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Chorus set to tackle J.S. Bach's `Passion'.

Byline: Richard Duckett

When people talk about J.S. Bach's "St. Matthew Passion" they start to sound poetic ... and passionate about the music. You hear phrases such as "a monumental masterpiece" and "majestic cathedral of music"

"For the conductor and performing artists, it's music's Mona Lisa," said Andrew Clark, music director of the Worcester Chorus. Leonard Bernstein once enthused, "It is a revered masterpiece - perhaps one of the divine dozen in all musical literature ... a work of such dramatic power and invention, as seldom, if ever, been equaled."

But there have not been many opportunities in the Worcester area to experience a live performance over the last few years. For example, Clark's records indicate that the Worcester Chorus hasn't taken on "St. Matthew's Passion" in decades, if ever.

That makes the upcoming March 7 performance at Mechanics Hall all the more exciting, he said.

"It is pretty rare for this community, it seems. So we're extra excited about bringing this monumental work to Worcester. It's one of the principal pieces on the canon not to have been heard at Mechanics Hall for quite some time."

The March 7 performance, presented by Music Worcester Inc., will feature the Worcester Chorus, children from the choirs of All Saints Church and Trinity Lutheran Church, a dozen Worcester high school students who have been involved in a mentoring project with the chorus, and two chamber orchestras. There will be more than 100 singers on the stage.

The "St. Matthew Passion" is set to Chapters 26 and 27 of the Gospel of St. Matthew describing the events around the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

The work is both epic and intimate, uplifting and poignant, with memorable chorales and arias. "It's difficult to speak about this piece and not sound hyperbolic," Clark said. "But it is all justified . It is such an important and tremendous achievement one could spend a whole lifetime studying the piece and just scratch the surface of what one can discover."

On the over hand, an audience member hearing the work for the first time "will be deeply impacted," Clark said.

Still, Bernstein noted it can be a daunting piece to undertake for both the conductor and singers - which may explain the relative rarity of live performances. "There are many people, unfortunately, for whom this work seems more like some sort of challenge seen dimly through the midst of unappetizing words like oratorio, cantata, canon, fugue, choral, aria and whatnot. This midst of words, which sounds so undramatic and technical, must be dispelled," Bernstein said.

This will be Clark's first time conducting Bach's "St. Matthew Passion." The Worcester Chorus has been rehearsing since September, initially alternating rehearsals with preparations for the annual presentation of Handel's "Messiah," which was performed in December, and then concentrating on the "St. Matthew Passion."

"We have spent some time. We realized it would require a Herculean effort. I feel like it has paid dividends," Clark said.

"It is as invigorating as it is totally daunting and humbling. You study the score from a mechanical point of view, and you see something ... I find myself being moved to tears. There's nothing like it. The joy for me has been in the process of learning and discovery. He (Bach) has been dead for over 250 years, and he's still teaching us."

The singers on the stage will range in age from 8 to 80 and above, Clark said. "So far it's good. We have all grown. It's a landmark moment for the Worcester Chorus," he said.

"It's a chance for our turn - for our generation to revitalize it for our times and future generations. We all feel like it's important to pass along this piece as a legacy of great musical achievement."

J.S. Bach's "St. Matthew Passion"

When: 8 p.m. March 7

Where: Mechanics Hall, 321 Main St., Worcester

How much: $39 and $36. For more information, call (508) 754-3231.

ART: PHOTO

PHOTOG: ED COLLIER

CUTLINE: Andrew Clark, music director of the Worcester Chorus, conducting "Messiah" last year at Mechanics Hall in Worcester.
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Title Annotation:ENTERTAINMENT
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Feb 27, 2009
Words:675
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