Standing Ovation Greets "The Passion according to Matthew"
- From the Moscow Patriarchate's email newsletter Europaica 118
Standing Ovation Greets "The Passion according to Matthew"
By Joan Lewis
Rome, 30 March 2007. - Last evening's concert at the St. Cecilia Auditorium in Rome, "The Passion
According to Matthew," composed by Orthodox Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev of Vienna and Austria,
received a standing ovation at the end of the two-hour performance. The 40-year old, multi-lingual
Orthodox prelate joined the 145 musicians on stage after the concert, acknowledging the work he
had written in late summer.
It was indeed a stunning evening with the beautiful and moving music framed by the presence of so
many Church and civil dignitaries. Only once in my life have I had such superb theater seats -
third row center. I was seated, in fact, right in front of Cardinals Paul Poupard, Roger
Etchegaray and Walter Kasper as well as the composer of the opus, Bishop Alfeyev. I spoke briefly
to him at the intermission, and he was pleased to meet an EWTN representative as he well knew that
we'd be televising the show around the world.
I asked the bishop where his inspiration had come from for this work and he told me "Just that,
inspiration. This summer, on a trip back to Vienna from Budapest where I presided a service
dedicated to St. Stephen of Hungary, the melodies and words just began coming to me." He said he
continued working on and off - as inspiration came - for several weeks. "I had been involved in
music when I was young," he told me, "but had been away from it for about 20 years, and only last
year did I return to it, with a Passion. This is my first big work since then," said the composer
of musical pieces as well as publications in several languages on the liturgy, music and theology.
The evening was opened by remarks from Cardinal Paul Poupard, president of the Pontifical Council
for Culture which had helped to organize and sponsor the event. The cardinal was one of many
ranking prelates from the Roman Curia at the concert, in addition to students from many countries
attending Rome universities (some of whom had been at Pope Benedict's penitential service),
ambassadors accredited to the Holy See, priests and seminarians from a number of seminaries,
including the North American College, politicians and representatives of art and culture. There
were also a number of prelates from the Orthodox Church.
Some of the buzz during the evening centered on the importance of such a cultural and religious
event for relations between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. John Paul II, and now Benedict
XVI, have both placed high priority on these relations and, since the start of Benedict's papacy,
there have been small but sure signs of a thaw in relations which had cooled down for a time,
certainly between Rome and Moscow.
Any step, no matter how small, that would bring the Churches closer, deserves praise.
I spoke briefly in Italian with Cardinal Kasper, apologizing for not speaking his native German,
especially since I have roots in Germany, which I had visited just prior to Christmas. I told him
I had only learned a few phrases from my grandfather, who came to America when he was 18 months
old, but not enough for a conversation. We did talk a bit about the Pope's November trip to Turkey
which the cardinal said "had gone much better than the expectations people had before the Pope
left Rome." "There were many fears," he said, referring to earlier Muslim reaction to the Pope's
September 12 Regensburg speech, "but all turned out better than hoped for." Cardinal Kasper had
travelled to Turkey with the Pope principally for the celebrations with Ecumenical Patriarch
The Russian news agency, Interfax, wrote a review Wednesday after the concert was performed in
Moscow the previous evening. They did another piece from Rome and it was heartwarming to read
especially the last paragraph: "Bishop Hilarion's Roman premiere was widely covered by the leading
European media, the spokesperson said. The concert was broadcasted by Eternal World Television
Network cable TV. The EWTN subscribers number 123 million families or 200 million people in 140
countries. A TV version of the concert will be re-shown by the EWTN during the Holy Week, which
falls on the same week for both Orthodox and Catholics this year."
Reactions to the first performance of Bishop Hilarion's "Passion according to St Matthew"
I watched the grand premier of Bishop Hilarion's composition, The Passion According to St. Matthew
and enjoyed it very much.
Cardinal Keeler, USA
Congratulations. Wonderful accomplishment.
Rabbi Alon Goshen-Gottstein, Jerusalem
Your Grace, I have just finished experiencing the live broadcast of your Passion According to St
Matthew from the Auditorium Conciliazione in Rome. When the last note faded away I found myself
giving a standing ovation which only increased in intensity when you mounted the stage. Bravo!
While my heart and soul were deeply touched by the entirety of Passion, several individual pieces
stand out as being supra-superb (if there is such a word!). The piece in Part I which immediately
preceded the Fugue (EWTN titled it "The Master's Hospitality') was sweet to my soul and most
welcoming; the bass solo "Bozhe, Bozhe" in Part II was the epitome of compunctionate; "When God
was standing before Caiaphas" (which preceded the Fug?e in Part II) was absolutely profound; "Let
all mortal flesh keep silence" which opened Part III and "Arise, O God" which concluded Part III
were beyond description; the tenor solo "Thou hast slain death" in Part IV can best be described
as we do the Great Fast - "bright sadness;" and the concluding piece "Thy Death we proclaim, O
Lord, and Thy Resurrection we confess. Alleluia. Glory to Thee!" was triumphantly glorious.
God grant that someday the Passion According to St Matthew be performed in America!
Thank you gifting the Church - and the whole world - with this masterpiece.
+Basil, Bishop of Wichita and the Diocese of Mid-America Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese
of North America
Your Grace: Thank you for the exquisite oratorio. Watching it and hearing it was a profound
religious experience for me. I was delighted to hear the Bach influence in your work. The chants
were truly beautiful and the people chosen to sing them did a splendid job. I also found the arias
moving. I particularly liked the combination of Italian and, was it Russian or Church Slavonic?
Nothing is more beautiful to me than the glorious harmonies of the Eastern Church. Also, I was
delighted with the exclusive use of strings as orchestra. Truly, I had goose bumps through almost
the entire performance.
Your oratorio is something I can listen to over and over, just like my CDs of Russian Easter
Music, the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, and Vespers. I believe that the world, should it still
exist 500 years from now, will still hear your oratorio.
Barbara Schoeneberger, Ozark, Missouri, USA
Your Grace, I had the pleasure of listening to your wonderful composition here in Gillette,
Wyoming, USA, on EWTN, the Roman Catholic network. It was splendid throughout. Before I heard your
composition I thought that, since J.S.Bach had written such glorious music on this subject,
nothing more could be written, but I have seen that there is indeed an Orthodox interpretation and
expression of the Passion as recounted in St. Matthew. And you did it in a beautiful and inspiring
Priest James Thayer, Wyoming, USA
Nous avons regard? et entendu le concert via l'ordinateur. Nous devons dire que c'?tait tr?s
?mouvant. Beau comme musique, et sobre comme il se doit. Nous vous f?licitons pour cette oeuvre.
Puisse t'elle effectivement ?tre un instrument d'unit? en ces temps fragiles.
Anna Khudokormoff, Brussels
The entire composition certainly pulled at the emotions. It was most beautiful. We recorded it for
future listening. It was a Lenten gift.
Father Thomas Williams St. John the Theologian, Rapid City, South Dakota, USA
Ich habe hier in Chile gestern mit Bewunderung und innerer Bewegung Ihre herrliche neue
Komposition der Math?us-Passion auf EWTN geh?rt und danach einige Ihrer Schriften gelesen, unter
anderem Ihren Nachruf auf Papst Johannes Paul II, dem ich philosophisch, menschlich und kirchlich
sehr nahestehen durfte.
Josef Seifert, Chile
Your Grace, Bishop Hilarion, I had the wonderful opportunity this afternoon to hear the broadcast
of your magnificent Passion according to St. Matthew. Bravo! This is a tremendously moving work
and the use of the Liturgical Texts to highlight the Holy Scripture was a stroke of genius. Thank
you for this tremendous prelude to Holy Week.
I have had opportunity to speak with a number of musician friends since the broadcast and they
were all very much impressed with the Passion. One of them said that he was gratified to hear that
a modern composer is not afraid to write in a traditional style and yet to have so much to say
Archimandrite John Mangels, USA
When I heard of the concert on March 27th I immediately felt that being there would have a very
special meaning for me spiritually. And so it turned out The voice that inspired Bishop Hilarion
directly to compose his great "St. Matthew Passion" spoke through his music to me. It is a work of
strength as well as delicacy and beauty. A "whole experience" and I would not isolate bits of it.
I think we all look forward to the recording and to hearing this music many times.
The orchestra, choir and soloists were expertly led by Fedoseyev and for me, being in the Great
Hall of the Moscow Conservatory where legendary musicians grew up and to be in the company of the
leaders of the Orthodox Church including the Patriarch was an unforgettable experience.
Had my father been there I believe that he would have been as deeply moved by the music as I was.
One day I hope to bring my husband and sons to visit Moscow and also the Crimea where my
grandmother was born and grew up.
Zamira Menuhin-Benthall, London, UK
I wish to express what joy it was to hear listen to your blessed work. I was so moved by its
beauty. You certainly did a beautiful job capturing the tone of the Passion. Thanks be to God for
this work. I pray for its success and that it may be performed many times again.
Fr. John St. Peter Orthodox Christian Church, Fort Worth, Texas
Your Grace, I am a Roman Catholic of the Latin Rite. On Thursday, March 29th we watched your
symphonic and choral concert from the Auditorium Conciliazione, in Rome. The bits and pieces of
the liturgical prayers displayed at the bottom of the screen were absolutely beautiful, but
obviously incomplete. The passion expressed in the wording, along with your musical composition,
was both meditative and moving.
I would like to sincerely thank you for this marvelous work you have composed for the glory of God
which you have given to the entire Christian world. Most especially, I am thankful for the
long-awaited bond this unique and inspirational oratorio establishes between us. In addition, it
would be thoughtless of me if I didn't mention my gratefulness for the richness it brings to those
of us who are spiritually starving with the modernist corrosion permeating the Latin Rite over the
last 40 years. I am hoping this musical composition of yours will be another "seed" - if you will
- for the "springtime" we've been hearing so much about for so very many years.
Your Grace, Thank you for the wonderful "St. Matthew's Passion". I am so glad God in His great
mercy has inspired you to write music deeply influenced by Bach and Mozart yet with a simple
modern texture and our beautiful Orthodox prayers. You are probably aware Bach started his
compositions with JJ (Jesu Juva) and ended them with SDG (Soli Deo Gloria) and I believe he is
very happy with your composition as well. Would it be possible to provide a link where one might
purchase the musical score or at least an Aria? As an amateur cellist, there is a particular Aria
I am eager to get my hands on!
Andy Holland, Somerset PA, USA
We enjoyed watching your performance at St. Tikhon's Seminary in South Canaan, Pennsylvania.
Isaac Farha, USA
I would be grateful to learn where one can buy a CD version of this masterpiece of music.
I was unable to be home to see the performance when it was first aired in the afternoon, so I
opted to watch the performance that was re-broadcast as 10:30 PM (which actually began at 10:45
PM). Since it began so late, I thought that I would watch, and listen, for a while and record the
rest to be viewed today. I followed the advice that Bishop BASIL sent out about having the text of
the Gospel of Matthew opened to Chapters 26 & 27 in order to follow the readings which was very
The performance was so riveting that I never left my chair to hit the record button on the VCR. It
was breathtaking, but more important (especially as we are on the verge of beginning Great and
Holy Week), it was so inspirational. Even as the performance was ending (well after 12:30 AM), I
was uplifted and I could actually feel the presence of God through the music and text. It was
particularly awesome when the subtitles on the bottom of the television screen were showing the
words of familiar prayers and hymns. The one that was the most moving for me, personally, was from
the Anaphora..."we hymn Thee, we bless Thee, we give thanks unto Thee, O Lord, and we pray unto
Your Grace, I thank the Almighty God for the inspiration that He provided to you in producing this
historic and monumental work.
Fr. Michael, USA
I watched the broadcast of Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev's Saint Matthew Passion and greatly enjoyed it,
a spiritual and musical blessing.
Michael J. Parry, Ohio, USA
Yesterday, with great joy I watched the concert from Rome of Bp Hilarion's new work, The Passion
of St Matthew. I would very much like to have an audio recording (CD) of this stunningly beautiful
Please convey to His Grace Hilarion my thanks for the spiritual gift in his music that he gives
not only those of us who are Orthodox Christians, but the gift he shares with the world that may
be moved to find and love God as he does.
Stefanie Yazge, USA
We were thrilled to watch this concert broadcast live on EWTN. We had seen the notice in our
recent copy of Inside the Vatican, and were fortunate to see and hear the broadcast.
Janet and Michael Nardolillo Albany, NY, USA
This afternoon I happened to be surfing the TV channels when I came to EWTN which was presenting
Bishop Hilarion's composition: St. Matthew's Passion sung in Russian with Vladimir Fedoseyev
conducting - awesome and extremely inspiring.
Jules Gryckiewicz, USA
I am excited to see your work on TV, God grant you many years!
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