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By Culturekiosque Staff

BRUSSELS, 30 MARCH 2009 — Irrespective of one's religious convictions, Christian Holy Week in Europe remains a unique occasion to hear some of the greatest masterworks of Western sacred music. From the Semana Santa processions in the ancient city of Cuenca to the sung liturgy in the monasteries and convents of upper Austria to the daily performances in the Helsinki Cathedral, an assortment of Passions, oratorios, Stabat Maters, Missa Cantatas and organ repertoire attract annual audiences in record numbers to hear the musical settings of the arrest, judgment, agony and death of Jesus Christ.

Last year, Osvaldo Golijov's La Pasión según San Marcos (The Passion according to St. Mark) made quite an impression in Amsterdam because in contrast to Passion composers such as Johann Sebastian Bach and Sofia Gubaidulina (b. 1931), the Argentinian Jewish composer did not assume that Jesus was a white European. Golijov's Jesus was dark-skinned, like most of the people in Bethlehem.

Moreover, Golijov saw the Passion story from a Latin American, albeit Jesuit-inspired liberation theology, point of view with contemporary heroes such as Che Guevara as a subtext. Jesus' words were sung in Spanish to strongly-rhythmed tunes that recalled Latin American popular music, notably of Afro-Brazilian ballads for the more intimate moments of the story, whilst for the betrayal of Christ Golijov curiously took his inspiration from Spanish flamenco music. Afro-Cuban and capoeira dancers, and the choir Schola Cantorum de Venezuela fleshed out the narrative and satisfied the public and promoter's need for spectacle.

This year, music lovers and the faithful in Ghent and Brussels can also hear something new: the Passion according to Judas, an oratorio commissioned by the Belgian baroque orchestra B'Rock. Composed by Dominique Pauwels, with a text by Pieter De Buysser, Judas is based on an apocryphal gospel of Judas Iscariot. In this alternative account of Jesus' suffering and death Judas relates his version of the facts: He is a close and loyal friend who did not 'betray' Jesus. Rather, "Judas delivers Jesus to his final destination - non-existence - at a time when his physical presence is no longer necessary to humanity, who can finally love him, celebrate him, and wait for him."

Directed by Inne Goris, the main characters include Judas (bass baritone), Jesus (mezzo-soprano), the preacher (an Arabic precentor), the last pope, the first believer after the death of this pope, the mysterious "contemporary silent singer" (these last three are performed by members of the children's choir of the Vlaamse Opera), ) and the symbolic Lake, embodied by a virtual choir (Collegium Vocale of Ghent), present via speakers on stage and in the audience. Each character is accompanied by strings, which are gradually assimilated into the orchestral forces. Several renowned philosophers hold forth on politics and philosophy.

According to a press statement, "With their Judas Passion, Dominique Pauwels and Pieter De Buysser re-establish contact with the ethical and societal questions of our time." Perhaps. After all, while some will no doubt hear and appreciate this unusual work as an apology for the weakness of human nature, for many (religious or otherwise), Judas' reputation as the incarnation of evil, or at best, the archetype of the traitor in the Western tradition, will remain intact.

Judas Passion
By Dominique Pauwels and Pieter De Buysser

Inne Goris, director

1 April 2009
De Bijloke Muziekcentrum, Ghent

3 April 2009
Kaaitheater, Brussels

Surtitled in Dutch and French

Cast and production:

Bonita Hyman, mezzo-soprano
Romain Bischoff, bass-baritone
Kadi Abdelmalek, actor
Collegium Vocale Gent (pre-recorded)
Haruka Sugihara
Korneel Van Neste & Wouter Valvekens (childrens choir Vlaamse Opera, coached by Hendrik Derolez)
Keyboard and electronics: Benjamin Van Esser
Repetiteur: Geert Callaert
Costumes: Lieve Meeussen
Design: Michiel Van Cauwelaert
Light design: Francis Gahide
Translation: Peter Connelly (English), Tomer Eilon (Hebrew), Allal Bou-Rqia (Arabic)

De Bijloke Muziekcentrum Gent
Bijlokekaai 7
9000 Ghent, Belgium
(32) 9 233 68 78

20 square Sainctelette
1000 Brussels, Belgium
Tel: (32) 02 201 59 59

Title image: Judas Passion
Photo courtesy of B'Rock


Jesu Meine Freude
J.S. Bach: Cantatas, Christ lag in Todes Banden, BWV 4 and Jesu, der du meine Seele, BWV 78
Motet, Jesu, meine Freude, BWV 227
Ottawa Bach Choir and Baroque Orchestra
Lisette Canton, conductor
Soloists: Daniel Taylor (countertenor), Agnes Zsigovics (soprano), Benjamin Butterfield (tenor), Daniel Lichti (bass-baritone).
Audio CD (January 2009)

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