The Korea Herald


[Herald Interview] Countertenor Philippe Jaroussky to go on spiritual journey of 'St. Matthew Passion'

By Park Ga-young

Published : April 2, 2024 - 17:07

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Countertenor Philippe Jaroussky (Lotte Concert Hall) Countertenor Philippe Jaroussky (Lotte Concert Hall)

In the upcoming performances of “St. Matthew Passion,” BWV 244 by J.S. Bach, in South Korea, renowned countertenor Philippe Jaroussky will join forces with the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra conducted by Francesco Corti.

Jaroussky will sing “Erbarme dich” in the three-hour-long performance.

“I’ve been working specifically on this aria for more than 6 months! I think the difficulty is to express the powerful expression of regret and the dramatic aspect of it, with an instrumental approach too, as it is a dialogue with the violin solo,” Jaroussky wrote in an email interview last week.

“I only performed 'St. Matthew Passion' a few times 20 years ago. The range for my voice is more suitable than 'St. John Passion,' which needs a lower, darker voice. I was dreaming for many years to be able to sing it again, with a more mature voice and a better experience of the German language. To be part of this passion is such a strong spiritual journey, not only for the audience but for us too on stage,” the French musician said.

“Some people in the audience already told me after this kind of concert that to feel spirituality and beautiful music is even more important now in our very difficult times. To sit for three hours, take the time, make silence, to cut yourself from this crazy world for a while, is becoming a necessity for some people,” he noted.

Freiburg Baroque Orchestra (Lotte Concert Hall) Freiburg Baroque Orchestra (Lotte Concert Hall)

"St. Matthew Passion" is Bach’s sacred oratorio written in 1727 for solo voices. It is assumed to have premiered either on April 11, 1727, or April 15, 1729. In 1829, Felix Mendelssohn conducted a performance of "St. Matthew Passion" in Berlin, marking the first significant performance of the work since Bach’s death in 1750.

Bach’s vocal music is more difficult than that of Handel, Jaroussky explained. “I needed time to get comfortable with Bach’s writing for voice. You have, for example, a very short time to breathe between phrases. I feel naturally more at home with Handel, and I always feel so strongly my own imperfection in front of Bach’s music of perfection,” he said, adding that Bach “treats the voice more like an instrument conversing with the orchestra.”

Starting at Lotte Concert Hall in southeastern Seoul on Wednesday, Jaroussky will take the stage with Freiburg Baroque Orchestra for three performances of "St. Matthew Passion" in Korea.

Also on stage will be tenor Maximilian Schmitt, baritone Yannick Debus, soprano Kateryna Kasper, tenor Zachary Wilder and bass Andreas Wolf and two choirs -- the Zurcher Sing-Akademie and Collegium Vocale Seoul.

"St. Matthew Passion" will also be performed at Tongyeong Concert Hall, Tongyeong, South Gyeongsang Province as part of the Tongyeong International Music Festival on Friday and at the LG Arts Center back in Seoul on Sunday.