If you’re looking for a one-of-a-kind music experience, look no further than the performances of the Bach Collegium. The shows feature baroque music and early instruments combined with choirs and soloists, woven together to tell a story.
The ensemble hosts five events each year, perhaps none more powerful than the sacred oratorio written by Johann Sebastian Bach himself, St. Matthew Passion.
The Story of Jesus
“It’s the story of Jesus the last week of his life, his suffering, and then his death, culminating in Good Friday,” explained Artistic Director Daniel Reuning.
Reuning was head of the choral department at Concordia Seminary back in 1999 when he was first introduced to the early music endeavor and became fascinated with it. That’s when he began to form the Bach Collegium.
“We do music mostly from the Baroque Era, the 17th and 18th centuries,” Reuning said. “We do some exceptions to that, pre-Bach, because obviously he learned from his predecessors and we like to show that relationship. But we do post-Bach, too.
“I think one area where we’re really going to expand is contemporary compositions that use early instruments and that is just opening up a very fascinating era. There are contemporary composers who use early instruments.”
The artists that make up the Bach Collegium range from teenagers to retirees. They share their love of classical music in a way that draws audiences in. During St. Matthew Passion, for example, audience members participate by singing hymns along with the two choirs.
“It’s a very dramatic work. Very dramatic,” Reuning said. “All of the characters are individual singers and it’s an opera in that sense. And then the crowds react during the crucify scene. You have 40 singers just crying out with these very jarring chords.”
Bach Collegium will perform St. Matthew Passion at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church at 1126 S. Barr Street at 7 p.m. on Sunday, March 10. Tickets are $25 for adults, $10 for students, and free for those 12 and younger. They can be purchased at bachcollegium.org.
“For this particular one, you’re not going to hear it very often. It’s probably one of Bach’s great masterpieces,” added Thomas Remenschneider, president of the board of directors.
“It’s about two-and-a-half hours long. It requires huge forces. People just don’t get many opportunities to hear this unique and unusual music in a live performance. Two choirs. Two orchestras. A double set of soloists.”
a Monumental work
When asked to describe the show, Reuning and Remenschneider both repeatedly used words like unique, moving, and monumental. Their excitement is contagious as they share what they love of about this particular type of music.
“People will never hear this kind of combination of instruments and singers anywhere else,” Reuning said. “There are other early instrument groups, but we’re the only one that does this kind of combination.
“Also, the space that we’re doing it in, St. Paul’s, is amazing. The sound in the room is amazing. It’s really kind of a singular sonic experience. The two choirs are separated, and you can hear them interacting back and forth. The children’s choir will be up in the gallery, so you’ll hear the sound from down below and then the kids up in the gallery and it has phenomenal impact. It’s like it’s in stereo.”
“Modern instruments overpower the singing,” Remenschneider said. “Old, early instruments are mellow but sparkle. They really blend with the voices.
“For me, I think some of the most exciting music in the Passion is when the choir sings the part of the crowd as they react to the unfolding drama. When the crowd speaks the Biblical text, their music is riveting as well as virtuosic, and is one of the great high points in hearing this singular work.”