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Budapest Festival Orchestra: Compassion – J. S. Bach’s St. Matthew Passion and other Passion Stories

About the Event

Immerse yourself in the stunning architecture of Budapest's breathtaking Palace of Arts for the ultimate concert set to awake your understanding of classical music.

'The framework of the concert is Bach’s St. Matthew Passion but, in addition to the story of Jesus’ suffering, we also express our compassion for other innocent victims,' articulates Iván Fischer, encapsulating the essence of the concert named Compassion. This rendition features roughly half of Bach’s most expansive piece. Following the opening chorus, the BFO seamlessly weaves a poignant interlude echoing our current times before transitioning back to Bach, creating a dynamic interplay. The outcome? A vivid and evocative musical contemplation of the world. Performing the Passion are the esteemed Cantemus Mixed Choir, notable international soloists, with Peter Harvey captivatingly portraying Jesus. His performance has garnered acclaim: The Times finds him compelling, The Guardian praises his depth, and BBC Music Magazine hails his nuanced humanity.

Of Bach’s two remaining Passions, the St. Matthew Passion stands as the zenith of Protestant church music. Although often enjoyed today for its musicality alone, its true purpose was functional and ritualistic. As Fischer elucidates, it served as “a spiritual rite.” Initially presented on Good Friday in 1727, an hour‐long sermon punctuated its two segments. The work intricately intertwines Gospel texts, contemporary musical symbols, and recurring keywords with Christian Picander’s poems. The chorales further illuminate that this Passion delves deeper than just musical brilliance it teaches lessons of compassion and empathy.

Iván Fischer's innovative interpretation, already warmly received in Amsterdam, reverberates with this original intent. Selected scenes from the St. Matthew Passion make way for an amalgam of classical, folk, jazz, choral, and cinematic scores that resonate with Bach's core messages. In essence, Fischer’s vision layers multiple tales of suffering and empathy in a single evening, evolving to remain pertinent to the present times.

Bach's compositions re‐emerge post the interludes, creating a harmonious ebb and flow. The bifurcated choir and orchestra produce an immersive stereo sound, echoing a discourse between the masses. The narrative adheres to the Gospel of St. Matthew, interspersing poignant arias that encapsulate the emotions. Bach’s intricate musical fabric, employing an array of vocal and instrumental nuances, enhances the drama. For instance, the strings’ sustained chords accompany Jesus' segments, setting him apart and underlining his divinity. Bach’s iconic chorale settings, especially at the story's peak moments, resonate with a divine aura more than any other compositions. The Compassion culminates with the concluding chorus, echoing the sentiments of a spiritual opera.

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