1. Adj.: Describing a person born between 1 Jan. 1946 and 31 Dec. 1964
2. Adj.: Description of a person, place or thing possessing Baby Boomer je ne sais quoi
3. See also, Boomer, Esq.: A Baby Boomer who is also a licensed attorney (See, e.g., About).

Philadelphia (Good) Phriday — Bach’s Saint Matthew Passion at the Kimmel Center

by Suzanne Fluhr on March 29, 2013 · 29 comments

Saint Matthew

Saint Matthew – Detail from stained glass in the church of St Mary and St Lambert in Stonham Aspal in Suffolk, England (Photo by Kevin Wailes, Wikimedia, Creative Commons Lic.)

My beloved (Mr. Excitement) is not a huge fan of classical choral music. So, last night while he supped with some science peeps, I treated myself to a ticket for a performance of the Saint Matthew Passion by J.S. Bach performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Westminster choir and the American Boychoir, in the opening performance of the Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts (PIFA) in Verizon Hall, the main performance space of the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts.

Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, Broad and Spruce Streets, Philadelphia

Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, Center City, Philadelphia (Photo credit: Spikebrennan CC lic.)

Opening in 2001, the Kimmel Center replaced the venerable La Scala-esque Academy of Music as Philadelphia’s premier performance venue. A modern take on a soaring 19th century railroad station, the Kimmel Center has proved controversial in the tradition loving City of Brotherly Love (and Sisterly Affection). However, there is no denying that the sleek, wood clad, cello shaped Verizon Hall and its versatile, high tech, large stage lent itself to last night’s casting that included a double adult chorus, a boys choir, double chamber orchestras and five vocal soloists.

Even given our 21st century decreasing attention spans, I was never inclined to check my watch (or my smart phone) during the three hours and fifteen minutes long performance that included an intermission barely long enough to accommodate the inevitable line in the ladies room. Prior to the start of the orchestra’s first ever uncut performance of the Saint Matthew Passion, conductor, Yannick Nezet-Seguin (the Montreal born wunderkind second season music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra), explained to the audience that the piece would be performed uncut and would flow from scene to scene as the story of Jesus’ last days on earth unfolded. The audience “got” that we were to be respectfully silent until the very end of each part (with the exception of slightly jumping the gun with applause at the end of the piece).

Kimmel Center Interior, Philadelphia

Interior of the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, Philadelphia, on a concert night

I show up every year for the Philadelphia Orchestra’s performance of Handel’s Messiah. As stirring  as that composition can be, I’ve never felt that I was at anything but a concert. However, last night’s presentation was part theater. Indeed, like the soloists, lighting designer, Jon Weir, received a half page program credit with a photo. The vocal soloists moved about a raised cruciform platform and interacted with each other and with the choirs and musicians. The choristers also “acted”, at times with their backs to the audience, at times covering their faces with their scores and employing hand gestures. All performers, including the conductor, were dressed in black although colored over-the-shoulder drapes identified the disciples and key Romans. In addition to the marquee soloists, various members of the Westminster Choir were tasked with individual parts. In my admittedly fairly unschooled opinion, some truly had soloist quality voices.

As a former high school and college orchestra oboist, I sometimes imagine myself back in the woodwind section, counting innumerable rests and cranking up my nerve to play exposed passages on a fickle double reed instrument. Last night, my excellent seat put me hovering over an expanded oboe section in one of the chamber orchestras that included four(!) oboists who traded off to oboe d’amores and English horns (alto and tenor oboes). They were seated next to a flute section, featuring early 18th century appropriate wooden flutes. However, the best nod to the Baroque era was a viola da gamba that accompanied several arias along with  small ensembles, featuring a lute and some type of baroque piano. If you closed your eyes, you could imagine powdered wigs in the audience.

Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, Philadelphia

The Massive Organ Pipes at the Back of the Verizon Hall Stage, Kimmel Center, Philadelphia

The performance, sung in German, was translated into English by “supertitles” displayed on an electronic screen suspended over the stage. At first I found this a somewhat jarring intrusion into the 18th century, but I was soon won over by the added value of understanding the text.

This was my first exposure to the Saint Matthew Passion, but the music was not all unfamiliar as Bach incorporated congregational hymns which I recognized from assemblies at the public school I attended in England — where there is no separation of church and state.

Bach employs an Evangelist to lead us through this most important of New Testament narratives. This demanding part was expertly sung and acted by British tenor Andrew Staples. Again, with the disclaimer that  I am no expert, his singing appeared effortless, seamless and sonorous, surpassing that of the other soloists, especially (it pains me to say) the female soprano and mezzo soprano.


You won’t be able to obtain tickets to the remaining sold out performances of the Saint Matthew Passion here in Philadelphia, but if you have any affinity for Baroque ecclesiastical music, I urge you to find yourself a recording for inspiration and to enjoy. Like many symphonies, the Philadelphia Orchestra is hurting financially, but it is not too late to come see and hear them, here in the City of Brotherly Love (and Sisterly Affection).

With best wishes to all who celebrate Easter.

Do you recall a memorable performance of Bach’s Saint Matthew Passion or another inspiring piece? Do you have a favorite performance venue or orchestra?

{ 28 comments… read them below or add one }

Roz Warren March 30, 2013 at 2:07 am

Sounds like a lovely opportunity for a good nap.


Just One Boomer (Suzanne) March 30, 2013 at 4:52 am

I admit that I was afraid a nap might descend unbidden when I heard how long the piece was, but I had nary a drooping lid.


Jacqui Robinson March 30, 2013 at 7:44 am

Loved your enjoyment of StMatt’s passion!


Just One Boomer March 31, 2013 at 12:30 am

Jacqui, even a nice Jewish girl recognizes the importance of the Passion of Jesus Christ and the beautiful art it has inspired. Happy Easter to you and yours.


Gill March 30, 2013 at 12:41 pm

Well, less of a coincidence this weekend than any other, of course, but we just drove home listening to a BBC Radio 3 programme comparing two new recordings of the St Matthew Passion which prompted me to have a listen this afternoon.
Glad you enjoyed the concert though. There really is nothing to compare with LIVE music!!
wishing you a happy and peaceful Easter weekend, Suzanne.


Just One Boomer March 31, 2013 at 1:02 am

Thanks, Gill. I think you and Allen would have loved the performance I attended and you would even have been impressed by the American audience that didn’t run for the exits even after a three and a quarter hour concert, but rather stayed put for three standing ovations!

Best wishes for a happy Easter.


Alice Diamond March 30, 2013 at 11:48 pm

I enjoyed your review!


Just One Boomer March 31, 2013 at 1:01 am

Thanks, Alice. I thought I maybe had a heluva nerve actually publishing (even self-publishing) a review of a work/performance of this magnitude, but after reading the review of the concert in today’s Inquirer, I thought mine was at least as well reasoned — if I do say so myself 😉


Merrily Buck March 31, 2013 at 4:12 pm

I was glad to see your perceptive review of Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion. We thought it was a wonderful performance, really love Yannick and wish that the orchestra, one of the world’s best, got more attention, especially from younger folks. Thank you for the review.


Just One Boomer March 31, 2013 at 11:16 pm

Thanks, Merrily. You are certainly correct about the need for the Philadelphia Orchestra to attract younger people. I think I was one of the younger attendees the night I went, and as everyone knows, I am decidely Boomeresque. Part of the problem might be the cost. When I was younger (a lot younger), I remember relatively inexpensive “noseblood seats” in the top tier at the Academy of Music.


Joe April 1, 2013 at 2:03 am

Boy, you were much more thorough than I was.


Just One Boomer April 1, 2013 at 2:39 am

To get another take on this performance, check out Joe’s review here:

It’s a lot better informed and literate than mine.


Joe April 1, 2013 at 2:06 am

Oh, and well-done, BTW.


Just One Boomer April 1, 2013 at 2:40 am

You are too kind, but thanks anyway. 🙂


Leslie in Portland, Oregon April 1, 2013 at 6:28 am

Thank you for the review and the shout-out for classical choral music and the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra!

My husband is a lifelong choral singer now singing in the Portland Symphonic Choir, so I have heard live performances of a great deal of classical and liturgical choral music, including Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, here in Portland, as well as in New York, London and Moscow. With the superb Portland Baroque Orchestra, we have a wonderful season of Baroque music, orchestral (with period instruments) and choral, each year. My favorite choral piece, without question, is the All-Night Vigil, op. 37, by Sergei Rachmaninoff: 51 minutes of the Sublime. My favorite performance venue for choral music is Carnegie Hall or any of the acoustically-finest places of worship in the world. (My son, a dancer, very much enjoyed performing at the Kimmel.) My favorite symphonic orchestra is the New York Philharmonic under Leonard Bernstein, and I am looking to hearing the Los Angeles Philharmonic under Gustavo Dudamel.

So much music, so little time!!


Just One Boomer April 2, 2013 at 3:27 am

Thanks, Leslie. I seem to have struck a chord (pun completely intended) with this post 😉 I am not familiar with Rachmaninoff’s Opus 37 (All-Night Vigil). I used to practically swoon when I played the oboe in the Berkshire Symphony for a Rachmaninoff piano concerto during college, so I will definitely be looking for the piece you recommend.


Tina G. April 1, 2013 at 6:33 am

A shoutout to Elizabeth, the young lady who raised $600 for the Orchestra. I was in her parents’ wedding, and have known her since she was an infant. Let’s hope that more of the (much) younger generation will come to appreciate our world class orchestra. Perhaps sometime you will join me for the annual performance of Handel’s Messiah at Thankful Baptist Church in North Philly. Not the orchestra-caliber performance that you are used to, but there’s just something about hearing it in a church (no, I’m not a church-goer in general)…it makes for a wonderful afternoon.


Just One Boomer April 2, 2013 at 3:28 am

Actually, I want to find a Messiah sing-a-long this year. I keep meaning to try that.


Tina G. April 7, 2013 at 2:38 am

During the Hallelujah Chorus, there’s always some audience participation. Not sure how the choir feels about it, but so far no one has been actively discouraged!


Suzanne Fluhr April 8, 2013 at 1:49 am

At the Philadelphia Orchestra performances of the Messiah, the audience (most of it) stands during the Hallelujah Chorus—but that’s about as participatory as they get.


Susan Cooper April 1, 2013 at 7:42 pm

I know what you mean about long performances with very short intermissions. However, when it is particular good they hold my attention and I can’t seem to get enough. Nevertheless, these performances sound like something my friends would very much enjoy.


Just One Boomer April 2, 2013 at 3:30 am

So far, everyone I know who attended the concert had no problem with boredom even though the performance went from 8:00 PM to after 11:00 PM. (You notice I didn’t bring my husband 😉


Leigh April 2, 2013 at 2:42 am

I have never heard Saint Matthew’s Passion but if you didn’t nod off over the 3 + hours that speaks volumes. I do – and always have – enjoy going to classical concerts. I don’t play any instruments but I always come away feeling it’s not too late to take up one – maybe cello. Also love the creative thoughts that whirl through my head after listening to live classical music. Sounds like you’re lucky to have such a great orchestra in Philadelphia. In Calgary the orchestra suffered for years but has really turned itself around. There are loads of cheap seats if you’re under 30 and if you’ve never subscribed before they offer a two for one package for season’s tickets for your first year.


Just One Boomer April 2, 2013 at 3:20 am

Thanks for your comment, Leigh. When I was starting 9th grade, I wanted to learn to play the cello. My parents were very supportive of us playing musical instruments, but my father nixed the cello idea, telling me that I needed to pick an instrument I could carry on the bus. So, then I decided on the clarinet, but when I went to see the music teacher at school, she looked in the instrument closet and the only clarinet had a tag on it that said, “Throw away”. It was an all girls public high school, chronically short on brass players, so she tried to convince me to play the trumpet. We compromised on the oboe which turned out to be a good choice. Oboists are relatively few and far between, so I think the fact that I could be counted on to be a passable second oboe for the college orchestra got me admitted to Williams College (where I met my husband—in the band).

I really hope the Philadelphia Orchestra can survive the economic turn down and the aging of the concert going population. It’s a treasure we need to preserve.


Sherryl Perry April 3, 2013 at 1:38 am

What a wonderful experience! Thanks for sharing it with us. From your writing and your images, I can relate to what a wonderful experience it was for you. For some reason, it reminded me of the time I parted from my “Mr. Excitement” on a trip to London. He boarded the train to go off to an aviation museum while I happily went to Westminster Abbey. – I think it may have been your first image of the stained glass church window that brought that memory back to me. Thanks for the fun read.


Just One Boomer April 3, 2013 at 2:07 am

Thanks for your comment. If I had to choose, I would have been with you at Westminster Abbey — although if I had time, I wouldn’t mind also visiting the aviation museum. Did you visit the church of St. Martin in the Fields in London. They have wonderful concerts there and we fortunately stumbled upon a rehearsing chamber orchestra there when we visited.


Leora April 14, 2013 at 5:42 am


Growing up in the Boston area, we had many opportunities to hear classical music, free or otherwise. I don’t get that opportunity in central NJ. Will have to seek it out in the future … maybe my friend who lives in Philly will come with me to a performance some time.


Just One Boomer (Suzanne) April 15, 2013 at 1:32 am

By all means, come on down!


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