It's Passion time and if you don't mind sitting in a church environment, you can hear two unique Passions and squeeze in a Requiem this weekend.

Michael D. Costello has been running the Bach Cantata Vespers series at Grace Lutheran in River Forest since 2008. This weekend he completes his first cycle of the epic masterpieces – St. Matthew Passion, B Minor Mass, and finally the St. John Passion (with a Christmas Oratorio to boot). Few, if any, local organizations these days, can make that claim with the same artistic leadership and forces.  It is like putting on the Ring Cylce - but for church musicians.  Bach Cantanta Vespers' St. John boasts a top-notch continuo team in baroque cellist Anna Steinhoff (Haymarket Opera Company, Wayward Sisters) and harpsichordist Mark Shuldiner (CSO, Rook) and perhaps the most beautifully sung and technically secure Evangelist Chicago has on hand in tenor Hoss Brock. The Bach Cantata Vespers Chorus—all volunteers, but all veterans of Bach singing—join forces with the Chicago Choral Artists, also prepared by Costello. This will be grand, yet stylish music-making. You can't beat the ticket price: FREE! Saturday and Sunday performances. Arrive early to guarantee a seat.

Saturday at Northwestern's Bienen School of Music, the venerable Victor Yampolsky leads the NU Symphony Orchestra and combined choirs in the Brahms German Requiem. After last weekend's illuminating performances of this work by Bella Voce, one would be compelled to compare the more familiar version to the "London" version prepared by Andrew Lewis.  Besides the advantage of having a full orchestra and Donald Nally as choral director, Bienen's concert offers soprano soloist Bahareh Poureslami for the ethereal fifth movement. "Baha" is completing her Master's degree at NU, but deploys her silver tone like a full-fledged artist. TEoVAC experienced her mid-day recital with pianist Karina Kontorovitch last week at the Chicago Cultural Center and can attest to Poureslami's mature understanding of phrasing.  She is an unaffected singer who conveys a Love of Singing and will embrace the opportunity to walk the tight rope that is that treacherous solo.       

Sunday at the glorious Rockefeller Memorial Chapel, director James Kallembach and the Chapel Choir are going the austere route with the mid 17th century St. Matthew Passion of Heinrich Schütz.  Matthew Dean, who gave us an intellectual and detailed Evangelist in last year's one-on-a-part Bach St. John, evangelizes again in this unaccompanied dramatic work. The Matthäuspassion will be performed as part of the 11 am liturgy and then as a concert at 3pm (coupled with Francis Poulenc's Quatre Motets pour un Temps de Penitence).

If you are a fan of concerts of showpiece arias in recital and spirituals, you probably have already secured your tickets to the blockbuster Brownlee/Owens performance at the Civic Opera with pianist Craig Terry. A sneak peek at the program reveals the plan for Lawrence Brownlee to sing audience favorites like High C target practice "Ah! mes amis"  from Daughter of the Regiment and tear-jerker "Una furtiva Lagrima" from Elixir of Love. These two pieces alone should bring down the house. Bass-baritone arias are a tougher to sell to a mass audience. Luckily, the lovable Eric Owens has built a loyal Chicago audience and will add to the pandemonium when he sings The Golden Calf from Faust and joins Brownlee in the Pearl Fisher's duet.  The second half of the afternoon recital features popular song and spirituals arranged by Craig Terry, who is without peer in these types of audience-pleasing programs. Terry is a master at communicating with the listener in a way that tears down the fourth wall. VAC readers can use the promo code from our partners at Opera Box Score to receive a 20% discount on tickets, Enter code OBS at Lyric's website.

It is spring and another vocal ensemble has sprung in Chicago. The newest entry into the All-female Collectives is called Praxilla Femina and their inaugural performance is Saturday evening at Volumes Book Cafe in Wicker Park. The free program is a female-centric variety of opera, song, music theater, spoken word, and poetry. Proceeds collected at 'A Celebration of Women Through Song' will benefit Chicago Books to Women in Prison.