One of the aims of this blog is to document events, past and present, in the musical life of the Lutheran Church of Honolulu. In addition to doing all those Bach cantatas, certainly one of the big events which “put us on the map,” were the two performances of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, March 31 and April 1, 2000.
Carl Crosier’s personal journey with the St. Matthew Passion actually began when I was pregnant with our son, Stephen, and encountered numerous difficulties. After visiting me in the hospital, he would come home and listen the newly-released (at the time) recordings of Nikolaus Harnoncourt/Gustav Leonhardt of this work. It was a revelation for him because the recording used historic instruments. Listening to the recordings and the constant optimism of Bach’s music in the St. Matthew Passion became a source of comfort to him.
In 1996, when we visited Bach’s church, St. Thomas in Leipzig, Carl said to me, “Why, the distance between the gallery and the altar here is about the same distance at LCH, from one end of the church to the other!” And so, he began dreaming about performing the work as Bach intended, with two orchestras and two choirs, completely separated on opposite sides of the church, and a children’s choir in the loft. He saw it as a good way to mark both the 250th anniversary of Bach’s death as well as the 100th anniversary of the LCH congregation.
The hurdles were enormous, including cancellations of artists, difficulties in dealing with the Honolulu Symphony management, physical alterations to the nave that were necessary to performing the work (for example, the lighting system was on the verge of collapsing any moment and the loft had to be cleared and equipped with a railing and stairway), borrowing seat pads and 150 chairs from another church, having instrumentalists arrive late for the performance or not properly attired, and the list went on and on. Just the cost of putting on two musical performances was in excess of $64,000! That didn’t include the new lighting system, the new exterior paint job, the updates to the bathrooms, renting Port-A-Potties, etc. But indeed, Carl pulled off a miracle and as he lifted his baton to conduct the first chorus, he always says “God delivered me, and brought me a tremendous sense of peace.”
Gregory Shepherd, music reviewer of the Honolulu Advertiser, wrote “That it was performed so brilliantly speaks volumes for the high standards Crosier and company have held themselves to in the course of bringing it to fruition.” After two sold-out performances, I cannot tell you how many people stopped us in the bank or the grocery store, saying “I came to the Bach performance,” even months after the event.
I was in charge of renting additional tables and chairs for the church’s 100th anniversary party a few months later, and randomly called a company in the Yellow Pages. It turns out the clerk had come to the St. Matthew Passion, and gave us a discount!
Who would have thought that the work of one man, Johann Sebastian Bach, would have come halfway across the globe, and made such an impact in Hawaii? Yes, Bach definitely put LCH on the map.