Maximilian Steinberg's Passion Week (World Premiere Broadcast)

Photo of Cappella

April 01, 2015

He was born in 1883 in Lithuania to a Jewish family, was an honored student of Rimsky-Korsakov and later his assistant (and a few days before Rimsky-Korsakov's death in 1908 converted to Orthodoxy and married his daughter), was a classmate and "semi-friend"/rival of Igor Stravinsky's, followed in the footsteps of his father-in-law and became a leader at the Leningrad (now known as St. Petersburg) Conservatory, had a long career as a composer and educator in the Soviet Union, with Shostakovich as his most famous pupil — but is basically unknown in the West — and composed what was to be the last major religious work before Stalin banned all Orthodox sacred music in 1923.

Who is this man? Composer and educator Maximilian Steinberg (Russian pronunciation "Shtayn-bairg"), the composer of Passion Week, Op. 13. Because of the Soviet sacred music ban, he never heard a complete performance of this major work in his lifetime, and he lived to 1946. The full score was published in Paris in 1927 and then more or less disappeared from view with no complete performance ever noted either in Russia, where it was banned, or in the West as well.

A photocopy of the Paris score was shown to Alexander Lingas, one of the world's authorities in Orthodox music, in 2012. He is the founder and music director of Cappella Romana, a Portland, Ore., based vocal chamber ensemble who specialize in the music of the Orthodox Church, from ancient Byzantine Chant to the modern works of Orthodox composers. He immediately realized the importance and significance of this work, was able to view the original autograph Steinberg score at the Leningrad Conservatory, and made corrections and changes based on that score that allowed a brand new performing score to be created by noted American publisher Vlad Morison and his Musica Russica imprint.

In April of 2014, Cappella Romana, under the direction of Alexander Lingas, gave the world premiere performances of the complete Steinberg's Passion Week in Portland and Seattle, and in August of 2014, made the world-premiere recording of this major work by the multi-Grammy Award winning team of Steve Barnett, producer, and Preston Smith, engineer, and just released to the world on March 24, 2015. Each movement, save one, is based on a traditional well-known Russian Orthodox chant for Holy Week, with the chorus divided into a thick texture of 8 to 12 different vocal parts. If you like Rachmanioff's Vespers, you will love Steinberg's Passion Week.