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Telling the story of Jesus' last days is not just a cornerstone of Christianity, but also of classical music. Just think of Bach's St. Matthew Passion, hailed and championed by everyone from Felix Mendelssohn to Leonard Bernstein. A very modern, multicultural version of that narrative, based on the Gospel of St. Mark, has been hailed as nothing short of a revolution — "as if musical history were starting over," wrote The New Yorker's Alex Ross.
La Pasión según San Marcos (The Passion According to St. Mark) written by the Argentine Jewish composer Osvaldo Golijov reinvents Bach's model in dazzling and deeply thought-provoking ways. In creating what he has called a "Latin American Jesus," Golijov interweaves choral singing and an orchestra with Afro-Cuban dance rhythms, Bahian drums and capoeira dancing from Brazil, and African-inspired call-and-response vocals. He also examines the narrative from a Jewish perspective, combining the Christian gospel with the Lamentations of Jeremiah and the traditional Jewish prayer of mourning called Kaddish, as well as achingly beautiful poetry by 19th-century Galician poet Rosalia de Castro.
In a recent interview I conducted with the composer, he said, "What interests me is not so much religion, as it is the questions that religion is a vehicle for — which are the questions that we all arrive at at some point in our lives." (To hear a bit more of this excerpted interview, click the audio link above.)
Commissioned by the Internationale Bachakademie Stuttgart to commemorate the 250th anniversary of J. S. Bach's death in 2000, Osvaldo Golijov's Passion has become without question one of the most popular and critically successful classical works of the 21st century. This Carnegie Hall performance marks the Passion's fourth full staging in New York alone, in addition to many productions across the U.S. and Latin America to London, Rome, Sydney and beyond.
For this performance, high school students from across New York City have been working on this piece daily through the school year. They will perform as the chorus, bringing their own experiences and vitality to this transformative piece.
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