Rewind: August 27, 2002

It’s a no-brainer to say that music is Ravinia’s passion. And yet, until 15 years ago the only musical Passion that had been heard at the festival was J.S. Bach’s Saint Matthew Passion—granted, it is the most popular setting of the narrative in classical music today. (Before James Levine led the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in a pair of performances of Bach’s masterpiece in 1978 and 1980, Ravinia had presented back-to-back performances of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar in 1971, but its loose interpretation of Biblical accounts makes its categorization as a Passion narrative questionable.) But then in 2002, a new work, in both senses of the term, entered Ravinia’s repertory when the Chicago premiere of Osvaldo Golijov’s La pasión según San Marcos (The Passion according to Saint Mark) was presented on August 27 as part of the composer’s residency at the festival that season. (Golijov would later become the CSO’s composer-in-residence during 2007–10.) Robert Spano led the performance by Golijov’s Orquesta la Pasión and the Venezuelan choir Schola Cantorum de Caracas with soprano Dawn Upshaw and vocalists Luciana Souza and Reynaldo González Fernández. The piece had been widely hailed as the first masterpiece of the 21st century following its premiere by the International Bach Academy, which had commissioned the work in honor of the sestercentennial of Bach’s death in 2000. Another of the four pieces commissioned for that occasion—each inspired by the Passion narrative in one of the canonical gospels—was Tan Dun’s Water Passion after Saint Matthew, which received its Chicago premiere at Ravinia just last summer in celebration of the unveiling of the festival’s aquatic sculpture Chorus.

A couple more Passions have subsequently been heard at the festival: David Lang’s 2008 Pulitzer Prize–winning Little Match Girl Passion, interpolating Bach’s Saint Matthew with Hans Christian Andersen’s story The Little Match Girl, was heard at the festival in 2013, and Stephen Sondheim’s musical Passion, which has even less to do with Biblical narratives than Jesus Christ Superstar—unless it were as an example of carnal sin—was presented on two nights in 2003.