The only thing that matters is the life-enhancing unfolding of the Passion story told by the greatest master of them all, Bach, and our chance, performers and audience alike, to share in this wonder and be changed by it. I measure a year's life on this day. Involvement in this piece forces me to ask questions of myself; what was my feeling last year compared with today? What have I learned about myself during these twelve months? How have I changed, if at all? Have I developed as a musician?
The only honest answer I can give myself is to admit that there has been change. Whether for 'good' or 'bad' no longer concerns me. I am grateful for the fact that I am not standing in the same place. Certain things have altered; some things are quite obvious to me, such as the increasing feeling of peace and stability; I am beginning to look at myself with much more compassion after having driven myself relentlessly for a quarter of a century; perhaps this too was necessary and not to be regretted.
Is it middle age which teaches us to put a gentle, kindly veil over what we are, and in becoming kinder to ourselves, therefore kinder to other people? Is this what the impossible command to Love our neighbour as ourselves may mean? I just hope there may never come a day when I sit through this Passion music untouched by the experience, or unchanged by the passage of time.
As music at its greatest is for me an experience of the fourth dimension, that is, all human experience plus the extra one of time, past, present and future, so is the Passion the truest single reflection of music as a whole, because it gathers up every factor, composer, music, performer, audience, and while leaving us complete individuals binds us together as one. If this is not an expression of Holiness, I don't know what is.
Janet Baker writes of her performance of Bach's St Matthew Passion at Easter 1982 with the London Bach Choir and Sir David Willcocks. The extract is from the diary of her last year on the opera stage, Full Circle, published by Penguin (ISBN 0140068267 - OP)
Both photos of St Thomas' Leipzig, where the St Matthew Passion was first performed on Good Friday 1727, are copyright On An Overgrown Path, see link below. Report broken links, missing images and other errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk
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