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BPO and choruses bring Bach’s vivid masterpiece to life

Intense and emotional, Bach’s oratorio “St. Matthew Passion” can move a listener to tears. A narrator, chorus and soloists tell the story of the events leading up to Christ’s crucifixion, and many elements along the way give a human dimension to the drama. It begins with a gripping chorus in tones that suggest the unearthly and supernatural. The journey continues with arias that are arresting and even sensuous in a peculiar way that only Bach’s music can be. And among the chorales are ancient and recognizable melodies.

On March 9 and March 11, the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra is performing this work for the first time in almost 20 years. Joining the orchestra in this intense endeavor are the Masterworks Chorus of SUNY Fredonia, the Chancel Choir of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, and the Chautauqua Youth Chorus.

Performances are at 7 p.m. March 9 at King Concert Hall on the SUNY Fredonia campus, and at 7 p.m. March 11 at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church (1080 Main St.). The conductor is Gerald Gray, director of choral activities at SUNY Fredonia and a specialist in Baroque-era music. Several period instruments not frequently heard in Western New York are also featured in this performance.

Singing the role of Jesus will be baritone Aaron Engebreth, and singing the part of the Evangelist will be tenor William Hite. Both singers have international reputations and, like Gray, specialize in the Baroque era.

The work will be sung in German, with English supertitles. The March 11 performance at Holy Trinity will be followed by a champagne reception. Tickets are $25 and can be purchased through the BPO box office, 885-5000, or online at

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