For driving south of here, the #2 traffic-jam-avoiding rule is "Never drive through Gilroy while the Garlic Festival is on." Unfortunately, as the #1 rule is "Never drive to Santa Cruz on a summer weekend; are you crazy?", that left me with no feasible route to get to Carmel on Sunday for my review assignment at the Bach Festival.
I decided to go through Gilroy and avoid the alliummanes, if that's the word, by bypassing the highway through the farm roads on the other side of town. Got there just in time for the pre-concert lecture, having parked (which is not as difficult in Carmel as you may think) and walked over.
My assignment was to review David Lang's Little Match Girl Passion, a strange, unearthly work that made a huge impact in the contemporary-classical world when it premiered a few years ago. I'd asked to cover this one: I'd found recordings opaque at best, but suspected it would yield its attractions in a live performance. It did.
Also on the concert program: unaccompanied choral works by those peerless contemporary masters Tavener, Pärt, and Górecki, leaving no excuse not to go.
And, since the Little Match Girl Passion had been chosen for the festival for its structural descent from Bach's St. Matthew Passion, they were putting on the Bach the same year, indeed the same day, in the afternoon with the new stuff in the evening. So I had tickets to both, and settled down in my seat at 2:30 to hear the St. Matthew Passion for, in fact, the first time.
Nobody had told me how long it is.
It's three hours long. Three hours. Three. Hours.
(And full of libel against the Jews, but that aspect at least I was expecting.)
So it's a lot less concise, or dramatic, or elliptical, or tuneful, or almost anything than Handel's Messiah. What it was was thin, airy, placid, and strangely un-boring for all that. I survived without twitching, and so did everybody else, including the guy next to me who anxiously asked me how many intermissions there'd be. (One.)
There was actually time for dinner. Last time in Carmel I ate at a place with terrific sand dabs (a local fish). I was still dreaming of those, so I went back and had some more.
And the Lang? Ghostly, eerie, creepy, and contemplative as the Bach had been. Narration delivered in strange piping telegraph bursts. Weird as heck, in the way in which "weird" is a compliment.
Much less trouble driving home, which is good because it was late.