Orchestra Seattle will mount one of the classical music highlights of the spring – Bach’s epic St. Matthew Passion – this Sunday at First Free Methodist Church. As has been the case all season, a guest conductor will helm the orchestra. This week it is noted Bach specialist Hans-Jurgen Schnoor. Earlier in the week, I asked Schnoor about the piece and his approach to a large scale work like the Matthew Passion.
Zach Carstensen: Bach’s Matthew Passion is one of many masterpieces Bach wrote. What makes this particular piece so good?
Hans-Jurgen Schnoor: St. Matthew Passion has the widest range both emotionally and dramatically of all the pieces Bach ever wrote.
ZC: What constitutes an authentic Bach performance depends on many factors, some of which like the size of the orchestra and chorus, always seem to be in debate. Is it ever possible for a performance to be truly authentic?
HJS: A performance can be truly authentic only for yourself – you never can repeat a special situation in 1729 or so. But you have to ask the music for its special language – and hopefully you will get an answer.
ZC: Orchestra Seattle has a long Bach performance tradition that began under its previous director. Has this experience helped as you have been preparing the piece for performance this coming Sunday?
HJS: Yes, of course: nearly all of the members of Orchestra Seattle/Seattle Chamber Singers know the whole piece very well. It’s impossible to learn these thousands of details in three weeks.
ZC: For me the Matthew Passion has so many elements that a conductor and orchestra could treat as everything from church music to sacred opera. For you, does this make conducting the piece liberating or nerve
HJS: St. Matthew Passion is a narration of the human condition – conducting this great piece is as liberating as listening to it.
ZC: People often point to the length of the piece as the reason it isn’t performed more often. Is length the only reason or are conductors daunted by the scope of Bach’s music?
HJS: Daunted by the length or by the scope? Never – if I were, I’d say I had the wrong job