Whether it’s in spite of—or due to—the solemnity of the holiday, Easter and its lead up has inspired some of the greatest art in the Western canon. It also makes this coming weekend one of the most musically rich times of year. You don’t have to be particularly religious to appreciate our top five local performances honoring the holiday.
1. Bach's St. John Passion (Friday at 12 pm; Holy Trinity Church, 65th & CPW)
For its 44th season, the Bach Vespers will resound within Holy Trinity Lutheran Church on the Upper West Side with several performances throughout the holiday. For Good Friday, the group will present an edited version of the St. John Passion (which has an unusually strong presence in New York City this spring). The cantata Christ lag in Todesbanden, based on Martin Luther’s text, takes up Easter Sunday’s schedule.
2. Renaissance Motets (Saturday at 1 pm and 3 pm; The Cloisters)
Meanwhile, Alexander Blachly’s early music troupe, Pomerium, will sing a cappella “Passion and Resurrection Motets from the Renaissance” within a particularly fitting setting: The Cloisters. The program, performed within the institution’s Romanesque Fuentidueña Chapel, features music of Orlande de Lassus, Claudio Monteverdi, Carlo Gesualdo, and William Byrd and is loosely arranged to retell the Easter Story.
3. John Adams's Christian Zeal and Activity (Wednesday at 7 pm, The Greene Space at WQXR)
WQXR’s ensemble-in-residence The Knights will perform John Adams’s Christian Zeal and Activity in The Green Space. This 1973 piece for string orchestra takes inspiration from religious hymns on which ensembles layer “found” musical recordings. Unfortunately, the deadline for submissions to have your own audio clip incorporated into the performance has passed. But see whose selection made the cut during the program, which also includes Appalachian Spring and Debussy’s orchestral arrangements of Erik Satie’s meditative Gymnopédie. (The concert will also be Webcast on WQXR.org.)
4. David Lang's Little Match Girl Passion (Friday at 7 pm; Middle Collegiate Church, 50 E. 7th St.)
An East Village Church provides one of the more original holiday programming decisions as it stages David Lang’s Pulitzer Prize-winning composition Little Match Girl Passion. Lang took inspiration from the Easter staple, J.S. Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion, to write this choral work, although the libretto is based on the Hans Christian Anderson fable.
5. John Stainer’s Crucifixion (Friday at 12:15 pm, Brick Presbyterian Church, 62 E. 92nd St.)
Among Easter oratorios, John Stainer’s Crucifixion, which also used Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion, is not among the most highly regarded works (as much for its saccharine Victorian text as its similarly treacly music). However, the choral work, first performed in 1887 in London, is among the most beloved. The Brick Church will perform the piece on Good Friday.