Bach – John Passion

Oxford Baroque make a return to Merton College’s Passiontide Festival for the third year, to collaborate once again with the fantastic Merton College Choir, under their director Benjamin Nicholas. Having already worked together on Bach’s Matthew Passion and B-minor Mass, Bach’s smaller passion is a highly charged work that evokes both the drama and the pathos of the Passion narrative.

“The singing is of the kind of even quality as to make it unrecognisable as a college — and therefore ‘youth’ — choir.”
Gramophone magazine, February 2014

The Choir of Merton College is one of Oxford’s leading mixed-voice choirs and sings the services, during term-time, in the thirteenth century chapel. The choir consists of thirty undergraduates and post-graduates, many of whom hold choral scholarships at Merton College. Tours have included France (2009, 2010 and 2011), the USA (2011 and 2014) and Sweden (2013). Recent performances have included Duruflé’s Requiem in the Cheltenham Music Festival, Tallis’s Spem in alium in the Beaujolais Festival, Mozart’s Requiem in St Germain-des-Prés, Paris, Orff’’s Carmina Burana in the St Jude’s Proms, the première of David Briggs‘s Messe Solennelle in St Paul’s Cathedral and concerts in Cadogan Hall and St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral, Edinburgh. The choir plays a leading role in the annual Passiontide at Merton festival, including performances of Bach’s St John and St Matthew Passions, Handel’s Messiah and Arvo Pärt’s Passio. In the 2014 festival the choir gave the premiere of Gabriel Jackson’s The Passion of our Lord.

The choir’s debut CD In the beginning featured music by Gombert, Weelkes, Holst, Copland and Jackson and was named ‘Gramophone Choice’ in the December 2011 edition of GramophoneAdvent at Merton was released in 2012 and spent six weeks in the specialist classical charts. Merton College Choir has broadcast live on BBC Radio 3, and in February 2013 was filmed for the BBC series Music & the Monarchy.

The main focus of the choir’s work is the singing of the services in Merton College Chapel where, in addition to Choral Evensong, special services such as the Advent, Christmas and Epiphany Carol Services and the Requiem Mass for All Souls have a large following.

In the last few years Merton College Choir has given first performances of new choral works by Judith Weir, John Tavener, James MacMillan,Jonathan Dove, Ēriks Ešenvalds and Cecilia McDowall, and in November 2014 gave the première of a new motet by Sir Harrison Birtwistle.  The choir spent 2014 in a ‘new music’ partnership with Choir & Organmagazine, and enjoys a relationship with Faber & Faber as ‘choir in association’.