November 6, 2000
Symposium, concert to
'St. John Passion'
By Deb Hammacher
It is only fitting that in Emorys Year of Reconciliation, Johann
Sebastian Bachs 18th century masterpiece St. John Passion
would be performedand discussed. Widely considered one of the greatest
pieces in Western sacred music, Bachs work, and other composers
pieces based on the Gospel of St. John, have been the subject of controversy
regarding anti-Semitic sentiments.
A symposium with a panel discussion will take place Thursday, Nov. 9,
then the Emory Concert Choir, with the Atlanta Baroque Orchestra and soloist
Julianne Baird, will perform the work on Saturday, Nov. 11. The symposium
will be at 4:15 p.m. in Cannon Chapel, and the concert will take place
at 8:15 p.m. in Glenn Auditor-ium. The symposium is free, and tickets
to the concert are $10.
Both events are being organized by Emory music professor Stephen Crist,
a noted Bach scholar who recently completed a four-year term as secretary
of the American Bach Society.
Marissen, author of Lutheranism, Anti-Judaism and Bachs St.
John Passion, experienced controversy firsthand when the Swarthmore
student chorus performed the Bach piece in 1995. Some students refused
to perform based on the anti-Semitic sentiments in the work, so the college
responded by organizing a symposium to look at the work in context.
According to Marissens subsequent book on the topic, while Bachs
libretto consists of Martin Luthers translation of the Gospel of
St. John, Bachs setting is not a polemical, anti-Semiticrant. In
fact, Bach assigns guilt for Jesus crucifixion to the fall of Adam
and Eve, thereby shifting blame from the Jewish people to all of sinful
Joining Marissen on the panel will be Rabbi Alvin Sugarman of The Temple;
Don Saliers, Cannon Professor of Theology and Worship; and Gail ODay,
Shatford Professor of Homiletics, whose research covers the Gospel of
Bachs setting by no means comes to terms with all ecumenically
or socially troubling aspects of Johns first-century text,
wrote Marissen in his book. However, his music represents a step
in the right direction at a time and in a context of extreme contempt
and hostility toward Jews. Music has such wide appeal that discussion
of challenging musical works may provide one of the best focal points
for meaningful dialogue on the various sorts of issues raised by these
A great work of art shouldnt be banned because it now has
politically incorrect content, but it should be performed with the proper
context and commentary, Crist said. Having a day between the
symposium and the concert will give audience the chance to reflect on
what was discussed before experiencing the performance.
Crist, who also is teaching a graduate seminar this semester on St.
John Passion, will give a brief preconcert talk to provide the audience
with the proper historical contextespecially important for those
not attending the symposium.
Soloist Baird is critically acclaimed as one of the great interpreters
of early music and is in great demand as a soloist of baroque opera and
oratorio. Recent performances include appearances at Londons International
Lufthansa Festival in solo Bach cantatas, at Tanglewoods Ozawa Hall
in the Mozart Requiem, and Bachs Magnificat
in the composers own Thomaskirche in Leipzig, Germany.
Baird also is a scholar in her own right. She has degrees from the Eastman
School and a diploma from the Salzburg Mozarteum in performance, and she
earned a doctorate in music history from Stanford University. She is recognized
internationally as one of the few who can both demonstrate the full range
of the singers art and explain it. Baird is a professor of music
at Rutgers University.
For tickets or more information about the concert, call 404-727-5050.