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