NEW YORK CITY: The Little Match Girl Passion
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The Little Match Girl Passion

Manhattan School of Music Chamber Choir | Metropolitan Museum of Art's Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium

On Tuesday, December 3 the Manhattan School of Music Chamber Choir, conducted by Kent Tritle, performed David Lang’s The Little Match Girl Passion at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The audience shared the stage of the Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium with the twenty-five-person choir, creating an intimate atmosphere for this profoundly moving work.

Since winning the 2008 Pulitzer Prize in Music, Lang’s The Little Match Girl Passion has been reincarnated several times. Acting as both composer and librettist, Lang wrote the work for four adult voices and simple percussion in 2007. The National Chamber Choir of Ireland commissioned the choral version performed on this program and in 2013, the Glimmerglass Festival performed a new version of The Little Match Girl Passion for four adult voices and children’s choir.

The Little Match Girl Passion retells in the style of a Bach passion — specifically the St. Matthew Passion — Hans Christian Andersen’s story of a young, neglected girl who freezes to death on New Year’s Eve. The narrative portions of Andersen’s story are interspersed with settings of Biblical texts and paraphrases of text from the St. Matthew Passion that contemplate and comment upon the action of the story. There is something ritualistic and ceremonial about The Little Match Girl Passion, beginning with the introductory movement, “Come daughter,” a paraphrase of the opening chorus from the St. Matthew Passion initiating the audience into a story about suffering and hope, neglect and salvation that could take place at any time in history. The voices echo and ricochet off another in tight sonorities that expand vertically. The story begins in the second movement, “It was terribly cold ….” Text is not repeated, but there’s a thread of melody — barely long enough on its own to be called a line — that is transformed throughout the work. As the story intensifies — the match girl loses her shoes, is nearly trampled by a carriage, begins to hallucinate and sees her dead grandmother — so do the contemplative movements increase in intensity and expression. Lang rends the heart in the sudden lyrical outbursts in “Have mercy, my God,” (Bach’s “Erbarme dich”) but also freezes the heart with the bleakness of the seventh movement, in which a singer twice uttering the word “patience” is accompanied only by the hollow scraping of a brake drum. It is stark, theatrical and genius. 

Tritle conducted a dramatically paced performance, pausing between movements when appropriate and tying others together when the narrative demanded it. The chamber choir of young singers, with the four soloists Julia Suriano, Erika Rush Robinson, Anthony Constantino and Andrew Jurden, playing the percussion instruments, sang with accuracy and emotional investment. The Little Match Girl Passion was preceded by four sixteenth-century liturgical motets, which highlighted Lang’s juxtaposition of classic forms with twenty-first century sonorities and universal expressions of suffering, equality, opportunity and redemption. spacer 


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