Teresa Tam
Cambridge Concentus


June, 2009

Suffused with Rifkin’s Personality – Bach’s St. Matthew Passion in a Japanese-American Collaboration
By Masazumi Oki, The Mainichi Daily News, Tokyo

An epoch-making performance of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion has been achieved through collaboration between Japanese and American musicians. Two young vocal and instrumental ensembles, Cambridge Concentus (Cambridge, MA) and Kunitachi - BACH Collegium, took part under Joshua Rifkin as conductor and Tadashi Isoyama as project director on 14 June in Mori-no Hall, Hashi-moto.

The decisive element of this performance is a fundamental manner of delivery in which each part is sung by one singer (the so-called “Rifkin method”) and the entire personnel, including the vocalists, is strictly divided according to Bach’s own intention into two groups. The effect clearly reveals a separation between the Biblical as narrative related by the participants (American group) and the reflections from the outside (Japanese group). Returned thus to a humanistic plane, the Matthew Passion made an even deeper impression on the public. There is nothing more beautiful in this world than music that communicates love and tenderness to us.

Speaking frankly, I was somewhat worried as to whether the young American and Japanese musicians could consistently sustain such an exalted conception. But I must apologize for such ignorance. It was moving to see how such youthful forces, including the singers shouldering the most difficult responsibilities – Jason McStoots (Evangelist) and Sumner Thompson (Jesus) – joined together under genuinely superb leadership to pursue Bach’s truth.

Despite the small forces resulting from the “Rifkin method,” I never had an impression of something miniature in scale. This is doubtless owing to Rifkin’s ability to shape the natural flow of the music into the firm structure of the Passion and provide strong guidance for the performers from beginning to end. I am even more fascinated, however, by the entire force of his eloquent personality, which suffuses every corner and angle of the ensemble. For this human touch belongs to the essence of Bach’s music.