This New Years’ Eve, I have the honor of performing the evangelist in Bach’s Christmas Oratorio with Choral Arts Philadelphia, under the direction of Matthew Glandorf. I am thrilled to take on this role, and I am grateful to Matt and Choral Arts for this opportunity. This will be my first performance of one of the crown jewels of tenor repertoire.
For a young tenor, learning the evangelist roles from Bach’s major vocal works is a rite of passage. The endeavor of preparing an evangelist role is one full of tradition and lineage. Both of my teachers, James Taylor and Kurt Hansen, are first-rate evangelists and storytellers. When we consider their teachers, then those teachers’ teachers, and so on, we come to a startling realization: only about six generations of evangelists separate today’s young singers from Bach’s own original tenor. The result is a sort of oral history passed down from Bach’s time which still informs how we portray the evangelist today.
So too, I think, is the joy that Bach finds in the nativity story. In the Christmas Oratorio, far more so than in Bach’s two passions, the evangelist’s narrative lines sweep and soar in the high part of the range -- like the seraphim visiting the shepherds, or the dazzling star above Bethlehem. There is an unadulterated optimism about Bach’s setting -- for him, this story is the beginning of humankind’s journey towards redemption.
Near the beginning of the Oratorio, one of the chorales asks:
Wie soll ich dich empfangen
Und wie begegn' ich dir?
How shall I embrace you,
and how will I receive you?
I can think of no better way to receive the new year than with the glorious music of the Christmas Oratorio, and with its message of renewed commitment to joy and love.