music.
A week or so ago, an old Facebook acquaintance of mine linked to an article in the London Times in that same vein, eloquently describing the spiritual weight of great passiontide music, even for those who aren’t particularly religious, and I loved the essay so much, identified with it so strongly, that reading it gave me a pang of jealousy: I wished I had written it myself. Maybe that’s why I kept turning it over in mind on Monday as I thought about the concert I was planning to attend: the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s performance of Mendelssohn’s Elijah oratorio.
It was a terrible selection (the Old Testament libretto isn’t even Eastery, by definition), but I was desperate (there were no good options), so I had figured I could make do. But the more I thought about it, the more inadequate it all became. I had to admit to myself that my whole Easter concert scheme is sort of pitiful to begin with, and going to hear Mendelssohn—a Bach fan-boy who wrote conservative, pedestrian Romantic music*—when what I really wanted was Bach himself made my plan even more pitiful.
So I had one of my silly little personal crises and wandered around the park for a while and finally decided, to hell with it, I’m tired and I’m going home. So no Easter concert this year.
But please, Collegium Vocale Gent, Tallis Scholars, Voices of Ascension, someone: Next Easter, won’t you please perform one of the Bach Passions. Or Haydn’s Seven Last Words of Christ. Or some Tavener or Pärt. Give me something sublime and reverent and wondrous. Is that really too much to ask?
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*Note: This is a grotesquely unfair summation of Mendelssohn, and if I weren’t in such a sour mood, I wouldn’t put it like that. That being said, Mendelssohn isn’t one of my favorite composers under the best of circumstances. So whatever.