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.
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