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Bach | Mendelssohn St. Matthew Passion Archival Book

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Follow the journey Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia has taken this season to perform the North American Premiere of Mendelssohn’s version of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion. This 52 page archival book contains the full libretto, program notes for the concert, photos, historical information, and background material.

There is a very limited supply of these books, so why wait in line? Pre-order your copy today and pick it up at the concert on Sunday. Sample pages below:


Andrew Bogard (Bass-baritone)

Bass-baritone Andrew Bogard hails from central Ohio and is currently pursuing his Master of Music degree from the Curtis Institute of Music where he is a student of Marlena Malas.

Andrew was heard at Opera Philadelphia as the First Priest/Second Armored Guard in Mozart’s “Die Zauberflöte” and Maestro in Golijov”s “Ainadamar”, as The Abbott in Britten’s “Curlew River” at Ballet Opera Pantomime (Montreal), as Alidoro in Rossini’s “La Cenerentola”, Dulcamara in “L’elisir d’amore”, Spencer Coyle in Britten’s “Owen Wingrave”, Sarastro in “Die Zauberflöte”, Dr. Reischmann in Henze’s “Elegy for Young Lovers, and “Mephistopheles in Gounod’s “Faust” at the Curtis Institute of Music. Orotorio performances include the bass soloist in “The Messiah” with the Park Avenue Chamber Orchestra and Marion Civic Orchestra, and Raphael/Adam in “The Creation” with Symphony in C and the Mendelssohn Club of Philadephia.

In summers at the Chautauqua Music Festival, Andrew sang le Marquis de la Force in Dialogue of the Carmelites, Leporello in Don Giovanni, Dulcamara in Donizetti’s “L’elisir d’amore”, Simone in “Gianni Schicchi”, Reverend Hale in “The Crucible”, and Colline in “La Boheme”.

Andrew won first place in the 2014 Mario Lanza Scholarship Competition, and was a Mid-Atlantic regional finalist and encouragemnt award recipient in the 2014 MET Competition.

St. Matthew Passion Symposium – Photos

Great turnout for an interesting movie and discussion about Mendelssohn’s version of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion. We had a very engaged audience who enjoyed a friendly reception as well. We hope you were all inspired to attend our North American Premiere of this work on February 8th.
Photos – Sharon Torello
— at Ethical Humanist Society of Philadelphia.

The Story

Why reconstruct Mendelssohn’s 1841 revision of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion?

Bach’s stature and influence is so firmly established in Western culture that it’s difficult to imagine that 160 years ago his music was almost unknown to all but a few academics. It was through Mendelssohn’s recognition of Bach’s genius and his efforts in making Bach’s works accessible to a wider public that these works are recognized among the greatest masterworks. Revisions for Mendelssohn’s Berlin (1829) and Leipzig (1841) performances are preserved in Oxford‘s Bodleian Library (Mendelssohn made additional revisions after the 1829 premiere).

Mendelssohn revised the SMP to last around two hours with contemporary instrumentation, dynamics, and symphonic choral forces providing an interesting alternative for present-day audiences (Bach’s original is approximately three hours, with Baroque instruments, no written dynamics, and traditionally performed by small chorales). Though purists may express displeasure at altering SMP, if it weren’t for Mendelssohn’s efforts, Bach may have remained unknown to the greater public. Mendelssohn’s edits were designed to bring Bach to his contemporary community – the very community who didn’t have access to a SMP score. Our performance will demonstrate Mendelssohn’s intentions, not only as an historic monument to and reconstruction of Mendelssohn’s 1841 performance, but as a highly dramatic version of SMP.

With such intensified focus on SMP’s drama, for the performance MCP will project supertitles and have written libretti/project books available in support of Mendelssohn’s efforts. In advance of the performance, we will produce a BIG SING concert designed to invite participation from the audience using some of Bach’s SMP chorales, in addition to some Mendelssohn cantatas that are directly related to Bach’s influence. We will also present a symposium to examine Mendelssohn’s choices in comparison to Bach’s original.

Our culminating concert will be performed in Girard College Chapel, which can accommodate a double orchestra/chorus, soloists, and a large organ with a 32′ pedal. Historically, the 1829 premiere was in Berlin’s secular Sing-Akademie with an 800-seat capacity. In 1841, Leipzig’s Thomaskirche, with a 2000-seat capacity, was used. Thus, there is precedence to perform SMP in a sacred or secular space. Mendelssohn used operatic voices for the soloists in his performances; thus, we will be using Eric Owens (former MCP core singer), Marietta Simpson, and Yusuke Fujii (the Evangelist used by Masaaki Suzuki, one of the world’s foremost Bach specialists, twice) and Susanna Phillips as our primary soloists.

The concert will be recorded for HD video distribution by NAXOS for streaming and downloads.

Artistic Statement by Alan Harler
When we listen to the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, we sense his deep concern for humanity and his desire that we hold ourselves to the highest values. After almost three centuries, audiences all over the world still respond strongly to Bach’s humanism and compassion. Working so closely with Bach specialist Koji Otsuki reinforced the idea that Felix Mendelssohn also revered Bach’s genius. I decided to travel to Oxford University myself to examine Mendelssohn’s own copy of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion.

Although I have been involved in over fifty commissions with Mendelssohn Club, I have never experienced such intimacy with a contemporary score. (Of course, Sibelius, the popular composition software program, makes it unnecessary for a present-day composer to ever write directly on manuscript paper.) Studying Mendelssohn’s own handwriting on his score was like inspecting the brushstrokes of a master painter. Did he choose pencil rather than in ink because of an underlying uncertainly about changes or was he simply being careful not to destroy the original? Do erased sections reveal that he was struggling with a given passage or phrase? Mendelssohn handled his rare copy with great care, tenderly laying paper over the parts he “cut” so that the original would never be damaged.

My time in the Bodleian Library at Oxford provided me with a deeper understanding of what Mendelssohn wanted to achieve with his version of The St. Matthew Passion. I now have a more profound appreciation of his respect for Bach as a master composer with so much to teach all who came after him. In many ways, Mendelssohn considered himself a student of Bach. Over a century later, my teacher and mentor, the brilliant Julius Herford, shared his own very deep connection to Bach the composer, and to Bach the man, with me and all his students including Leonard Bernstein, Margaret Hillis and Robert Shaw, among others. As a young faculty member at Indiana University and the Aspen Choral Institute, I was struck by Herford’s reverence for the Bach master–especially considering the historical context of the St. Matthew Passion and Herford’s experience as a Jewish man who had to flee Nazi Germany.

For the past five decades, I have longed to conduct Bach’s St. Matthew Passion having conducted the St. John Passion and Mass in B Minor numerous times. Yet, in my long career of teaching and conducting, the timing just never aligned with the resources required. A symphonic chorus as large as Mendelssohn Club never seemed appropriate to this work because of the intimate size of the group required in Bach’s original score. The score poses other challenges for a chorus of any size including the delicate and quite difficult coloratura passages and the Baroque period practices related to instrumentation, vocal affect, etc. All that changed, however, three years ago, when I heard Roger Norrington’s performance of Mendelssohn’s version. Here at last was a St Matthew Passion that was compatible with the 140 voices of Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia.

After more than forty years as a conductor and over a quarter century with Mendelssohn Club, I am honored and humbled to bring this glorious score to Philadelphia for its American premiere. I am genuinely excited to be advised by Maestro Masaaki Suziki, one the world’s foremost specialists and conductors of Bach. All of us are eager to replicate Felix Mendelssohn’s specific directions by performing this work outside of liturgical practice and by using operatic voices for the soloists. Obviously, presenting this version of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion provides our chorus with an historic opportunity to speak about our own founding in 1874. Finally, I am especially proud that our research and public performance will bring new awareness of this important score to audiences and choruses across the world.

Marietta Simpson (mezzo-soprano)

Marietta Simpson, whose deeply expressive, richly beautiful voice has made her one of the most sought-after mezzo-sopranos today, has sung with major orchestras throughout the United States, under many of the world’s greatest conductors, including the late Robert Shaw in her Carnegie Hall debut in 1988 as soloist in Brahms’ Alto Rhapsody with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.

In season 2012-13 Marietta Simpson sang as Queenie in Showboat with Houston Grand Opera, as soloist in Mahler’s Symphony No. 3 with Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra under Carlos-Miguel Prieto, and in Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 with Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia. Her 2011-12 season included singing as soloist in Messiah with the United States Naval Academy, and in Bruckner’s Te Deum and Tippett’s A Child of Our Time, both with Collegiate Chorale. Recent highlights featured her performances as soloist in Messiah at Washington National Cathedral, also Bethel’s First AME Church; in Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis with Richmond Symphony; in Tippett’s A Child of Our Time with Utah Symphony; Mahler’s Rückert Lieder with the Memphis Symphony Orchestra; Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 with the Columbus Symphony Orchestra; Verdi’s Requiem with the Louisville Orchestra; Messiah with Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, also Detroit Symphony; Mendelssohn’s “Die Erste Walpurgisnacht” and Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, both with Alabama Symphony; an appearance in recital at the Kennedy Center; as soloist in Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 with the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Tanglewood under Kurt Masur; and in “Summertime Songs with the Philadelphia Orchestra” at Mann Center for the Performing Arts.

Other highlights include Maria in Porgy and Bess in a return to Lyric Opera of Chicago; Hindemith’s “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloomed” with Cathedral Choral Society of Washington DC; Verdi’s Requiem with Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia; Bach’s Cantata No. 78 and Christmas Oratorio, both with Baldwin-Wallace Bach Festival; as soloist with the Philadelphia Orchestra in an evening of opera arias and spirituals; Verdi’s Requiem in a return to Nashville Symphony; a recital with Chamber Music Society of Philadelphia; an evening of spirituals and gospel songs, and Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis, both with Singing City in Philadelphia; Verdi’s Requiem and Donald McCollough’s Let My People Go, both with the Master Chorale of Washington; Maria in Porgy and Bess for Washington National Opera, Opera Birmingham, Los Angeles Opera and Opera Pacific; the role of Dominga de Adviento in the world premiere of Peter Eotvos’s opera, Love and Other Demons, with Glyndebourne Festival Opera; and Messiah with both the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and Nashville Symphony Orchestra.

As a concert artist, Marietta Simpson made her New York Philharmonic debut under Kurt Masur in Mendelssohn’s Elijah, followed by performances of Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis and Symphony No. 9, and Bach’s St. John Passion, also under Masur. She sang in Carnegie Hall’s commemoration of the 250th anniversary of Messiah, and performed Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 with the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, under Zdenek Macal, for the inauguration of the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark. Both events were nationally televised. She toured in Poland, Germany and Russia with Helmuth Rilling and the Stuttgart Bachakadamie Orchestra and Chorus, and has sung at the Prague and Brno Festivals, as well as many festivals in the United States, including Grant Park, Ojai, and at the Mann Music Center.

Among Ms. Simpson’s concert highlights are her performances of Handel’s Messiah with the Philadelphia Orchestra, Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra under Nicholas McGegan, and with Lyric Opera of Chicago; Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under Daniel Barenboim; and Szymanowski’s Stabat Mater in a debut with the Vienna Philharmonic, conducted by Sir Simon Rattle, which she also reprised under Rattle with the Berlin Philharmonic. She has also sung Mozart’s Requiem with St. Louis Symphony under David Robertson; Elgar’s Sea Pictures with Louisville Orchestra under Raymond Leppard; Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 with Phoenix Symphony under Michael Christie; Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde with Greater Pensacola Symphony; and the world premiere of a new work entitled The Thread, composed by J. Mark Scearce to text by Toni Morrison, with Nashville Chamber Orchestra.

On the operatic stage, Ms. Simpson made her debut at Lyric Opera of Chicago singing the role of Addie in Marc Blitzstein’s opera Regina, a role which she later reprised at both the Kennedy Center and Bard SummerScape Festival; and her debut at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden in Trevor Nunn’s production of Porgy and Bess, which was filmed for British television. She has also toured Europe with Lorin Maazel and the Pittsburgh Symphony in concert performances of Porgy and Bess. She was a member of the Houston Opera Studio for several seasons, has sung roles with Mobile and Minnesota Operas, and New York City Opera.

Ms. Simpson can be seen on Video Artists International’s complete version of Handel’s Messiah with Robert Shaw and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, shown seasonally on PBS television. She has recorded Vivaldi’s Gloria, Bach’s Magnificat, Schubert Masses No. 2 and No. 6, Beethoven’s Mass in C, Bach’s B Minor Mass, Janacek’s Glagolitic Mass, Mahler’s Symphony No. 8, and both Dvořák’s and Szymanowski’s Stabat Mater on the Telarc label, also with Robert Shaw and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. She can be heard on the EMI recording of Porgy and Bess, conducted by Sir Simon Rattle; and on the Grammy Award-winning recording of William Bolcom’s Songs of Innocence and Experience, with Leonard Slatkin conducting, on the Naxos label.