Yesterday I had the great joy of spending two hours in the concert hall of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music with Kevin Rogers, a magnificent violinist who I feel sure is destined for great things. We recorded two pieces by the Estonian composer Arvo Part, that form the heart of my production of The Passion of Mary Magdalene. These pieces for violin and piano- haunting, intense, austere- carry the story of darkness and light, struggle and surrender, grief and hope with sublime grace. Recording and performing them is a practice of radical presence. Fratres, which will be the music of the crucifixion, performed underneath the Salvador Dali image of Jesus on the cross is in my mind, a duet between the temporal and the eternal. The violin, filled with angst and freneticism, spirals in a breathless mad rush and cries out in agony while the piano responds consolingly in harmonies drawn from monastic chant until the violin, energy spent, sighs in surrender.
The piece that will signal the Resurrection, Spiegel im Spiegel, is deceptively and achingly simple: quiet and simple broken major chords, moving at the slow and subtle pace of an early spring sunrise. Though both are considered some of the most challenging pieces of the violin repertoire, Spiegel is the more difficult piece. Every note counts and must be perfectly placed. There is nothing to hide behind: no flashy arpeggios, no dramatic tremolos or thunderous chords. It is exquisitely pure and transparent. One single misplaced or uneven note is terribly obvious and tears the entire fabric of the music. To play them- and to listen to them, as well- is to enter into a state of profound existential meditation that asks you to confront your soul and the deepest questions of life and to leave your ego behind. It is music that evokes the words of T.S. Eliot: A condition of complete simplicity, costing not less than everything.
The Passion of Mary Magdalene, featuring Kevin Rogers performing the music of Arvo Part, will be presented on Good Friday, April 18 at 7:30 pm at Ross St. John's Episcopal Church, 14 Lagunitas Road in Marin County.