The English Premiere of Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev’s St. Matthew Passion:
One Audience Member’s Experience
“Thy death, O Lord, we proclaim, and Thy Resurrection we confess. Alleluia, glory to Thee.” ~ St. Matthew’s Passion
On Monday, February 7, 2011, the English premiere of the St. Matthew Passion by His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev was performed at St. Paul the Apostle Roman Catholic Church (www.stpaultheapostle.org) on the corner of Columbus Avenue & West 60th Street in New York City. Over 1000 tickets were sold and every seat was full. St. Paul’s is a massive structure with its highest point reaching 114 feet. It is certainly an impressive church, modeled on the 4th and 5th century basilicas of Ravenna. Not something we are used to in an Orthodox Church here in America. I sat below a life size crucifix hung in front of a blood-red velvet drape.
The Rev. Richard D. Baker, pastor of St. Malachy’s Chapel (The Actor’s Chapel) gave the introduction. At first the microphone wasn’t properly working and some people from the audience raised their hands to let him know. Once the sound was fixed, it was still very difficult to hear what he was saying. The Very Rev. Fr. Chad Hatfield, Chancellor of St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Seminary, then came up to give a Welcome address. Luckily, what I can only assume was the text of this address, was printed in the program so we could follow along (because we could barely hear what he was saying). Once the conductor raised his arms and the music began, the sense of being a stranger in a crowded Roman Catholic Church quickly drifted away. Although the only singer whose words I could properly make out were those of the tenor, Blake Friedman, “You could still feel it” as the Rev. Fr. Theodore Petrides, parish priest of Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Church in Stroudsburg, PA, put it.
Metropolitan Hilarion’s Passion was performed by the 32-member New York Virtuoso Singers, who were accompanied by the Salome Chamber Ensemble, a full orchestra. The piece was broken up into four parts, with an intermission after the second part. The concert began at 7:30pm and ended at 10pm with a standing ovation.
The audience seemed like a who’s who of the Orthodox community, with delegates and representatives from all jurisdictions. As I sat down and looked around, I began to realize how great our Lord is. How many of us had been brought together to listen to a musical composition created by one of our leaders. The bonds that we share through our faith cannot be broken and the love that poured out in support was overwhelming. Blessed with the opportunity to listen to music that has been deservingly compared to that of J. S. Bach, I only wish we could have properly understood the words we all need to hear mere weeks before the start of Great Lent.