CHRONICLE HERALD - ANDREA NEMETZ ARTS REPORTER Published April 3, 2014 - 4:34pm
When it came to creating The Evangelist for Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, Rufus Müller had a wealth of material to draw on.
“My style as an evangelist is my father’s style in the pulpit,” says Muller, born in Kent, England, to a German father who was an Anglican priest.
“It felt like it was second nature. He was a very amusing and arresting preacher.”
The tenor, who sang in church choirs from the age of six, will be the Evangelist when the Chapel Choir of the University of King’s College, under the direction of Paul Halley, presents the dramatic masterwork for solo voices, double choir and double orchestra on Saturday at Saint John’s Anglican Church in Lunenburg and Sunday at All Saints Cathedral in Halifax. Both shows are at 4 p.m.
Also featured are Ensemble Regale, the boy sopranos of Capella Regalis, Dion Mazerolle as Jesus, Tyler Duncan as Pilate, counter- tenor Daniel Taylor, soprano Helene Brunet, mezzo-soprano Sarah Myatt and tenor Marc Molomot.
Müller estimates he has performed the role of the Evangelist at least 100 times, in locales including Lucerne, Munich, Toronto, Calgary, New York, London, Birmingham, Goteborg, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Dortmund, Bordeaux and Washington, D.C. A New York Times review said Muller “gave the strongest theatrical performance of a Bach Evangelist that I have encountered, and one of the most musical.”
And if he had to choose only two pieces he would be allowed to sing for the rest of his life, it would be the St. Matthew Passion and Schubert’s Winterreise.
The St. Matthew Passion is an extraordinary story, “even if you are an aetheist,” he says, sitting in a Halifax coffee shop after a well- received master class for Dalhousie voice students.
“The way Bach sets it brings out all the humanity, the blood, guts, sex, sensuality and tactile nature of my sense of religion. The language of the chorales and arias is sensuous and physical, as well as spiritual. It combines everything.”
The role is both physically and emotionally difficult, continues Müller, noting that the piece is three hours long and that while he doesn’t sing the whole three hours, his performance doesn’t stop when he’s not singing.
￼￼“The big challenge is, the pitch is higher than in Bach’s time. It is difficult vocally with a whole set of unique challenges.
￼￼￼￼“As an Evangelist, I have to know when I’m singing lyrically and when it is purely narrative. The dynamic range is huge. It is mostly very syllabic. You never get a chance to go for a sound without being interupted by syllables. There are hardly any melismas (more sound than syllable). And it has to bounce out of nowhere with no buildup, and it gets more difficult as it goes on.”
Müller, who says he was “singing before he could talk,” at one point considered a career in acting and says he is still acting while singing.
“I’ve made it my business to work out ways to tell the story and make it as natural and compelling as possible, regardless of whether I’m in good voice.”
The charming singer performed with Symphony Nova Scotia in Handel’s Messiah in 2006 and in Handel’s Ode To St. Cecilia at St. Andrew’s United Church in Halifax in 2003.
This will be his first time performing with Halley, and in both Lunenburg and at All Saints Cathedral, and he says the St. Matthew Passion will be done in an almost semi-liturgical way.
“I like the idea of doing it as a devotion, as well as just a performance.”
Müller was a choral scholar at New College, Oxford, and had been planning to study modern languages before deciding on music. He speaks six languages, which helps in his career as a recitalist, including English, German, French, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese, and jokes he can also say “I’m an opera singer from London” in modern Greek.
Müller has lived in New York since 1992; he moved there to study with Thomas LoMonaco. He is associate professor of music at Bard College, New York.
ST. MATTHEW PASSION BY BACH:
Presented by: The Chapel Choir of the University of King’s College under the direction of Paul Halley
When: Saturday, St. John’s Anglican Church, Lunenburg; Sunday, Cathedral Church of All Saints,
Halifax. Both shows, 4 p.m.
What: Story of Christ’s Passion, using the
narrative from the Gospel of St. Matthew and texts by Bach’s librettist, Picander. Scored for solo voices, double choir and double orchestra
Featuring: Rufus Müller, Evangelist; chamber orchestra Ensemble Regale led by David Greenberg including players from Halifax, Montreal, Toronto and New York; the boy sopranos of Capella Regalis and soloists from Canada and the United States including Dion Mazerolle (Jesus), Tyler Duncan (Pilate), Daniel Taylor (countertenor), Hélène Brunet (soprano), Sarah Myatt (mezzo soprano), and Marc Molomot (tenor)
Tickets: Lunenburg — $10 student, $25, $30 at the door. 634-9994. Halifax — $15 student, $30, $45 priority, $100 patron. www.kingschapelchoir.eventbrite.ca or 422-1270 ext. 261.