Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Passion of Christ According to Matthew

by Becky St. Clair

On April 18 and 19 at 7 p.m., the Andrews University Department of Music presents a special Easter production, “The Passion According to Matthew” in the Howard Performing Arts Center. The event is free and open to the public, with donations welcome to assist in deferring costs of the production.

This musical play set to the music of Johann Sebastian Bach tells the story of the death and resurrection of Christ, straight from the Gospel of Matthew.

“The story portrayed is essentially verbatim from the Bible,” explains Charles Reid, associate professor of voice and producer of the performance. He also explains that intermingled with the story are lots of meditation points; opportunities to dwell on the story in a personal way before moving on.

“The idea of ‘stations of the cross’ is common in many other denominations, where participants take time to really think about different parts of the story of Christ’s death and resurrection and what they mean,” says Reid. “This is what the Andrews University annual Passion Play has strived to create as well. You get not only into what happens to Jesus, but how everything relates to the other characters in the story. It’s truly eye-opening.”

Reid explains that the biggest character in the production is the University Singers, as they really do the storytelling alongside the narrator, also called the evangelist. David Ortiz, sophomore music major, will play the role of evangelist. Deneile Clark, a student in the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary on the campus of Andrews University, plays the role of Jesus.

Something Reid and his cast and crew paid special attention to was allowing the audience to connect with the characters and, as a result, the story.

“We’re taking a lot of care to make the text into modern English so the audience doesn’t have to translate from King James English,” he says. “Instead of looking at the story of something that happened over 2,000 years ago, we’re looking at a story that’s relevant for now and we want everyone to look at it like it’s their story.”

“The Passion According to Matthew” is a completely student-run production. While Reid has served as director and producer, the costuming, lighting, staging and all other details have been student-led.

“I’m really excited about this project,” says Reid. “Wherever possible we’re using students. This is the purpose of a university environment—to give the students these opportunities for growth.”

A joint venture between the vocal/choral and symphonic areas, “The Passion” is a major department production involving many areas. After last year’s successful production of Mendelssohn’s “Elijah,” the department was encouraged to do another large performance involving multiple ensembles and soloists. Stephen Zork, associate professor of music for choir and voice, is conducting the choir, while Claudio Gonzalez, associate professor of music for orchestra and strings, is managing the instrumental aspect for the production.

Reid was inspired by “The Passion” early in his career when he was in the choir at Brooklyn Academy of Music. Director Jonathan Miller chose to perform this piece in a unique way, similar to how Reid is doing it this time.

“Out of the hundreds of performances I’ve done over the years, that set of performances remains an emotional high point,” Reid recalls. “I’ve never seen audiences so impacted in random ways. People realized things they weren’t used to noticing and were open to the story in a fresh way. That’s what I hope to accomplish here as well.”

Reid continues, “When you look at this story, little by little you see Jesus was very emotional. He actually got angry, afraid, frustrated, even angsty. Not things we usually associate with Jesus. So a piece like this, done how we’re doing it in a more contemporary setting, can have a strong impact on anyone, Christian or not.”

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