Monday, 17 March 2008

Berkhamsted, St John Passion, and 'The Cross and the Colliery'

Holy Week got off to an excellent start on Sunday with an enjoyable morning at Berkhamsted Baptist Church, where I was preaching, and then in the evening at the Church of Christ the Cornerstone, Milton Keynes. On this occasion I wasn't preaching but attending a performance of the Bach, St John Passion, with the Cornerstone Chamber Choir and Orchestra, conducted by Adrian Boynton.

Last year, their performance of the St Matthew Passion was one of the high points of Holy Week, and while my preference remains with the St Matthew Passion, again, Cornerstone was the place to be. The moments that remain with me include the opening of the tense and brooding prologue, with an undercurrent of busy string activity overlaid with long sustained tones from the lower register of the oboes, flute, and bassoon, interrupted by the Chorus which the proclamation, 'Lord and Master' - you're left in no doubt that this is solemn stuff. There was the aria 'It is fulfilled' which had the right balance of majesty and sorrow, capturing John's emphasis upon the 'lifting up' of Jesus, the enthronement of the King, the glorification of the Son. And then there were the two periods of silence. The first, following the words, 'And, bowing His head, He gave up the ghost.' And the second, at the very end. These were silences that were deep and charged, and were meaningful only because of all that had been. Sometime I may say more about silence in music - a key component.
To add to this, I started Tom Wright's 'The Cross and the Colliery' and was thoroughly delighted by his musical framework. He treats the story of Jesus from Palm Sunday to Good Friday as the melody. The bass part - the musical line which grounds the whole thing - is provided by the Old Testament, as in 'Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures', and in particular the Servant Songs of Isaiah. The tenor part - the part that often tells you if the chord is major or minor, happy or sad - is the story of our own world and our own community. And the alto part - sometimes a bit shy, sometimes doesn't seem very exciting but the harmony isn't complete without it, and sometimes has spectacular things to do - is your part, your own personal story, your private bit of the song. Now, is that good or is that good?

So, not a bad day overall!

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