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The Good Friday Project: music for the community

The Union Chapel space consistently makes people feel welcome and at home, and its architecture has a huge impact on people as they enter. It has amazing acoustics. The beautiful space demands the best performances, and provides the perfect auditorium. It also provides quiet places to sit, think, and pray.

The Good Friday Project at Union Chapel offers people an opportunity both for contemplation and to hear live religious music of professional standard, every Good Friday afternoon. These are free annual events for the community, though donations are welcome.

The inaugural concert was The People's Passion, a stunning performance of J S Bach's St John's Passion on 29 March 2013, attended by over 900 people. On Good Friday 2014 Scott Stroman and local choir Eclectic Voices presented the next concert, 7 Last Words From The Cross.

Good Friday Project 2015:

The Passion of Joan of Arc with live score

The 1928 silent film The Passion of Joan of Arc is widely considered to be one of the best films of all time: with its stunning camerawork and striking compositions it convinced the world that film could be art. Carl Dreyer, the Danish director, based his film on the original court transcripts of Joan’s dramatic trial. Accused of heresy and witchcraft, Joan must endure the taunting and deceit of the church court as she is forced to confess to witchcraft and sorcery and is sentenced to die. It is only through her faith that she can rise above her tormentors, although even she has her moment of doubt.

The film features some unforgettable close-up images of the actress Maria Falconetti, who gave one of the greatest performances ever recorded on film as the young maiden who died for God and France. Dreyer’s masterpiece was long thought to have been lost to fire, but the original version was miraculously found in perfect condition in 1981 in a Norwegian mental institution, and has now been skilfully restored.

Electronic musician and composer Irene Buckley has used the text and the structure of the Requiem Mass to create an evocative new score for soprano, organ and electronics, which is performed live alongside the screening of the film. Her music is characterised by the dynamic interplay between medieval and contemporary composition. James McVinnie specialises in contemporary organ music including rock and indie, while maintaining a busy classical recording and recital schedule: he played at Westminster Abbey for Kate and William’s wedding and is a frequent guest organist at Union Chapel. The poignant soprano part is sung by Emma Nash, a recent graduate of the opera course at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama. Irene, James and Emma have performed the score together at hugely successful screenings in Cork, Glasgow and London.

The Passion of Joan of Arc was previously a highlight of the week of events in July 2013 celebrating the restoration of the Chapel’s Henry Willis organ. The film’s raw emotional force, the inevitability of the ugly events, and the spotlight on Joan’s rare beauty of spirit even in death combine to produce a perfect choice for the Good Friday Project, enhanced by the beautiful setting and acoustic of the candlelit chapel. Allan Hunter, Director of Glasgow Film Festival commented: "The haunting performance was a once in a lifetime experience that sent shivers up the spine and left the audience talking about it for days afterwards. It is pure cinema magic.”

It is the church's hope that this special showing of Joan of Arc will encourage new people to come into the chapel on Good Friday and experience something moving and powerfully connected to the story of the crucifixion.

This film showing will be a part of a number of free activities advertised on Good Friday, beginning with the traditional Ecumenical Walk of Witness in Islington, followed by an invitation to see a contemporary exhibition of the stations of the cross at Harecourt United Reformed Church and then concluding with the showing of Joan of Arc at Union Chapel.

Future Good Friday Projects

The church continues to commit to putting on free events on Good Friday for future years. Since the project started 3 years ago we have built up good connections in the local community; and the Union Chapel Organ Project has set a precedent with outreach and educational work. We have established a choir, who this year will perform on Maundy Thursday, and in a year's time may well be working towards their own Good Friday performance. We hope that the ongoing musical outreach programme, the choir and the church will continue to work together to deliver moving and thought provoking free events on Good Friday for the people of Islington and visitors.