Performing Bach’s St. John Passion with Joshua Rifkin

November 1st, 2019 in Workshop

Webinar now available on YouTube

We’re excited to announce that our webinar Performing Bach’s St. John Passion: Before the Downbeat is available on YouTube:





A Workshop for Conductors, Singers, and Instrumentalists
Led by Joshua Rifkin (Boston University / The Bach Ensemble) 

No vocal work of Bach’s presents greater challenges than the St. John Passion. First heard in 1724, it received several further presentations, each of which introduced changes great and small – in the order of movements, in the text, in details of instrumentation. While this gives performers today many options to choose from, it also faces them with many uncertainties: for not every version survives intact, nor can we always tell if the changes Bach made reflected artistic wishes or practical necessity.

Added to that, the music itself – in whatever form – harbors many difficulties. The prevailingly thick textures can prove hard to balance; vocal parts demand precision and stamina well beyond the routine; tempos and ensemble precision do not always click easily into place.

In two days of intense study and practice we shall try to find satisfactory approaches to all these issues. In particular, we shall seek to negotiate the spaces between what we see in modern editions and what Bach’s own manuscript sources tell us.

The workshop will conclude with a public showcase consisting of discussion and performance presenting the work accomplished over the course of the weekend.



Fellows: $350 (limited financial assistance and discounted on-campus housing available for Fellows)

Auditors: $100 (or $50 for single day)

Application Details

The CEMS invites conductors (choral and/or orchestral), singers, and historical instrumentalists to apply for participation in the workshop as Fellows. Fellows will directly participate in the performance component of the workshop, where they will be coached by Joshua Rifkin in the many aspects of the St. John Passion outlined above. Fellows will also be featured in the final public showcase.

The CEMS also invites musicologists, other performers, or interested members of the general public to apply as Auditors, who will observe all sessions. Seats for auditors are limited, but the CEMS will try to accept as many as possible.

Potential applicants are encouraged to contact Brett Kostrzewski, administrator pro tempore of the CEMS, with any questions about the workshop, at Questions related to the content of the workshop are also welcome, and will be forwarded to Joshua Rifkin.

Application Requirements

Updated deadlines and instructions will be TBA, pending rescheduling of the workshop.


  • Video of ca. 10 mins. demonstrating your skills as a conductor, singer, or player, submitted as an unlisted YouTube link.
  • One (1) letter of recommendation, to be sent directly to the CEMS from the recommender.

Fellows and Auditors:

  • Resume/CV
  • Brief statement of interest (1-2 pages)

Please submit all text files in .pdf or .doc(x) format.




Joshua Rifkin receives major awards:

Professor Joshua Rifkin has been named recipient of the European Prize for Church Music for 2020. The prize, given by the Festival of Sacred Music in Schwäbisch Gmünd, Germany (where Joshua will be conducting Bach’s motets in July), is awarded alternately to performers and composers; previous winners have included Arvo Pärt, Sofia Gubaidulina, Peter Schreier, Helmuth Rilling, John Rutter, and Krzysztof Penderecki. The letter announcing the prize referred to his “years-long outstanding engagement in the cause of sacred music as internationally renowned conductor, interpreter, and musicologist.”
The award comes on the heels of Joshua’s having been made an honorary member of the Royal Musical Association – the second non-British scholar and the first American – and, as recently announced, the induction of his recording Piano Rags by Scott Joplin into the Grammy Hall of Fame.

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