I could definitely be a candidate for biggest fangirl!

Ahead of our performances of Bach’s John Passion and Matthew Passion we caught up with mezzo-soprano Beth Taylor who makes her debut with Dunedin Consort this March.

 You’ve had quite a year, what’s been your standout moment? 

The last 12-18 months has indeed been quite a whirlwind! I find it hard to compress it all into one definitive moment. I think the concert that hit me deepest and most profoundly was standing on the Royal Albert Hall stage for the first time, performing Berlioz’s “Les Troyens” at the BBC Proms with the fantastic Monteverdi Choir and Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantique. One of my favourite operas, top colleagues, insatiable audience- couldn’t have asked for more. I was immediately transported back to the (not so distant yet) past when family and friends would lovingly dote as I scrolled through the Proms season programmes; “That’ll be you there one day” and I always acknowledged in a joking way and never imagined that it would come true. I didn’t even attend a live Prom until 2022! I cried my eyes out to one of my soprano colleagues before walking on for the balance call as I couldn’t take it in. I’m trying my very best to enjoy and appreciate where my work has taken me so far, but always keen to improve for wherever it may take me next.   

 

This is your first time working with Dunedin Consort. As a soloist, how do you manage the experience of stepping into a role when you haven’t worked with a specific group of musicians before?  

I’m so pleased to be singing with Dunedin Consort for the first time. I’ve been enjoying their concerts and recordings since the age of about 12 – I could definitely be a candidate for biggest fangirl! 

At this point in my career (and of many others), every project is a debut; a new piece, a new ensemble, a new venue, a new audience culture. It could very easily become overwhelming if I didn’t turn that attitude into one more centred around the opportunity to discover more about each other, myself, the music itself and the fresh new identity we take on, no matter who I am collaborating with. At the end of the day, we can only do our best; good preparation, professional manner and being present will always be my keys to a successful collaboration with anyone!  

Whilst it will be my first time working with this incredible cohort of Scotland’s finest, I can’t say it will feel alien to me. It is a group I’ve grown up with and listened to many times, their sound feels like a return home somehow, so I’m just really hoping I can give my very best and to as many people’s enjoyment of (arguably) the greatest music ever written.  

 

Do you have a stand-out favourite moment in either the John Passion or Matthew Passion we should look out for? 

The choruses and chorales have always been my favourite parts of the Passions…The mirroring of the narrative and the reflective. There will be undoubtedly one or two that hit you and before you know it, the moment is gone. To absorb and appreciate everything that is being said in one sitting with such a divine harmonic construction as Bach’s would be very tricky indeed. Everyone will take away different moments for them and that’s the joy; It’s not about one hit or tune… It’s ALL good! 

To sing as iconic an aria as “Erbarme Dich”, a plea to mercy, feels as relevant and soul stripping as it must have felt in that first performance. Look out for the incredible duet between the alto voice and the violin, reaching ever higher, almost as if the hands are lifting out and we are kneeling ever lower in complete despair, desolation and ruin at our own humanity for all of its faults and always fading to an almost whimper and quiet sobbing. Breathtaking writing and a unique moment for any mezzo or alto.   

 

If you could sing any part, any aria or play any moment yourself in either Passion – which would it be? 

Mache Dich. Everytime. :P  I still resent every bass I’ve ever heard sing this for making me cry. Matthew Brook is undoubtedly going to have me in floods of tears.  

Which gets your vote: John or Matthew, and why? 

Very difficult compromise. I feel like it’s impossible to compare the two. 

But if I HAD to choose, I’d probably go with Matthew. I think the longer, slightly more grandiose moments of the work make the more humble chorales of quiet dedication and solemn prayer cut us a little deeper. I also feel more of the arias carry across to our modern times more effectively. I think that’s as much to do with text than anything else. The music certainly transcends any particular timeframe. Somehow the way Matthew ends is more realistically bleak and heart-breaking too. 

 

If you could time travel and programme an evening of music in which you were singing – any era, any genre what would you select, and who would perform with you? 

Great question! I’ve always had this ridiculous fantasy of an all mezzo and contralto gala called “how low can we go”, with all my favourite from the mezzo/alto gang, set in a dusty, 1920s smoking Paris bar with a wild programme of the “latest releases” of Ravel, Korngold, Schoenberg, Stravinsky, Poulenc, Honegger- perhaps all present and performing alongside! And of course, a healthy dose of whisky. 

 

Join Dunedin Consort for John Passion (15-16 March) and Matthew Passion (21-22 March).

St Martin in the Fields, London — Friday 15 March, 7.30pm
St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral, Edinburgh — Saturday 16 March, 7.30pm
New Auditorium, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall — Thursday 21 March, 7pm
The Queen’s  Hall, Edinburgh — Friday 22 March, 7pm