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Since founding the Peterborough Singers my biggest goal has been to make sure the programming every year includes one of the great oratorios — I believe the heart of the choir is found through the performance of these works. An oratorio is a musical composition with dramatic or narrative text for choir, soloists and orchestra. You might think this sounds like an opera, and it does, but the big difference is an opera is staged with people coming and going, whereas in an oratorio the drama is carried by the music alone.

The St Matthew Passion by J.S. Bach is acknowledged as one of the greatest oratorios ever written, and you have a rare opportunity to hear it performed on May 11. The reason it’s rarely performed is in part because it’s very challenging for a choir to sing. But after the pandemic I felt there was a need to prove to ourselves that we had not been diminished during that time. And, perhaps selfishly, I wanted to conduct this great work again, with some of the most beautiful music ever written.

One of the 78 songs in the Passion is the biblical story of the woman who pours costly ointment on the feet of Jesus, to which the outraged disciples say, “to what purpose is this waste?” And that, in a way, is what a performance of the St Matthew encompasses. For example, we have hired the Bach Children’s Chorus to sing in the first number. It’s the only place where a professional children’s choir is required, but without them the music is missing a critical element.

And so, like the woman pouring out the precious ointment, we are bringing one of Toronto’s finest children’s choirs to Peterborough to sing. We are also joined by four of Canada’s finest soloists (Janelle Lucyk, Ian Sabourin, Michael Colvin and Alex Dobson), along with organist Ian Sadler, continuo player Chris Bagan and several brilliant instrumental soloists.

Bach composed this work to be performed on Good Friday in 1827. And yes, there would’ve been a one-hour sermon between part one and two of the Passion. So, how is this piece relevant to all today? Could you not ask the same question of the Sistine Chapel? Or of a fabulous Gothic cathedral? J.S. Bach poured his heart and mind into this incredible work — I hope you’ll join us and hear for yourself on May 11.

– Artistic Director, Syd Birrell

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Tickets: $40 general admission; $10 students. Available through the Peterborough Singers‘ website and the following:

  • Pammett’s Flower Shop
  • Ashburnham Foot & Ankle Centre
  • Happenstance Books & Yarns (Lakefield)

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