Q & A with Thomas Herford
What makes Solomon’s Knot’s approach to the St John Passion different?
Normally we see the key characters – Jesus, Pilate, the baying crowds et al - act out the Passion story in real time, stage-managed by the Evangelist. With Solomon's Knot we perform the whole piece with just 8 singers. We all sing the choruses and share the solos, casting a different light on how the story is told. For me, I imagine that we are a small group of Jesus’ disciples, gathering to recall and process the terrible events that we have recently witnessed. As the characters and the crowds are brought vividly to life in our minds, we share our grief and support each other in our faith.
Will you perform from memory?
Of course, we perform the St John by heart and with no conductor, as is now standard practise in all of our concerts. No gimmick this. Indeed, the huge amount of work involved, over many months and years, only increases the depth of our engagement with the piece. I hope that this comes across in our performance, both musically and emotionally. That’s the goal anyway!
What effect might it bring to split the part of the Evangelist?
Splitting the Evangelist is certainly unusual, but in our case I feel it contributes to the 'group' nature of the way we've chosen to tell the story of the Passion. Ruairi Bowen and I take up the story by turns, in an act of mutual support…perhaps when the other becomes overwhelmed by the pain of the memories. On a more prosaic level, it does allow us tenors a tiny bit of recovery time here and there. To sing the entire Evangelist part as well as all of the choruses and arias would be too much, even for us!
How are you preparing for the performance?
I’m doing lots of learning actually. The 1725 version is new to me; there are several alternative numbers – two choruses and a handful of arias - and countless little differences in the better-known moments, especially for the Evangelists. Other than the memorising, I’ve been rethinking the part with the help of the stage director and singer Thomas Guthrie to develop an approach to this famous role that is more personal to me. Another huge part of my preparation is to build up my stamina. Nothing I have done as a singer compares with the vocal challenge of performing the St John in this way - Evangelist, Arias and Chorus – and I know I’ll have to be match fit.
Thomas Herford is a founder member and considers singing with Solomon’s Knot a core element of his musical career as well as an essential part of his personal life.