Music in the moment

By NIcholas_Mulroy  -  08 October 2015

The life of a musical professional is strange. The proportion of time one actually spends performing is small. This week, for example, I’ve flown 4,000 miles or so to work. Before we start in earnest, I have to pack (light), choose the films on the flight (Inside Out and The Departed – both highly recommended), not to mention hope to avoid any illness on the plane – eight hours sharing hundreds of people’s oxygen with air conditioning is not good for your immune system. 

I’m here to sing Bach’s St Matthew Passion with the St Paul Chamber Orchestra in Minnesota. They are the USA’s only full time chamber orchestra, and have committed to doing this piece with just eight singers which is how many people think JS Bach might have performed his ‘Great Passion’ during his time in Leipzig. They’re also very nice people, delightful colleagues, and quite incredibly good.


Resurrection of Christ, stained glass, Church of St Gervais and St Protais, Paris

It’s a grueling project – we sing all the solo passages as well as the choruses, switching identities throughout the piece, from the Evangelist of the Gospel (St Matthew) to a crowd baying for Jesus’ blood, to the faithful congregation, singing the chorales that would have been well known to the congregation in that time. 

The piece is, for me, one of the towering masterpieces of human endeavour. It is constructed on a massive scale; it has music of infinite beauty, tenderness, anger; it tells one of the central stories of humanity, but having performed the piece quite frequently, I’m struck by how much there is to discover still (although that’s maybe for another article…) We spent a large part of one rehearsal looking closely at various clues from the composer – note values, articulations – which sounds quite academic but ended up throwing new light on how we heard and played certain sections. 

And this is one of the extraordinary things about this life. It is the first time we’ve met, let alone made music together, but through the universal language of music we were able to sink our combined skills into some detective work but also into rediscovering this masterpiece once more – as we must always do, each time we perform anything. One of the glories of music is that no two performances are the same – whether in the privacy of our rehearsal room or in front of an audience. We must always be informed (and often inspired) by the choices our colleagues make and how they make music. I’ve found that keeping my ears open to all the nuances of what they do allows me to be true to the music in the moment, which I hope is the essence of authentic music making. 


Book your own lesson with Nicholas online or in London here

About NIcholas_Mulroy

International Tenor Nicholas Mulroy tours the world specializing in Early Music. He can be heard in major concert halls throughout the world and on recordings.

All news