The Bach Collegium Japan performed Bach's Mass in B Minor at Carnegie Hall. Hearing that magnificent music performed live is always a special occasion, but the devastation wrought on Japan by the earthquake and tsunami put this performance on a different plane, I imagine for the musicians and certainly for the audience.
The Bach Collegium Japan performs on period instruments and includes a chamber choir. Their founder and artistic director Masaaki Suzuki is one of the world's leading authorities on Bach.
For this concert, the hall was mobbed. The evening began with a short speech by the Executive Director of Carnegie Hall, who dedicated the concert to the souls that had perished in the disaster. He called for a minute of silence. The musicians on stage stood, all dressed in concert black that seemed like mourning weeds.
In the hands of those musicians, the period instruments took on an Asian elegance. The words of the Catholic Mass seemed to convey only the emotions of a wounded Shinto and Buddhist people half way across the globe. Bach's glorious music, an artifact of Western culture, expressed what was basic and universal in the the longing of all humanity for peace and release from suffering.
"Dona nobis pacem," they sang with one voice at the end. Give us peace. It was the prayer of everyone in the house for the Japanese people. The audience, totally enthralled by the brilliance of what we had heard and how it made us feel, leapt to its feet. The applause was thunderous, outstripping even the legendary usual enthusiasm of Carnegie Hall concertgoers. The evening had begun with sad thoughts but the art of Bach and his interpreters from a now-devastated country had united that sadness with joy.
I wish I could give you a taste of that very performance. The best I can do is share this snippet of another concert by the same group. Listen to this: