While preparing for this St. John Passion that performs here in Boston tonight, I experienced a lot of the usual stress and frustration that learning Bach entails. I always come to a fresh Bach score cockily expecting it to be easy to learn, and I am always surprised and confounded by how tricky his music is with its unexpected and oddly kinky harmonic twists and turns. His music, drenched in faith and humility, requires those same attributes from those of us who perform it. That is probably why I find Bach more rewarding to perform than any other composer. In a way, it is the ultimate heilige Kunst, musically speaking.
This being my very first performance as the Evangelist and having lost some preparation time because of the unexpected concerts I had a couple of weeks ago, I felt a greater amount of anxiety wood-shedding it at the piano than I previously have experienced. In an effort to distract myself from the stress, I found myself turning Facebook to procrastinate – often putting whiny statements about the Bach up as my status. Before I knew it, people were posting comments on my status updates offering support, humor, wit, and perspective. Quite unexpectedly, a website that I generally view as time-sucking exercise had suddenly turned into a community that I could turn to for artistic support.
Part of the my nervousness about this St. John, aside from it being my first one and having to learn it under a bit of a time crunch, was because I was preparing it on my own, trying to be both continuo and Evangelist all at once. Arriving in Boston and meeting with the continuo players and the conductor brought huge relief, as it felt so much easier to finally be playing with others, especially with colleagues as good as these. As it turns out, my continuo colleagues are St. John novices, as well, so it has been a real treat to discover the piece for the first time together and figure out the intricacies of how we are going to tell the story. What has been especially wonderful about these rehearsals is how deeply each and every person involved is invested in the piece. The choir has been preparing for this for months, and the orchestra is really committed to every detail of telling the story and the music, as well. It's been a really special few days, and I'm really looking forward to our performance tonight.
All the best to my colleagues here in Boston for a great performance, and many thanks for an incredible couple of days of music-making and story-telling.