After singing classical choral music for over two decades, it seems unlikely that a singer would be in awe of a new project. Yet for five veteran members of SUNY Cortland's Choral Union, the upcoming presentation of Bach's St. Matthew Passion is a challenge not to be faced lightly. Recognized as one of the most remarkable choral works ever written, the St. Matthew Passion is rarely performed in part because of its scope. This highly complex masterpiece requires a double chorus, two orchestras, a children's chorus, and six soloists to tell the passion story according to the Gospel of St. Matthew. On April 2, well over sixty-five children and adult volunteer musicians from the area will join forty-nine highly trained professionals to offer the work to the greater Cortland community.
Barbara Jo Williams, who has been singing with the Choral Union for twenty-four years, says, "For singers, doing this work is similar to climbing the highest peaks for mountain climbers. It tells the whole passion story, complete with emotion, not just a series of events."
Dr. Stuart Gillim, a retired physician and now Medical Director for the Cortland County Health Department, has been a member of the Choral Union for twenty-seven years. He believes, "It is one of the handful of truly great works for choral singers. Others would include Handel's complete Messiah, the Verdi Requiem, and Beethoven's Ninth."
Jim Ulrich, who teaches science at Cortland High School and has been a member of the group for twenty-three years, noted that Choral Union conductor Steve Wilson has brought a real passion to this work. "Steve is living Bach this semester. He has communicated his enthusiasm to the entire Choral Union. Members willingly have met the requirement of extra rehearsals and consistent attendance. There always is sense of community in Choral Union always, but working on this piece has made it even stronger."
Bonnie Hutchinson, a special education teacher for Cortland City Schools who has sung in Choral Union for twenty-five years, adds, "To me, singing this is like singing a chorus that has become an orchestra because of the amazing way all the parts are woven together."
John Sikora, who works at Cornell University and is active in providing all sorts of musical opportunities through his website www.cortlandmusic.org, has been singing with the group for seventeen years. "Right now, the Choral Union is rehearsing just its own part of the music." Sikora is looking forward to hearing all of them together. He added that "performing in a community setting like the former United Community Church at 19 Church Street will make the event even more memorable."
None of the five singers interviewed has ever seen a performance of the complete St. Matthew Passion, nor has anyone sung the entire work.
The Arts at Grace concert series and SUNY Cortland's Department of Performing Arts will present the concert in English on Good Friday, April 2 at 19 Church Street. Part One begins at 4 PM and Part Two starts at 7:15 PM after a dinner break. There is no charge for admission, but voluntary contributions are welcome.
During the one-and-one-half hour intermission, a light dinner will be available for $8.00 at Grace Episcopal Church, 13 Court Street, Cortland. To make reservations or get more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call Grace Episcopal Church 607-753-3073 from 9-3 M-F.
In addition to area businesses and individual donors, major contributors to the event include the Wilkins Foundation, the New York State Council on the Arts Decentralization Grant Program, and the SUNY Cortland Department of Performing Arts.