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Where To Hear Music For Holy Week

Magda Ehlers

Holy Week offers an abundance of music in the Columbus area, both in places of worship and, of course, on the radio. 

Live Music

The two grand Passions by J.S. Bach, written for the Thomaskirche in Leipzig, Germany, nearly 300 years ago, are cornerstones of the sacred music repertoire. Columbus has a chance to hear them both this coming week.

The choir of First Congregational Church in Downtown Columbus collaborates with Pittsburgh-based Chatham Baroque to perform Bach’s "Johannespassion, St. John Passion."

Take note: This is not a weekend concert. It’s Monday, April 15 at 7:30 p.m. Kevin Jones, First Church’s wonderful Minister of Music conducts this performance. 

The First Church choir is augmented with a fine roster of soloists: Dennis Shuman, Corey Shotwell, Wee Kiat Chia, Christopher Humbert, Matthew Cramer, Elizabeth McConnaughey (who recently stopped by our studio to preview another performance) and Margaret Wells.

The Chatham Baroque has appeared in Columbus under the auspices of Early Music in Columbus. They have a large following, thanks to an extensive discography, plenty of radio broadcasts – very much including Classical 101 – and a well-earned reputation for excellence.

The Bach Passions are most often enjoyed on recordings. The opportunity to hear the "St. John" performed in the wonderful acoustics of First Congregational Church, sung by a fine choir is not to be missed.

Remember these Passions were first presented during worship on Good Friday in an unheated church in North Germany, compete with penitential pews. First Church is warm and comfortable.

Regardless of your own sitzfleisch, you will be moved and enthralled on Monday, April 15, as Holy Week begins and tax day ends.

P.S. One of the soloists at First Congregational Church is a young man named Christopher Humbert. I’ve never met him, but I have heard him sing. He’s an undergraduate at Capital University. This young man is going to be a star – mark my words.

Broadcast Music

Friday evenings on Classical 101 are devoted to Front Row Center, starting at 7 p.m. I call this program “Classical 101's Celebration of Opera and More.” I enjoy putting together two, sometimes three, hours of operatic highlights.

We go from Monteverdi to Handel, Mozart, Verdi, Wagner, Puccini, Strauss and composers who have been sleeping peacefully in their graves for centuries until I put them on the radio. Same with singers: Callas, Sutherland and Pavarotti are all in heaven but they – as do their living younger colleagues – have a home with me on Front Row Center.

But no opera on April 19. It’s Good Friday. We’ll hear Bach’s "St. Matthew Passion." Where the "St. John Passion" is more concentrated and perhaps more dramatic, the "Matthauspassion" is long, involved, spiritual, moving and beautiful beyond words.

I’ve chosen a recording made in London in the early 1960s. This does not conform to today’s performance practice. The chorus and orchestra are large – for Bach. The singers are operatic in temperament (is there a more operatic story than the Passion?)

Otto Klemperer conducts the Philharmonia Orchestra and Chorus, with Peter Pears as the Evangelist and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau as Jesus. Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Christa Ludwig, Nicolai Gedda and Walter Berry sing the arias.


Many of us learned the "St. Mathew" from this recording. It does go on. The broadcast Friday night is nearly four hours. But you can be cozy at home and let your mind take you wherever it needs to go while listening to Bach’s profound testament of humanity.

On Easter Sunday, Musica Sacra presents Bach’s Easter Oratorio and two settings of the Gloria, by Vivaldi and Healey Willan.

Keep listening!

Christopher Purdy is Classical 101's early morning host, 7-10 a.m. weekdays. He is host and producer of Front Row Center – Classical 101’s weekly celebration of Opera and more – as well as Music in Mid-Ohio, Concerts at Ohio State, and the Columbus Symphony broadcast series. He is the regular pre-concert speaker for Columbus Symphony performances in the Ohio Theater.