Although musical settings of the passion of Jesus date back to the early Middle Ages and were extraordinarily common up until the 18th-century culmination of the genre in Bach's magnificent settings, one can count on one hand the important passions of the 20th century. The eight-year-old Latin Saint John Passion by Estonian composer Arvo Part signals a stunning return to the genre. Part has revitalized the ancient form by cross-fertilizing a pseudominimalist style with the melismatic flow and phrasing of Gregorian chant. The result is a mystical sound world of its own where time and space are temporarily suspended and where the distinction between aesthetic and religious experience blur into oblivion. This is the North American premiere of the compelling work, made all the more special by the fact that Chamber Music Chicago is bringing in the British-based Hilliard Ensemble to perform the solo roles, the group that brought the piece to international attention in 1988 with its recording of the work. Local performers, including His Majestie's Clerkes singing the chorus, will help, all accompanied by members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. This could well be the early-music and new-music event of the season in a single concert. Monday, 8 PM, Orchestra Hall, 220 S. Michigan; 242-6237, 663-1628, or 435-8122.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Arthur Foster.