Reviews

"dramatic, touching"
"hymnic effect is not unlike that of Alan Hovhaness in one of his gentler moods"

Review of the Premiere Performance by Mark Alburger, 21st Century Music, May, 2006, page 9 (PDF)

Harmony by MARK ALBURGER [excerpts]

Scott King's The Passion and Death of Jesus Christ According to the Gospels is apparently a new sub-genre, being the simultaneous telling of the stories, with not one, but four Evangelists–plus a Narrator and Epistle-writer Paul to boot, for a total of six narrative, antiphonal, contrapuntal, and harmonic voices. To this is added choral and solo interpolations of non-Biblical texts by the composer and Christopher St. John, somewhat in the tradition of Benjamin Britten's War Requiem and Leonard Bernstein's Mass.

Clocking in at close to two hours, this very ambitious undertaking was heard at St. Mark's Episcopal Church (Berkeley, CA), from the Choir and Orchestra of St. Gregory of Nyssa, under the direction of Sanford Dole, with SATBB soloists Diana Landau (John), Ruthann Lovetang (Luke), Kevin Gibbs (Mark), Jay Moorhead (Matthew), Ken Grant (Paul), and additional British sprechtimmish narration by Lizzie Calogero.

This is a grand liturgical setting, rather than a dramatic oratorio or concert work, specific to particular conventions of worship. The six narrative voices portray all the characters in the story–Christ, the Apostles, priests, officials, and crowd–the chorus specifically charged with poetic meditation. Structure is a series of solo/duo/trio/quartet recitatives, alternating with arias and choral hymns.

Stylistic touchstones are the Reformed tradition of hymnody from mid-Renaissance to the mid-20th-Century, relying prominently on parody, pastiche, and trope, where music of William Billings, W.A. Mozart, and Ralph Vaughan Williams can rise to the surface in unaltered or altered forms. The composer's contribution can be as gentle as a simple orchestration or as violent as a reharmonization and metrical transformation. A sympathy with Early Music and Early American Music may be noted, and sometimes the hymnic effect is not unlike that of Alan Hovhaness in one of his gentler moods. At the same time certain acerbic, atonal qualities are utilized, as appropriate, and the whole work is said to have had its initial inspiration in the chanting of sustained diminished sevenths among the four Evangelists.

The four main vocalists carried the roles of Wagnerian endurance admirably, with fine diction and projection, and good tone.

Review of Workshop Performance (10/1/05) by Michael McDonagh (www.classical-music-review.org)

by Michael McDonagh [excerpts]

Matthew: Chris Hecht; Mark : Aurelio Viscarra; Luke: Ruthann Lovetang; John: Diana Landau; Paul : Tom Devine; Narrator: Scott R. King.                                                                              

Any composer who takes on the passion narrative is up against stiff competition–Bach, of course, but also Beethoven–Christ On the Mount Of Olives–and Poulenc–his Stabat Mater, and most recently Arvo Part, with his 1982 Passio: Passion According To St. John. And so the question has to be–what new musico-dramatic angle can be taken on this endlessly re-told story, and can it be made vital, fresh, even relevant to our religiously contentious time?

San Francisco-based composer Scott R. King pursued what seemed to him to be a significant innovation, having his 4 vocal soloists enact the parts of the synoptics, singing their vaguely divergent texts in direct, or almost direct parallel. King's most original touches were his use of vernacular forms–a blues for Lovetang's aria : " Jesus the healer is here", and a calypso for the bass one, "You are the Christ ", as well as some inspired march bits, a brief instrumental interlude, and the use of a tritone. Things picked up considerably in minute part two. The music powered both story and text,and finally seemed full out dramatic, even inspired. It was as if King's instincts, his light, if you will, were no longer under a bushel. The opening number, the tenor aria, "White washed tombs glow in the darkness", was dramatic, touching, a scalar waltz, and the choral numbers had weight and communal power. Part one achieved this only intermittently, and thank God there was precious little academic miniutiae here, great to read, but not to hear–the synoptics said this, John said that–which made part one such a trial. This wasn't a lecture, but a living, breathing thing.

The performers, especially Dole's chorus, projected much of the heart of the piece; and the 4 evangelists took their parts and ran. All were in fine fettle, especially Diana Landau, who had the lion's share–both singing and speaking–and easily the most demanding role, in terms of length and range. Everyone seemed to warm to their part, and Tom Devine, as the real inventor of Christianity, Paul–a cosmopolitan who wanted everyone in the Empire into this new mystery religion–was unaccountably entertaining, in on the joke, as it were.