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BPO performs East Coast premiere of Danielpour's 'Passion of Yeshua'

Kleinhans Music Hall became a recording studio on Saturday night as the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra unveiled the East Coast premiere of Richard Danielpour’s vibrantly effective “Passion of Yeshua," a score commissioned by the BPO in conjunction with the Oregon Bach Festival and the Soli Deo Gloria Music Foundation.

The piece is a large-scale work blending the full instrumental forces of the orchestra along with a massive (100 plus) choir that included the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus and 37 members of the UCLA Chamber Singers to go along with six superbly talented vocal soloists. The microphone setup for recording this project was impressive but relatively unobtrusive, especially when considering the mass of humanity (and instruments) packed onto the stage.

While the program notes were longer in detail about the composer and soloists than specifics about the work (inspired by J.S. Bach’s “Passions”), the pre-concert conversation by Danielpour and JoAnn Falletta went a long way towards filling those gaps with humor and history.

The text was created by the composer using material from Hebrew and Christian traditions – specifically drawing text from the Tanakh, the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, and David Stern’s “The New Jewish Testament” – to create an amalgam honoring tradition while illuminating the last days of Jesus/Yeshua on earth. An overhead screen helped deliver the multi-lingual storyline for an English speaking audience.

All of the vocal soloists sang in the world premiere of “The Passion of Yeshua” when it debuted at the Oregon Bach Festival (on April 13) assuring a comforting level of familiarity with the score that helped deliver the music with subtle power and earned conviction.

[Related: Falletta wins 11th Grammy | Look at her eclectic 20th season]

Matthew Worth’s take on the Narrator’s role anchored the rest of the cast, helping to move the dialog from one character to another while setting the scenes with an authoritative baritone while Kenneth Overton’s take on Yeshua had more than enough bass power to be convincing without overshadowing his companions.

One thing veering from the norm, with regards to historical takes on the Passion of Jesus, was the emphasis in the second half of Danielpour’s piece on women’s roles in the storyline. Hila Plitmann as Mary Magdalene and J’Nai Bridges as Mary, Jesus’ mother were given stronger roles to play than what has been the norm.

Bridges’ burnished mezzo played well against Plitmann’s tightly focused soprano as they went through their character’s individual histories and feelings for Yeshua. They made the historical figures more human and less incidental ciphers whose dialog has usually been portrayed as peripheral at best.

[Read more: BPO's new record of Respighi works is a beauty]

Plitmann also served up a masterclass for some students earlier in the day, giving them pointers and encouragement, helping them to feel comfortable about their skills while coaching them up.

James K. Bass (who also served as Music Director for the UCLA singers) and Timothy Fallon were consistently on-the-money in conveying their respective roles as Kafaya and Kefa.

Concert Review

BPO performs Richard Danielpour's "Passion of Yeshua"

April 13 in Kleinhans Music Hall.

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