BAROQUE music specialist and conductor Nicholas Kraemer has worked with musicians in Manchester for well over 30 years, principally with Manchester Camerata. He’s also conducted both the St John Passion and St Matthew Passion by J S Bach in this city before.
On Good Friday afternoon he directs the St Matthew at the Bridgewater Hall, with the BBC Philharmonic and Manchester Chamber Choir, as part of the Philharmonic’s main concert series.
“It’s a huge operation, and that’s why I don’t do it very often!” he says. “But I can’t imagine anything better than doing it with the BBC Philharmonic’s musicians. My work with them previously has been with the music of Haydn, mostly. But I also did live broadcasts of Bach cantatas, with them and Manchester Chamber Choir, some years ago.
“When we play Haydn, we make a great deal of effort to reclaim the sound of the period the music was written.
“Thirty years ago I might have had to remind orchestral players about the styles of 18th century music, but I have edited everything I direct, so they know my intentions pretty well – phrasing, articulation and so on. I get very little resistance to my ideas and requests!
“And Manchester Chamber Choir’s sound is perfect, I think, for this.”
Nicholas says he feels a natural draw to the story-telling aspect of Bach’s music, but he’s aware that it was written also as a devotional work for a church congregation.
“I don’t think you have to be a believer to conduct the St Matthew Passion – but you do have to believe that Bach believed.
“There’s a connection between the narrative and the reflective. Having re-studied the work recently, I’m amazed by the way the chorales (congregational hymns) respond to the action in the story, and I will make that very clear in the performance in the way I start them – it’s not just an academic observation.”
It’s become almost fashionable to stage the Bach Passions as if they were operas, and Nicholas Kraemer comments: “I’m not doing that – but all the singers will be ‘off-book’ (singing from memory) and moving as close to the obbligato instruments that accompany their arias as possible, bearing in mind that we have microphones to think about.
“It’s going to be very much a ‘live’ performance, and people in the hall will have something to look at, as well as listening.”
Nicholas Kraemer - 'You do have to believe that Bach believed'