Pasadena Master Chorale Presents Bach’s “St. John Passion”

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STAFF REPORT

11:10 am | May 23, 2019


When the Pasadena Master Chorale presents Bach’s “St. John Passion” on Saturday, June 15, at 8:00 p.m. at St. Philip the Apostle church in Pasadena, the audience will experience “something unique,” promises Jeffrey Bernstein, PMC’s artistic director.

“Just as a solo artist offers something personal to a performance, so too an ensemble imbues a performance with something of itself – its culture, its practices, its sound,” Bernstein explains.

For instance, at this performance of the ‘St. John Passion,’ the audience will not hear some arias, while another aria – usually sung by a soloist – will be sung by the bass section of the choir. We have also chosen to perform one chorale a cappella, although a first-rate professional baroque orchestra will accompany us on period instruments for the remainder of the evening.”

The concert will conclude with yet one more PMC ‘touch’ – a performance of the motet “Sicut Cervus” by Renaissance composer Giovanni Pierliugi de Palestrina.

“The motet is a favorite of ours,” Bernstein reveals. “But for this performance we’ll retext the ending from ad te, Deus, to Thee, God to ad te, Jesu. Clearly this decision is a modern and creative one. Yet it is grounded in the knowledge that Bach knew the music of Palestrina and designed the ‘St. John Passion’ to be followed by other music.”

The role of the Evangelist will be sung by Boston-based tenor Arthur Rishi. All other solos will be sung by PMC members: baritone Eric Werner (singing the role of Jesus); baritone Chris Tickner (Pilate); soprano Sara Owinyo (Ich Folge Dich Gleichfalls and Zerfliße); alto Cristina Hernandez (Von Den Stricken and Es Ist Vollbracht) and tenor Joel Drake (Mein Herz).

“Arthur Rishi sings the Evangelist exquisitely, with perfect pacing, sensitivity, and a gorgeous voice,” Bernstein says. “Having choir members sing the arias and dramatic roles frames the story, showing clearly that the music is sung by a company of singers who assume different roles at different times. It makes for a multilayered performance. On one level, the Pasadena Master Chorale sings a dramatic work by Bach. On another, singers from the choir depict dramatic roles within the story.”

Having the Evangelist sung by a singer who is not in the choir adds another layer, Bernstein continues. The audience will play a role as well – an effect Bernstein will heighten through an array of simple staging techniques, such as having a solo line or two sung from the audience. “The audience witnesses and contemplates,” Bernstein explains. “In this way, Bach is enlivened and made relevant and approachable in 21st century Los Angeles.”

As has become a tradition at PMC, Bach’s “St. John Passion” will be presented on a Listen First, Then Give basis – meaning there is no upfront ticket cost. After the concert, the audience is asked to donate to PMC as they are moved and able. To reserve seats, visit www.pasadenamasterchorale.org or https://www.eventbrite.com/e/bach-st-john-passion-tickets-55013418616

St. Philip the Apostle church is located at 151 South Hill Avenue, Pasadena.

For more information, visit www.pasadenamasterchorale.org or call (626) 208-0009.

About Guest Artist Arthur Rishi

Arthur Rishi can be found both behind the scenes and on concert stages in the Boston area. As an arts administrator, he has held positions with Handel & Haydn Society, Emmanuel Music, Northeastern University’s Department of Music and Center for the Arts, Opera Theatre of Connecticut, Choral Music Program at Harvard-Radcliffe, and the New Haven Symphony Orchestra. He was co-founder and Executive Director of Prism Opera, a chamber opera company, and currently serves as artistic director of the Class of 1959 Chapel Concert Series at Harvard Business School, and as Music Director of St. Mary of the Assumption Parish in Brookline.

As a singer, he performs frequently in oratorio, and concert. Recent appearances have included Mozart’s Requiem and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 with the Pasadena Master Chorale, Beethoven’s Mass in C and Orff’s Carmina burana with the Assabet Valley Master Singers, Janacek’s Diary of one who Vanished at Northeastern University, the Evangelist in Bach’s St. John Passion with Sarasa Ensemble, the title role in Mozart’s La clemenza di Tito with Prism Opera. He has performed Schubert’s song cycle Die schöne Müllerin more than twenty times in concert halls throughout the Northeast and Canada and as a part of First Night Providence. He holds degrees from Harvard College, the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and Boston University.

About Jeffrey Bernstein

Known for his ability to inspire musicians and audiences alike, Jeffrey Bernstein is one of Southern California’s pre-eminent choral conductors. Trained at Harvard, Yale and UCLA, Bernstein was Director of Choral Music at Occidental College in Los Angeles for eleven years before leaving in 2008 to found the Pasadena Master Chorale. He has led choirs on fourteen tours of four continents and traveled extensively as a guest conductor, leading choirs and orchestras in Europe, Japan and throughout this country. In 2012 Bernstein led the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra in Life of Mozart, an education program he created interpolating readings from Mozart’s letters with excerpts from the composer’s best-loved music. In June 2013 Bernstein became the first American to lead the annual concert of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony in Naruto, Japan, the city where the work was first heard in Asia, ninety-five years ago. On the same concert, which featured over 800 performers, Bernstein premiered his symphonic poem Dreams of Japan, composed for the occasion. The work received its United States premiere in Los Angeles in 2014. Bernstein’s Fukushima Requiem, composed in response to the Tohoku tsunami disaster, has been performed three times in America and Japan, raising nearly $8,000 for relief and rebuilding efforts. Bernstein has composed and premiered dozens of other concert works including orchestra pieces, choral-orchestral works, solo songs, chamber music and over thirty works for chorus. Bernstein has released two albums of improvised piano music, PianoJournals (2012) and Clear Mind Calm Water (2015). A committed educator and a strong advocate for children Bernstein maintains a private studio and is on staff at the Pasadena Waldorf School, where he creates improvised piano music for young people.