Friday, 18 March 2016

Article published in Manchester Evening News 18 March 2016

GOOD FRIDAY is the most solemn day in the year for Christians, a day for meditation on the meaning of the death of Jesus Christ – and in the classical music tradition no work on that theme is greater than the St Matthew Passion, by J S Bach.

This year, in Manchester, there’s a different take on that tradition, as choral group The Sixteen, working with Streetwise Opera and people who have experienced homelessness, present The Passion in Campfield Market, off Deansgate.

It’s an adaptation of Bach’s masterpiece, presented in conjunction with HOME theatre and arts centre, and directed in site-specific, operatic style by Penny Woolcock, in the Victorian iron and glass edifice. A second performance follows on Holy Saturday (March 26).

This version will also have an extra final piece of music, I Awoke Today, by Sir James MacMillan, with a text by the community performers involved in the project through Streetwise Opera. The company specializes in working with people facing big challenges, including the homeless.

In this Manchester project they’ve piloted a year-long project with participants and facilitators from groups such as The Booth Centre and The Mustard Tree. There have been regular workshops with professional singers, and those taking part have already sung at the Whitworth art gallery and visited the Bridgewater Hall, the Royal Northern College of Music and seen an Opera North performance at The Lowry, getting an experience of classical music at the top level.

Artistic director of The Sixteen Harry Christophers, who will conduct the performances, told me: “It all started with a series of workshops in Manchester, with four of our singers helping. What was incredible for them was the way the personalities of the people came out.

“The idea is that it’s like a promenade performance, with the action in different parts of the building. We’re having two groups, and the role of Christus is shared between about 11 people from the homeless group.

“The workshop members will be involved in four or five of the arias and a couple of chorales, and integrating with The Sixteen in two choruses – one of them is the ‘Lord, is it I?’

“James MacMillan’s final chorus has words created by the Manchester group. We’re calling it the ‘Resurrection Chorus’, because what the St Matthew Passion is fundamentally about is a sense of hope – and these people’s stories are true stories of hope.”


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