As all good stories, this one begins at the beginning, when Robert de Bree said,naturally during Lent, "What we need is a new Passion!" Being of the adventurous type, he and his Scroll Ensemble colleague, James Hewitt, decided to leave the safety of their home territory, the Baroque, in pursuit of a more 'oriental' period. Perhaps thinking that it might be thematically preferable to look backwards in time, James turned to Rebecca Stewart for inspiration, to whom 'old' meant chant, of whatever kind.
Not wanting to loose all contact with their shared Western, Celtic/Anglo-Saxon roots, these two chose the first translation into (Old) English of the Passion according to the Apostle John by the great religious reformer John Wycliffe (ca 1328-1384). However, in an attempt to preserve the Jewish and Roman character of the Passion story it was decided to present the personae of Jesus, Pilate and the Jewish turba each in a different modality and with different vocal tessituras and mannerisms. To do honor to the beauty of Wycliffe's translation an attempt was also made to maintain the typical linguistic 'lilt' (think of the 'carol') and pronunciation of his Old English. For the explanatory and introductory role of the Evangelist the technique of recitation was chosen.
As it was obvious from the beginning that one violinist, one recorder player and one singer were in no position to transform ourselves into all of the characters of our Passion
without resulting in complete confusion amongst both ourselves and our audience, we soon accepted the most welcome addition of the countertenor Kaspar Kröner (Jesus) and Bram Verheijen (whose baptismal name, most appropriately, is Johannes).
After taking a year out for the necessary re-training in the basic principles of modal thinking, the five of us began in earnest to make a new Passion Play. That which you hear today is this new Play in status nascendi. As additional inspirational material, to be molded into various shapes depending upon the required character and situation, we have selected several Passion chants in different modes. However, the main melodic and symbolic thread of our Passion is the famous Easter sequence Victimae paschali laudes. Precisely because of its emphasis upon the miracle of the Resurrection, this forms the actual raison d'être for the words of Jesus in the Gospel. Finally, in the manner of all our 'later' Western Passions, instrumental and vocal commentaries have been interspersed throughout. With the help of our 'rustic recorder uit Tsjechië and our 'tenor rebab' (originally conceived for the Klingon opera "U"), both of which are capable of departing from the more stereotypical Western tonal techniques in order to create a more modal and medieval world, we hope we may be able to give Mr. Wycliffe's powerful translation of John's 'eye-witness' account of Christ's Crucifixion the new life it so richly deserves.
As a most beautiful and fitting liaison between the tragedy of Good Friday and the joy of Easter Sunday this present Passion Tale is being brought to a close through the five-part setting of Victimae paschali laudes by James Hewitt, also our resident composer. James has also written the Agnus dei which follows John 19,30: And whanne his heed was bowed down, he yaf up the goost.
Dr. Rebecca Stewart