March 18, 1999
Vol. 18 No. 12

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    [crucifixion]The Seven Last Words of Christ, to be performed in Rockefeller Memorial Chapel March 31, was inspired by the last spoken words of the crucified Jesus. The artwork to the left, which shows detail from the center panel of a triptych, is part of the permanent collection of The David and Alfred Smart Museum of Art.

    Holy Week event brings readings, music together in collaborative concert

    By Theresa Carson
    News Office

    A distinguished group of leaders will continue a 212-year-old Spanish tradition during Holy Week when they gather at Rockefeller Memorial Chapel with the internationally known Vermeer String Quartet to perform Franz Joseph Haydn’s The Seven Last Words of Christ.

    Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I.; U.S. Hispanic Leadership Institute President Juan Andrade; Divinity School Professors Martin Marty, the Fairfax M. Cone Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus, and Jean Bethke Elshtain, the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Professor of Social and Political Ethics; the Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr., pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ; and three other distinguished community leaders and theologians will read original meditations during the performance.

    “It is an honor to have been called to participate,” Andrade said. “If not for the death, burial and resurrection, the Lord’s life would not have been as significant. The real significance lies in his victory over death more than any other aspect of his life,” Andrade said in reference to Holy Week, the days before Easter and the most important time of year for Christians.

    Commissioned by the Cadiz cathedral and inspired by the final words of the crucified Jesus, Haydn wrote the piece in seven sections, each opening with a spoken meditation. Composed in 1786, the sonatas were first performed on Good Friday, 1787, in Cadiz, Spain.

    This year’s presentation will mark the third time Vermeer String Quartet has played the piece at Rockefeller Memorial Chapel. The quartet––violist Richard Young, violinists Mathias Tacke and Shmuel Ashkenasi and cellist Marc Johnson––has been performing the work for the past 12 years. Through their 1995 Grammy Award-nominated CD, the quartet members have introduced new generations to The Seven Last Words of Christ.

    According to Young, Haydn wrote the piece with the understanding that spoken words would accompany the music. “Our feeling is that we should be presenting the music the way the composer wanted it played,” Young said, speaking for the group.

    Young said he and the other members feel that Haydn’s piece adds to their identity as a string quartet. “We feel a certain responsibility to focus on certain parts of the repertoire that define who we are. Haydn is known as the father of string quartets. This is his best quartet.”

    He said performing the piece at Rockefeller allows them to play for an audience they usually do not reach. “I wish we could play to this kind of audience every time we play. They listen the way you wish everyone would listen.”

    Young said the quartet members are also honored to perform with the other participants. “We feel privileged to be joined by these distinguished speakers.”

    Also appearing in the production are the Rev. Alison Boden, Dean of Rockefeller Memorial Chapel; the Rev. Seiichi Michael Yasutake, associate pastor of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, Evanston, and St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Chicago; and Donna Carroll, president of Dominican University.

    The performance of The Seven Last Words of Christ will begin at 8 p.m. Wednesday, March 31, in Rockefeller Memorial Chapel, 5850 S. Woodlawn Ave. The performance is free for children under 18 and $10 for adults. Group rates are available for 10 or more.

    Members of the Vermeer String Quartet will lead a discussion, beginning at 7 p.m. in the chapel.

    The performance will be recorded and rebroadcast on WFMT radio (98.7 FM) at 7 p.m. Friday, April 2. For more information about group rates, call (773) 702-7059. For advance tickets or additional information, call (773) 702-7300.