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"I've been waiting for this" - Soprano Angela Gjerichanin to make SSO debut for Johannes Passion (April 7/2024)

by Scott Roos

photo by Nicole Romanoff

Coming up on Sunday, April 7th, the Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra (SSO) will perform, in its entirety, Bach's monumental Johannes Passion at the esteemed Knox United Church. The orchestra will be under the baton of Maestro Leslie Dala. The piece itself, considered one of Bach's greatest achievements is monumental in scope. At times powerfully emotive, at other times triumphant and full of energy and motion, the piece's astounding beauty will certainly give music lovers an experience they will surely not forget.

Making her SSO debut will be soprano Angela Gjurichanin. The soprano arias ("Ich folge dir gleichfalls" and "Zerfließe, mein Herze") are among the most beloved pieces in the work and are almost as iconic as Bach's Passion as a whole. Gjurichanin who holds a Bachelor of

Music Honours from the University of Saskatchewan and a Masters of Music in Performance and Literature from the University of Western Ontario, notably won the Gordon C. Wallis Memorial Opera Competition in 2022. Also in 2022, she was the soprano soloist for the Regina Symphony Orchestra's performance of Handel's Messiah. We caught up with Gjurichanin for a quick chat to delve into her preparation for the Johannes Passion and what it means to her to be performing on the piece's 300th anniversary.

NSMZ: I was looking at your bio now and it looks like you've sang with the Regina

Symphony Orchestra before with Handel’s Messiah (December of 2022), but I mean, do you have any history singing with the Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra (SSO)?

Angela Gjurichanin: I have sung with the SSO, but as part of a choir. This is going to be my solo debut with the symphony.

NSMZ: I'm assuming with the Regina symphony that with the Messiah, you sang the soprano part, the solos?

AG: Yes.

NSMZ: So I guess that's an interesting conversation to have as well. I mean, you know, Bach and Handel, in music academia circles, are widely considered the two primary composers of the Baroque era but they're very unique and have different compositional styles. So I mean, you know, how's your prep for Bach differ from your prep for Handel?

AG: I mean, it hurts my brain, to be honest. It does hurt my brain in such a good way because, especially the two arias that I'm singing in Bach’s Johannes Passion, I was getting them ready, you know, before I brought them to a pianist. I just started working on them, and I was so confident. I was so confident, I'm like, “I've got this. I can do that.” But we go into the rehearsal and my pianist starts playing and a few bars in, I'm like, “did we modulate? Do we go somewhere else like, why does this feel like I'm singing a 21st century piece?”. And I can't predict where we're going to go, where in Handel it's kind of predictable, like you have like tonics, dominant four, five, or like, when it modulates it's predictable, but Bach, for his time, when you are expecting to be predictable, he's so unpredictable.

NSMZ: That's an interesting way to look at it, yeah, because I mean, you know, they often say

that, you know, Bach is a lot more polyphonic than Handel is, and I think just even, you

know, listening to a lot of Bach over the years, of course, I'm a trumpet player, so,

I mean, I've spent a decent amount of time listening to the Brandenburg Concertos, but

anything with Bach I find, maybe, you know, it's a stereotypical comment or an oversimplification maybe, but there's always so much motion and forward movement to everything he does whereas Handel seems a lot more acrobatic and flashy.

AG: Yes, yes, that's like a good way to put it, and the thing that you mentioned about the

forwardness in Bach is, yes, like, if you're not thinking forward, or if you don't like

have a clear, you know, like a little Google map of your piece, it's like, you don't

know where you're going.

NSMZ: Now, I know, for Messiah, when they did it in Saskatoon this past Christmas, I interviewed Oli Guselle, who's going to be, of course, singing in the Passion as well.

And I remember them saying with Handel, when you’re singing the melismas and the ornaments, you almost have to be really, really present, like, you can't be thinking about them, you just have to do. I mean, is there any difference in terms of Bach's writing for soloists, or is it sort of the same deal?

AG: I don't find them the same, just because, in Handel, yes, you just have to do them (the melismas), and almost be super free with them, where in Bach, I found if your note has a flat, you have to think flat, and then if your note has a sharp, you have to think sharper, just because it always creates a dissonance with the orchestra part, where you can't use that carefree approach that much, unless you have an amazing, perfect pitch, which I don't know any people that do. With Bach, I have to be sort of careful, but still carefree with the singing, where Handel is different in your approach.

NSMZ: Well, let's talk a little bit about the Bach piece in particular now, I mean, you

know, how much experience do you have in listening to it without any strings attached? Without any modicum of like work attached to it?

AG: All right, without work attached to it, I knew the soprano arias. I was familiar with them in a way, but the entire piece I'm going to say not very much  because again, it's kind of like Handel’s Messiah, they do it every, every December or like every Easter and that is engraved in your ear, whether you are actually singing it or  a friend is performing it, so you're going to go see it, but I feel Bach, the passions in general, like even Matthew, it's not here in Canada, it's not performed that often. So you don't hear a lot of people actually talking about it.  

NSMZ: Do you have a go to recorded version that you tend to listen to? 

AG: Not really. I try to listen to a lot of them just because it's very interesting to hear everybody's approach, too. I didn't want to cling to one version….I just wanted to kind of collect many versions and see like, oh, I actually like that a lot from this version

or who I like a lot from this version and stuff like that.

NSMZ: So, in terms of the Johannes Passion in general, I mean, you would have had to dig deep into it, but I mean, you know, what in particular, does it mean to you personally, especially with the 300th anniversary coming up and you literally, being a part of a performance on the exact date of that anniversary?

AG: I've been waiting for this to be honest since Mark (Turner, SSO CEO) asked me and he was just saying (to me), ‘Like, um, not a lot of, you know, singers like to sing Bach’ and I'm like, ‘what are you talking about?’ (laughs)

But just the first moment it was decided that I would be coming, just knowing that it is 300 years on the day, till the day, and then I feel very special coming to Saskatoon making my SSO solo debut. This experience, it's very exciting, but also there's kind of sort of, some sort of pressure, but I think that one is very eternal, like, you know, nobody has said anything, you know, but you just feel this pressure of wanting to present this piece truly and authentically to the audience, my two Arias are very, very different, and they come in, like, at the beginning, and then at the very end, right? So you've got to keep that energy for the entirety of the piece.

NSMZ: I think the city of Saskatoon, and hopefully, like, Saskatchewan in general, I mean, hopefully people drive and travel to this  because it is a kind of a bucket list almost, dare I say, without and kind of hyperbole behind it that seeing Bach’s Johannes passion is a once in a lifetime kind of thing, especially on the 300th anniversary, it is a once in a lifetime thing.

AG: You never get to get that 300th anniversary again. Hopefully for 400, I'll be still around, but  this is it, like you said, a once in a lifetime event. A 300th anniversary. It's a big deal.

Tickets are still available for this performance and can be purchased HERE.

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