Creating closeness out of strangeness


Musical director Markus Zwink at a choir rehearsal for the Passion Play (Photo: Sebastian Schulte)

”The music should drive the Play” - that is the top priority in his workshop. Markus Zwink has been musical director and conductor for four Passion Play decades. During this time, he has increasingly acted as composer; when there is a need for text, he is also replacing the librettist for the first time for 2022. That wasn’t always the case: ”I can still remember how I rewrote a transition in a musical number in 1990. Eight bars only, but I had real qualms about it, it was all so sacred and so given and so determined.” But a change had to come – that was already clear to him ten years earlier. In the 1980 Play, Markus Zwink is a bass soloist, Christian Stückl sings in the choir - ”and we both thought that it couldn’t really go on like that, because it just felt like a repetition of 1970, 1960, 1950”. Six years later, there was an ”almost landslide turnaround” - and finally the opportunity to take action himself.

Zwink’s cautious liberation, however, did not come until the Passion Play in 2000: ”Then I had the feeling, okay, now I’ll try it myself and maybe I can do it ... at least as well as Dedler.” Dedler was a teacher in Oberammergau more than 200 years ago and composed recitatives, arias and choruses to accompany the ”Living Images” as early as 1811. With the text changes of 1815, Rochus Dedler once again created a completely new Passion Play music. Zwink now leans on their sound. He expands the harmonic spectrum even further and also incorporates the architectural features of the large Passion Play stage into his compositional concept. For the Passion Play 2010, he creates a new, powerful moment of tension through choral passages in Hebrew, and oriental sounds through certain chordal combinations. The musical director has continued to think in this direction for 2020/22. ”It’s a task of constantly working on it.”

The tendency to integrate Hebrew texts into the singing is to be strengthened, because the supposedly foreign touches, connects, opens. ”The Old Testament pieces in particular, after all, often convey themselves not through the brain, but through feeling: the audience realizes that the themes in the story specifically tailored to one people are actually themes that could happen in some other form all over the world.”

Only a few members of the Passion Play Choir have cancelled for 2022 because they have changed careers or started college. There was an audition in July 2021 ”to also give a chance to the young people who are now, after two years, developmentally ready.” The music helps tell the Passion story - this fascinating feeling will be experienced by both the new and established singers and instrumentalists in the coming weeks. Currently, Zwink is rehearsing with the newcomers in small groups. "Our young singers are amateurs who require some familiarizing with the Passion Play music; they will be expected to perform nearly an hour and a half of choral music by heart, and with confidence. This requires a considerable amount of advance preparation for each chorister.” Additionally, the experienced soloists have recorded the Passion music for practice videos, so that everyone can also prepare well at home and hone difficult passages.

Text: Teresa Grenzmann

Photo: Sebastian Schulte