Unique arrangement of the St. John Passion


This year, a unique arrangement of the St. John Passion has been set up as an alternative for cancelled Passion performances.

This year, many traditional passion performances cannot take place due to coronation measures. To still be able to perform a passion at this time, Ensemble Contrapunctus XI brings a new version of the Johannes Passion. Bassoonist and arranger Matthias As (bassoonist of the Pistache Reed Quintet) has arranged the entire Johannes-Passion by Bach for five reed players and six singers. On Thursday, April 1, at 20:15 a live stream of this will be seen and heard from the Waalse Kerk in Amsterdam.


The arrangement was written because of the ongoing corona pandemic, which means that many traditional passion plays cannot go on. The St. John Passion, a monument of reflection and stillness, fits well with these times. The uniqueness of this version for eleven musicians (in times of corona, but also in the time of Passion before Easter) is the extremely small cast, which brings to light the fragility of the music and that of man himself.


The livestream of the St. John Passion will be broadcast on Maundy Thursday, April 1, at 8:15 p.m (CEST). via the Internet, found on Pistache’s Facebook page: www.facebook.com/PistacheRietkwintet. The livestream is free, but donations can be made during the concert. The performance will last two hours.


Ensemble Contrapunctus XI consists of Matthias As (bassoon), Bram Boesschen Hospers (bass clarinet), Anna Fronczak (clarinet), Marrich Noordmans (saxophone) and Maud Busschers (oboe); Chris Postuma (Evangelist/tenor), Hessel Vredeveldt (Jesus/bass), Heleen Bongenaar (soprano), Carolina Alves Luís (alto), André Cruz (tenor) and Hidde Kleikamp (bass).

Originated in November

The plan to arrange the St. John Passion originated in November 2020 from the Pistache Reed Quintet. It seemed impossible to have all the traditional Matthäus and Johannes-Passions go on during the week before Easter, so a trio of the Pistache Reed Quintet decided to launch their own Johannes project. The arrangement was written for reed quintet, consisting of clarinet, bass clarinet, bassoon, saxophone and oboe. The vocal parts – all choruses, arias, recitatives and chorales – were arranged for only six singers. The number of players and singers is so small that no conductor is required. The St. John Passion is thus reduced to its core without losing its musical richness: it is a unique arrangement that would never have sounded if there had been no corona crisis. In addition to being an arrangement for a new instrumentation, Matthias has also composed a new closing chorus that replaces the closing chorus.

Adaptations not unique in history

This is not the first time in music history that a passion by Bach has been adapted to the circumstances of the time. Felix Mendelssohn “rediscovered” the St. Matthew Passion in 1829, which turned out to be an undiscovered gem by Bach. Mendelssohn had to adapt the instrumentation because there were instruments in the piece that did not exist in his day. Robert Schumann had the same problem in 1851. We, in turn, have a different problem in 2021, namely a global pandemic, making a performance with fewer musicians almost necessary as an alternative to a “normal” performance.

Pistache Reed Quintet

The Pistache Reed Quintet was formed in September 2019 at the Royal Conservatory in The Hague. In February 2020, Pistache won the Govert van Wijn Award with its participation in the Young Talent Competition Maassluis. Many plans and projects were conceived and worked out after that, but due to the corona crisis none could go ahead; until now. In August of this year, Pistache will be heard during the NJO Music Summer.

Photo at top of this post: Pistache Reed Quintet (c) Foppe Schut.

Leave a Reply