York Minster will be the appropriately magnificent setting for J. S. Bach’s St. Matthew Passion when it is performed on Saturday 24 March at 7.30pm. The York Musical Society Chorus, YMS Orchestra and six soloists will tell the story of Jesus’ betrayal, arrest, trial, crucifixion and burial in a work that has been described as a unique human achievement. It will be a must-hear performance.

Written for a Good Friday service at St. Thomas’, Leipzig, Germany, Bach created his Passion from choruses both small and large with arias for specific characters such as Jesus, Judas, Peter and Pontius Pilate. Both the chorus and orchestra are split in two to create a stunning musical effect. The Evangelist, a role for tenor voice, is the narrator and moves the drama along. Supporting Bach's structure are three grand choruses – at the beginning, middle and end – which frame the surrounding music.

Performing the St Matthew Passion at the start of Holy Week and in the Minster places it within the liturgical year as Bach might have intended. The awe-inspiring York Minster creates a wonderful atmosphere and context for the performance. The Passion is nearly 300 years old but, for both performers and listeners, it has lost none of its power to move.”

Conductor David Pipe

It is believed that the St Matthew Passion was first performed in April 1727. The original German text – although YMS will be singing in English – was Martin Luther’s own translation. It was not heard in its entirety outside of Leipzig until 1829, when a 20-year-old named Felix Mendelssohn performed a version of it in Berlin, which brought it to wider public notice. It has never been out of the repertoire since.

The soloists will be known to YMS, national and international concert-goers. Tenor Paul Smy, singing the Evangelist, performed the same part in YMS’ 2013 performance of St. Matthew Passion. Jonathan May, singing the baritone role of Christus, joins soprano Anita Watson, mezzo Kate Symonds-Joy, tenor Ben Thapa and bass Alex Ashworth in the solo parts.

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Soloists are:

Paul Smy, tenor. A choral scholar at King’s College Cambridge, a member of the Tallis Chamber Choir, then founded and was director of the Mikrokosmos Youth Choir, Paris, and assistant conductor of the Paris Choral Society. Since 1998 he has been based in the UK, singing here and abroad as a tenor soloist. He sang Evangelist for YMS in 2013.

Jonathan May, baritone. Studied at Newcastle University before the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, the Britten-Pears School and the National Opera Studio. He has for many years appeared with both Scottish and Welsh National Operas, singing principal roles in – amongst others – Carmen, Billy Budd, Parsifal, Tosca, Rigoletto, Turandot and Pelleas et Melisande, as well as singing with opera companies in Norway, Germany, France, Ireland, Switzerland and New York. He is Head of Vocal Studies at the University of St. Andrews.

Anita Watson, soprano. Studied music and opera in Australia and Cologne before in 2007-9 joining the young artist programme at Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. She has since then sung opera roles at La Fenice, Salzberg Festival, Royal Opera House, Opera Australia, Scottish Opera, Welsh National Opera. She sang Mozart’s Mass in C minor with YMS in March 2016.

Kate Symonds-Joy, mezzo soprano. Graduate in music from Gonville and Caius College Cambridge with a First. She studied in the Royal Academy of Music’s postgraduate opera course and was the winner of prizes for singing. She has sung many roles, including past and forthcoming performances with Sir John Eliot Gardner. She sang Verdi’s Requiem with YMS in November 2014.

Ben Thapa, tenor. Studied at the Guildhall School of Music, the Royal College of Music and the Wales International College of Voice to 2013. He has sung many roles in opera and recital around the country.

Alex Ashworth, bass. He is a concert and opera singer as well as Professor of Singing at Royal Academy of Music. Although his repertoire spans 17th to 20th centuries, he specialises in Bach and Handel. He sang the title role in Mendelssohn’s Elijah with YMS in May 2015.

The conductor will be David Pipe, who is Director of the Organists Training Programme and Cathedral Organist for the Diocese of Leeds. He was formerly Assistant Director of Music at York Minster.

The ripieno chorus in the first half will be sung by senior choristers of York Minster choir.