Monday 17 March 2008

My holy week begins with Matthäus Passion

Hardly religious

This year has not been had the most religious of my allegiances, having remembered Shrove Tuesday, I did not give anything up for Lent as the 40 days of privation have gone without anything more than halving the amount of sugar I put in my tea.

I had planned to meet Chippla for quite a while, since we share a passion for classical music – after he had arranged for us to go for a concert, it stuck in my mind that I was going to see the Holland Boys Choir until the dramatis personae got on stage, at which point I was asking for my money back.

Matthäus Passion

As it transpired, we were not seeing the Holland Boys Choir but the Bach Choir being conducted by Pieter Jan Leusink in almost 200 minutes of Matthew’s version of Jesus’ passion composed by Johann Sebastian Bach.

The performance was at the Grote Kerk in The Hague which somehow seemed have transmogrified into a den of iniquity; with a pub where the transept would have been – in fact, it is no more a functioning church but an event venue.

Ich Sprechen Bisschen Deutsch

Little did I know that I would be having my own passion having forgotten that last Sunday was also Palm Sunday.

I bore my cross by sitting in an uncomfortable plastic chair and trying to follow the German as hard as I could where the text turned into incessantly long arias and I lost the concept of time and space.

A lady just in front of me had the best guide, she was reading the music of the performance and then I thought of how unmusical my parents were because this could have been something I would have liked to do as a kid.

Doze and wake

The Land of Nod beckoned a number of times and I did visit dreamland for a minute or two.

But this was not Palm Sunday as we had it in Nigeria where the ushers went around with prickly palm leaves to scratch the necks of dozers who suddenly got forcibly deported from the Land of Nod to the attention of the gospel.

The choir singing was beautiful and the performance was excellent even though there were times it all looked and sounded monotonous.

Conducting comic

One had to give it to the conductor; he was energetic, animated, involved and as eccentric as you could find another to conduct a choir. As we marched to Golgotha, I almost thought I was watching Michael Jackson’s Thriller, the crooked walk with the double-handed clawing motion – forgive me, I was watching something more serious than that.

Then I remembered how I commented about an album sleeve that had the title of Sacred Songs with the self-same conductor posing on the cover with a humongous Monte Cristo smoking from his lips.

Nature call inconveniences

At the interval, the ladies even shared the men’s toilets in trying to use the cubicles; ladies must hate concerts because there is never adequate provision for those nature calls.

Not only was I relieved that we had reached the end of a 16-page text version which must have read like 400 pages of words, end-to-end.

I was glad I neither had a Judas to betray me nor a Caiaphas or Pilate to condemn me – if only the sun would just shine for another day to usher in the spring.

Moderate applause

When it all ended, I applauded but was too caught up in my rigid churchianity that I could not find myself doing the standing ovations others indulged in, especially, in a church building.

Thankfully, none of the musicians succumbed to the big-headedness of taking adulation because you cannot do an encore of nailing Christ to the cross again – can you?

The evening closed with a beautiful meal and wonderful company at Chippla’s by which time I had written a new aria for the resurrection in my head – I drew no strength from that because when I got home I fell in bed and never got up till the next morning.


Listen to Matthäus Passion – site in Dutch but links to the performance – Thanks to Wouter for this link.

Everything you ever wanted to know about Matthäus Passion.

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