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Conspirare offers free concert on Tuesday

Staff Writer
Austin 360

As part of its Compassion: A Festival of Musical Passions, Grammy-nominated Conspirare will offer a free workshop performance of Doug and Brad Balliett’s “A Gnostic Passion” at 6 p.m. on June 10 at St. Martin’s Lutheran Church, 606 W. 15th St. www.conspirare.org

The Balliett’s are identical twins, perform as a duo and collaborate as composers.

Brad Balliett talked to the American-Statesman recently about the composition:

“Doug and I are both really into ancient literature as an inspiration point,” Brad Balliett says from Boston. “And I’ve always been fascinated by the Bible — Old and New Testament — as a kind of anthology of world literature of the time.”

In 1945 Egypt, the Gnostic Gospel were found buried in a jar, a group of writings about Jesus from around the same period of the standard Gospels, except these had been rejected from the Bible.

“You know, there’s only four Gospel stories in the Bible, but there were lots and lots more at the time,” Brad Balliett says. The brothers gravitated toward one called “The Acts of John.”

In it, Jesus “appears as a little old man, sometimes in a kind of androgynous form,” says Balliett, other times as an alien-looking statue, 50 feet tall. “I don’t know if you would call it science fiction or some kind of mysticism, but it is told from the point of view of John, the favorite disciple.”

“You’re never going to hear these things if you go to church, because they’re not widely read. They’re not canonical.”

The brothers — whose day job is playing in both early music and new music ensembles — have written a true Passion. Like Bach’s, there is a soloist who sings the role of narrator, and there is a crucifixion scene —it’s just a very modern one: The chorus sings a textbook list of the parts that a nail must drive through in order to be driven into a cross. (Balliett’s girlfriend was studying anatomy at the time.)

That rather gruesome scene is part of the overall goal: shaking the Passion up for a modern audience.

“It’s funny in the way it’s startling and unexpected,” Balliett says. “And hopefully it’s a reversal — of the ideas that, no matter how they are true for people, have become platitudes in a way.’