The Arabian Passion according to J. S. Bach

Vladimir Ivanoff

«The Arabian Passion» is a musical plea for peace.
A plea nourished by the confidence,
which forms the basis of Bach's passions: 

that one day all suffering will come to an end.

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The two passion oratorios by J.S. Bach, which have survived in their entirety, the St. John Passion, BWV 245, and the
St. Matthew Passion, BWV 244, are considered the culmination of the Baroque art of expression and rank high in the
Occidental canon of great works of music. Every year in the weeks leading up to Easter, they figure prominently in
European concert programs and 
Christian religious life alike.

No composer has conveyed the suffering of man, embodied in Jesus, 
in music in as striking and passionate a manner as
Bach in these works. Sarband confronts Bach's passions with the disastrous present-day situation in Jesus' native land,
the Middle East, but also 
with the conflicts between the Arabic world and the West, between believers and those who
believe differently, 
between the future-oriented and the tradition-minded. All over the world, regardless of their origins
or religions, 
people are suffering on account of these conflicts.

In his Arabian Passion, Vladimir Ivanoff, musical director of Sarband, compares Jesus' suffering and that of the colonized Middle East in the time of the New Testament with the current situation. Bach's Baroque precision and complexity meet the
spontaneity of classical Arab music and Jazz: two traditions which have a lot in common, for example highly sophisticated
and structured improvisation techniques, but alsotwo voices which could hardly be more different: that of the traditional
Arab world and a new voice that is spreading through the world—the American way of life.

Arab musicians, two jazz saxophonists and the Modern String Quartet have joined to reinterpret Bach's passion music.

Western and Middle Eastern musicians find each other in the music of Bach. In a world full of differences and conflicts,

this musical cooperation creates an intense and contemplative space for mutual respect and peace.



«Those who heard and saw the Arabian Passion according to J. S. Bach on Saturday evening in the imperial palace,
shining in changing light, could not avoid the impression of listening to some kind of ‘music of the future‘.
Music of a kind never heard before, music which leaves traces … These moments of surprise are not only witty, but also
performed in such a powerful way they deserve a review of their own. The Arabian Passion was at first a feast for the senses,
with images, colours and incredibly powerful sounds.» Ulla Meyer, Neue Westfälische (Germany), 04.10.2011

«The best is saved for last: … It was like a musical message of peace that was sent out into almost the whole world via radio:
The cultural differences between Central Europe and the Middle East, which cannot be denied, are no reason not to search
for a common emotional and ethical level. … A moving finale, enduring applause!»
Jens Voskamp, Nürnberger Nachrichten (Germany), 31.05.2011

«A stirring oratorio for inter-religious coexistence ... a unique programme ... Ivanoff, musical director of Sarband, set up the
programme wisely, avoiding the major mistake that could have been made: the pastiche. The result, subtly balanced,
convinces and captivates.» Javier Losilla, El Periodico de Aragon (Spain), 09.08.2010

«… this change happens astonishingly fast. How naturally this connection between the two supposedly alien cultures
succeeds … 
Bach rose from his pew and seated himself on a prayer rug. Nevertheless the sense of the prayers remained
the same … 
The result is simply fascinating. A sounding plea for tolerance and peace.»
Elisabeth Schwind, Südkurier (Germany), 10.07.2008

«… a sublime act of balance between Ethno, sound adventure and art music … powerfully absorbing and suggestive
scenes … 
emotional climaxes that make the listener hold his breath.» Jürgen Scharf,
Oberbadisches Volksblatt (Germany), 10.07.2009

«Bach belongs to the whole world.» Kölner Stadtanzeiger (Germany), 07.04.2009

«The program was permeated by a huge sensitivity for sounds and a genuine feeling for musical expressions of different
continents and cultures. 
The arias «Es ist vollbracht» and «Erbarme dich» as well as the familiar chorales were further
highlights in this out-of-the-ordinary evening, 
followed in breathless silence and acknowledged with appreciating applause
by the audience.» Hans Rühl, Rheinische Post (Germany), 23.12.2008

«… a touching concert experience … musical communication across cultural boundaries … excellent soloists … 

Bach's music excitingly re-discovered … enthusiastic applause.» Martina Binning,
Osnabrücker Zeitung (Germany), 30.08.2007 

«Bach would have turned in his grave. Then he'd have stepped out, dusted himself and paid attention …
The songs were most haunting when 
vocalist Fadia el-Hage reverted to Arabic. At those times, perhaps, Bach also wept ...»
The Business Times (Singapore), 14.06.2007 

«It is Vladimir Ivanoff 's strong point, to join cultures and to build musical bridges between orient and occident.

With the «Arabian Passion» … he succeeded in a brilliant way. Heart, mind, gesture and communication with the
other artists 
were merged into an intensive whole. … I could not have imagined more beautiful music for Good Friday.» 

Franz Szabo, Salzburger Nachrichten (Austria), 4/2006

download dossier



J. S Bach
(arr. V. Ivanoff): 
«Erbarme Dich»
CD Arabian Passion
J. S Bach
(arr. V. Ivanoff): 
«Jesum von Nazareth»
CD Arabian Passion
J. S Bach
(arr. V. Ivanoff): 
«Und weinete bitterlich»
CD Arabian Passion
















Vladimir Ivanoff