The ensemble is thinking big according to new chief executive Jo Buckley, who is honest enough to suggest that the 2018 scare “was actually one of the best things that happened to us.” Whereas two years ago Dunedin were playing around 25 concerts a year, there will be 40 performances this season. “We’re not just back to where we were, but the scale of activity has increased enormously,” says Buckley.
The new season brochure says it all. On the cover, a flautist plays precariously on top of Salisbury Crags. Elsewhere violinist Sarah Bevan-Baker is pictured jetting off Calton Hill like Superwoman. Stephan Farr attempts to stem the Atlantic waves at Calgary Bay on Mull, Canute-style, with a part-submerged harpsichord.
Can you remember your first experience of the Matthew Passion?
I well remember my introduction to parts of the Matthew Passion (in English!) as a choirboy at Canterbury Cathedral. I was especially taken by the aria ‘Jesu saviour, I am thine’ (Ich will dir mein Herze schenken).
Having been a cathedral chorister, do you feel your your background as a singer has informed your harpsichord playing and direction in any particular way?
The daily training at the choir school laid the foundation of my life’s work. The discipline of listening and reacting to other vocal parts and being aware of how all parts combine to the produce the whole work was instilled in me, and has been of enormous benefit as a conductor and soloist.
You’ve already performed the Matthew Passion a few times this year; it clearly doesn’t get boring for you! What do you think keeps the work fresh and appealing to contemporary audiences?
This year I have performed the Matthew Passion at the National Arts Centre, Ottawa where I was Music Director many years ago, and at the Royal Academy of Music. These were strongly contrasting performances. The first was with the combined choirs totalling 80 singers, and the second with singers specially chosen to make two choirs of 12. Solos were shared between the choir members.
Now there is an even greater contrast as I lead the Dunedin Consort’s established way of performing the Passion with single voices and instruments. I feel honoured to be asked to do this as I am a great admirer of John Butt and his ensemble. This is an exciting challenge for me. People may wonder how I can feel happy to do such contrasted performances? The answer is simple — the substance of the work and the consequent emotions it portrays are constant but our mode of transport is different. The St Matthew Passion embodies deep truth which is felt by those of Christian belief and those of none. It is a welcome stabiliser and inspiration in our unsettled age.
Have you worked with any of our singers before?
At the Royal Academy of Music, Lina Dambrauskaite sang in chorus 1 and sang the aria ‘Aus Liebe’. On the basis of this, I invited her to join the consort for our performance. I have also worked with Miriam Allan, who was my soprano soloist in performances of Messiah in Canada with Les Violins du Roi. Hugo Hymas came to London to sing to me recently and we had an enjoyable few hours of Evangelist. I am very much looking forward to meeting the other singers.
What are you most looking forward to, coming to Scotland to work with Dunedin Consort for the first time?
I have always enjoyed working in Scotland whether with orchestra, in chamber ensembles or as a soloist. It will be a pleasure to perform at The Queen’s Hall, where I have not played since the 1980s — and I am very much looking forward to enjoying the newly renovated Music Hall in Aberdeen.
Away from the harpsichord and your conducting activities, how do you spend your time these days?
I love to spend family time with my grandson who is nearly three years old. There is so much to learn from the little people.
Dunedin Consort performs Bach’s Matthew Passion twice next week:
Music Hall, Aberdeen — Thursday 18 April, 7:00pm
The Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh — Friday 19 April, 7:00pm
The board of Dunedin Consort is delighted to announce the appointment of Jo Buckley as its new Chief Executive, effective from March 2019. Jo will take over from Alfonso Leal del Ojo, whose appointment as the new Chief Executive of The English Concert was recently announced.
Jo joined Dunedin Consort as Head of Artistic Planning in January 2018 and quickly became a key part of the organisation’s senior management. She will be a familiar face for many of the group’s regular audience members and supporters, and is widely known both in Scotland and across the UK’s classical music sector.
Sir Muir Russell, Chairman of Dunedin Consort, commented:
‘I and my fellow Directors are very pleased to be making this appointment. We have seen at first hand, in Scotland, in London and on a number of engagements in Europe just how well Jo has managed the work of Dunedin, and we have full confidence that she will excel in the role of Chief Executive.
The programme for the year ahead, in Scotland and internationally, that Jo has helped to put together since she joined us, is varied and exciting and provides a brilliant start to her tenure. We look forward to supporting her and her colleagues, as well as all Dunedin’s family of excellent performers, as she takes the Consort’s work forward.’
Jo Buckley said:
‘Working with Dunedin Consort over the past year has been a hugely rewarding experience and an enormous pleasure. Few groups are as widely admired, or as warmly embraced, and it is a real honour to be given the opportunity to lead the organisation as it begins its next chapter.
Alfonso Leal del Ojo leaves behind him a thriving and vibrant ensemble at the peak of its powers, and I know that with this wonderful cast of musicians and John Butt’s unique artistic direction, we will go on to achieve still greater accolades in the years to come. With the support of the board, and with the backing of Dunedin Consort’s army of friends and supporters, I look forward to many more years of inspiring music-making – and to reaching many more listeners both at home in Scotland and across the world.’
On behalf of the Board and the management team of the Dunedin Consort I congratulate Alfonso Leal del Ojo on his appointment as Chief Executive of the English Concert, announced today. We wish him well in this challenging new role.
We are sorry to be losing Alfonso – since 2010 he has played a key role in shaping Dunedin to be the international success story it is today. He leaves us with a strong forward programme, a fine recording history, and good relationships in Scotland, the UK and internationally.
In John Butt and Dunedin colleagues, and in the body of musicians who perform with us frequently, we have a strong team to maintain our achievements. We will be looking to appoint a successor who can help take Dunedin to new heights. That process will start early in the New Year.
Muir Russell, Chairman
As the classical music world gears up for the Royal Philharmonic Society Awards on Wednesday 9th May, we have been looking back at our favourite moments from 2017 and celebrating the many reasons why Dunedin is shortlisted in the Ensemble category. From Edinburgh to Leipzig, Waltershausen to London, we look back on an extraordinary year.
BBC Proms debut
Where else could we start but with our BBC Proms debut from 20 August 2017, a performance of Bach’s John Passion ‘that shed new light on the work by carefully contextualising it’ (Guardian).
In June 2017 we performed in the magnificent Nikolaikirche as part of Leipzig Bachfest. What a venue – and what a spectacular occasion.
On 5 August 2017 we had the honour of opening Edinburgh International Festival’s series at The Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh with a programme exploring connections between Schütz and Monteverdi.
‘Delivered with the Consort’s typical joie de vivre and flourish’ (Scotsman)
In September 2017 we ticked a huge item off our bucket list when we traveled to Waltershausen,Germany with Iestyn Davies to perform a programme of Bach and Handel on an original Bach organ.
In April 2017 we enjoyed our first collaboration with Kristian Bezuidenhout, who directed from the harpsichord in three Matthew Passion performances across Scotland.
‘The solo instrumental playing in this performance was unwaveringly stunning’ (Herald)
Monteverdi Vespers 1610
September 2017 saw the release of our Monteverdi Vespers 1610 recording, which has earned a glut of 5 star reviews.
‘Stripped back performances that are fresh and luminous, lithe and alive’ (Herald – Top 20 Classical Albums of 2017)
In April 2017 we were thrilled to be part of James Runcie’s BBC Radio 4 drama exploring how Bach’s Matthew Passion was written, composed, rehearsed and performed in the build-up to its first performance in Leipzig on Good Friday 1727.
7 days, 7 highlights from 2017, 7 reasons why we have been nominated for an RPS Ensemble Award.