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Release: March 1, 2002

UI Symphony & Choruses present J.S. Bach's 'St. Matthew Passion' March 10

The University of Iowa Symphony and Choruses will perform J.S. Bach's "St. Matthew Passion," widely regarded as one of the greatest works of sacred music in the European choral repertoire, at 2 p.m. Sunday, March 10, in the UI Hancher Auditorium.

A complex and dramatic setting of the Passion story that integrates Biblical texts, Lutheran chorale tunes and expressive poetic texts, the "St. Matthew Passion" is a monumental work of considerable scope. Any performance requires the marshalling of extensive resources, including orchestra, choral forces and soloists, and will be a major event on any performance series.

The UI performance March 10 will be conducted by Timothy Stalter, director of choral activities at the UI School of Music. Tenor James Doing from the faculty of the University of Wisconsin at Madison will be guest soloist in the role of the Evangelist.

UI voice faculty members Stephen Swanson as Jesus, and John Muriello in the roles of Peter and Pilate, will be featured. Other faculty assisting in the performance will be organist Delbert Disselhorst and cellist Anthony Arnone. Retired music faculty member Charles Wendt will play the viola da gamba. Smaller roles in the drama and aria solos will be sung by UI students.

Choruses from the UI School of Music in the performance will be Kantorei, University Choir, Camerata and the Women's Chorus. The Willowwind Children's Chorus under conductor Nancy McFarlane will also participate in the performance.

The story of the "St. Matthew Passion" is one of the best-known subjects in the Christian tradition. The drama is, therefore, relatively easy for audiences familiar with that tradition to follow in performances.

Although it is most often heard today as a concert piece, the "St., Matthew Passion" was originally composed to be performed as part of the Lutheran Vesper service for Good Friday. Bach composed the score in 1729 for the St. Thomas Church in Leipzig, where he served as music director. It fit into a Lutheran tradition of dramatic musical works celebrating the major events in the church calendar, although Bach's Passion was on a larger scale than many such works.

Bach used two main sources for the text, the Biblical narrative found in Matthew: 26-27, and verses by a mail-service employee who wrote under the pen name Picander. To these, Bach added a number of Lutheran chorales in relatively simple four-part settings, such as might be sung by the congregation in any Lutheran service.

Combining these sources, Bach has laid out the musical events on four distinct levels. The first of these is the simple narration from the Biblical text, sung by the Evangelist, a tenor soloist. Although his part is at times quite expressive, it is set entirely in recitative, accompanied only by the continuo -- a simple bass line with chords played on a keyboard instrument, in this case the organ.

The second level is represented by the dramatic characters, still singing the Biblical text. These include soloists singing the words of Jesus -- a bass, always accompanied by string chords that create a halo effect around his words -- as well as the words of Judas, Peter, Pontius Pilate and other characters. This also includes the words of the crowd, sung by the chorus.

The third level of the structure consists of the poetry by Picander, including recitatives, arias, duets, and sections combining soloists with chorus. It also includes the opening and closing choruses, which frame the entire work. The most overtly emotional texts, these portions are used to represent the feelings of the congregation as they witness the unfolding of the story.

The final level is made up of the Lutheran chorale settings. Since these texts and tunes were well known to the congregation -- like familiar hymns in most Protestant services today -- these related directly to Bach's audience, some of whom may even have sung along with the performance.

James Doing has had an extensive career in opera and oratorio in the United States and Europe. He performed with the Netherlands Opera Studio in Amsterdam 1984-86. Since that time he has sung more than 60 operatic roles throughout Europe and the United States, including Monteverdi and Purcell in Paris, Amsterdam and New York's Brooklyn Academy of Music and the world premiere in Amsterdam and subsequent recording on Nonesuch of Dutch composer Louis Andriessen's "De Materie."

In addition to his operatic activities he is an active oratorio soloist specializing in the Passions of J.S. Bach. He has sung under the baton of many of the world's top interpreters of the Baroque, including Ton Koopman and Rene Jacobs. He returns to the Netherlands every year during the weeks leading up to Easter to perform in Bach's Passions ,and he has sung the Evangelist in the "St. Matthew Passion" in Amsterdam, Zagreb, Hanover, Darmstadt and throughout the Netherlands. At the Amsterdam Concertgebouw he has sung the Evangelist and arias in Bach's Passions and "Magnificat," Handel's "Messiah" and many other works. In 1992 he was granted citizenship in the Netherlands and is now a dual citizen.

Stalter joined the UI faculty as director of choral activities in 1999. He directs Kantorei, the premier choral ensemble of the School of Music, teaches graduate conducting courses, and administers the graduate program in choral conducting. An active member of the American Choral Directors Association, he frequently presents clinics and workshops in choral conducting around the United States.

In addition to conducting and teaching choral music, Stalter is active as a tenor soloist in the United States and abroad. A specialist in the music of the Renaissance, Baroque and Classical periods, he is known for his performances as the Evangelist in the Passions of J.S. Bach and Heinrich Schuetz. He has appeared as tenor soloist with the Newfoundland Symphony, the North Carolina Symphony, the Robert Shaw Festival Singers in France, the Robert Shaw Chamber Choir in Atlanta, the Classical Music Seminar and Festival in Eisenstadt, Austria, and the Shenandoah Valley Bach Festival. He has recorded as tenor soloist with conductor Robert Shaw on two compact discs released on the Telarc label.

Swanson joined the faculty of the UI School of Music in 1994 following an active operatic career in Europe. He has sung on German, Austrian and Dutch radio broadcasts and has been a featured soloist in European festivals including the Berliner Festwochen, the Days of Contemporary Music in Dresden and the Festa Musica Pro in Assisi, Italy.

Swanson has also had an extensive career as a concert singer, appearing as featured soloist with many U.S. orchestras, including the Chicago Symphony under Sir Georg Solti, Raphael Fruehbeck de Burgos and Margaret Hillis. He has recorded Mendelssohn's "St. Paul" and Ullmann's "Der Kaiser von Atlantis." Since coming to Iowa City, he has presented solo recitals, appeared in and directed UI Opera Theater productions, and performed with the Chamber Singers of Iowa City.

A singer whose work ranges from opera and operetta to concert and musical theater, Muriello joined the UI School of Music faculty in the fall of 1997. He has performed operatic and musical theater roles with Opera Carolina, the Banff Centre in Canada, L'Opera Francais of New York, Skylight Opera Theater, Ohio Light Opera and the Southeastern Savoyards of Atlanta. He performed as the Narrator and Mysterious Man in Sondheim's "Into the Woods" and Marcello in "La Boheme" for Lyric Opera Cleveland. Other roles have ranged from Guglielmo in Mozart's "Cosi fan tutte" to Voltaire in Bernstein's "Candide."

He has also performed in concert and recital throughout the Midwest and the Southeast, singing in performances of Vaughan Williams' "Five Mystical Songs" and "Hodie," the Brahms "Requiem" and the Bach Mass in B minor.

The performance of Bach's "St, Matthew Passion" is supported in part by a contribution from the University of Iowa Community Credit Union, through the University of Iowa Foundation.

The School of Music is part of the Division of Performing Arts in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

For information on UI arts events, visit http://www.uiowa.edu/artsiowa on the World Wide Web. You may visit the UI School of Music web site at http://www.uiowa.edu/~music/. To receive UI arts news by e-mail, contact <deborah-thumma@uiowa.edu>.