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Work of the Week – Krzysztof Penderecki: St Luke Passion

On 14 July, Penderecki’s seminal work St Luke-Passion will be performed as part of the Festival de Lauaudière in Quebec, Canada. Kent Nagano will conduct The Montreal Symphony Orchestra and the Chor Filharmonii Krakowskiej, joined by soprano Sarah Wegener, baritone Lucas Meachem and bass Matthew Rose.

Commissioned by the Westdeutschen Rundfunk Orchestra, St Luke-Passion was premiered on 30 March 1966 at Münster Cathedral, Germany, under its full title Passio Et Mors Domini Nostri Jesu Christi Secundum Lucam.The text of St Luke-Passion is in Latin and primarily drawn from the Gospel of Luke, with additions from the Gospel of John, Lamentations of Jeremiah and Psalms of David. In depicting the suffering and death of Christ, the work is also intended as an expression of the tragedy of World War II. Several of Penderecki’s compositions are similarly dedicated to victims of suffering, such as Threnody (1960) for the victims of Hiroshima and his piano concerto Resurrection (2002) for those lost in the 9/11 attacks.

Krzysztof Penderecki –St. Luke Passion:  An homage to Bach

Penderecki was strongly influenced by the music of J.S. Bach’s Passions, and pays homage to the great composer by using the B-A-C-H motif throughout his composition. Additionally, the two falling second intervals of this motif become a representation of pain. However, unlike the emotionally driven language of Bach, Penderecki’s musical expression could be described as more intellectual.  For example, in the dramatic section “Jesus before Pilate”, tone clusters are used beside extracts of his own Stabat Mater composed in 1962, seamlessly combining twelve-tone serialism with Gregorian chant.

Such an effortless combination of old and new, and Penderecki’s uncompromising affirmation of tradition and faith, immediately made his St Luke Passion one of the 20th century’s enduring masterpieces. Following the premiere in 1966, one critic stated:

“Penderecki’s Passion will be one of the most important compositions for new music. The striking clarity of this revolutionary score, the logic behind the structure of the work and the haunting effect of the music go far beyond what prominent composers have offered to choral music in recent years.” – Heinz Joseph Herbort, Die Zeit, following the premiere in 1966 

Further performances include 18 July at the Sala audytoryjna, Krakow, and on 20 July St Luke-Passion will feature in the opening concert of the Salzburg Festival. In addition Penderecki’s Intermezzo for 24 solo strings can be heard performed by the Camerata Salzburg on 4 August, and as part of the final of the Nestlé and Salzburg Festival Young Conductors Award that same weekend.