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A review

Immersive Bach St John Passion concert bewitches audience at Girton College

male in the forefront singing, in the background there is string musician's playing in a standing and seated positions. All musicians are dressed in black attire. Room is light with soft yellow lighting creating a ambiance

Bach’s St John Passion was brought to life on Friday 8 March 2024 in a collaborative venture that pushed the boundaries of student performance.

The immersive performance took inspiration from an Arts and Humanities Research Council-funded research project by the Faculty of Music’s Professor Bettina Varwig, which interrogates how audiences throughout history have listened to music. 

Co-directed by celebrated violinist and Girton Bye-Fellow Professor Margaret Faultless and renowned tenor and Girton Musician-in-Residence Nicholas Mulroy, it featured the Cambridge University Chamber Choir and an ensemble of student period instrumentalists performing side by side with young professionals from the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment’s (OAE) Experience scheme

The performers moved around the Great Hall and amongst the audience giving an animated rendering of Bach’s historic masterpiece, with the audience joining in with some of the chorales at moments throughout the evening.

The project, which was organised in partnership with Cambridge’s Centre for Music Performance, also included a more traditional performance of the work at St John’s College the evening before. The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment’s involvement was supported generously by Girton College alumna Sue Palmer.

Audience members showered the concert with praise, describing it as ‘profoundly memorable’, ‘always in motion without being distracting’, and an ‘incredibly expressive portrayal’ of the composition.

This innovative performance  was the result of months of preparation that included a series of workshops with leading historical performance specialists. 

Girton’s Great Hall served as an idyllic venue for the evening, which began with a talk by Professor Varwig who explained how her current research project inspired the performance.

Professor Margaret Faultless, who is also Director of Performance at the Faculty of Music, University of Cambridge said:

“Girton’s inspired commitment to supporting innovative music-making and other activities lay at the heart of this project. I can’t think of another Cambridge college or venue that would have offered its space, support, and the time of so many people with such generosity. Performers and audience alike experienced the depths of this music in ways that were new to us all. Thank you"

Maureen Hackett, Junior Bursar at Girton College commented:

“Our Great Hall was built to make a statement about the refusal to be deterred, and it is absolutely fitting that it lent itself once again to making the impossible possible.”

A selection of photographs from the event can be found below (tap/hover over image to show viewing tools)

Bach St Johns Passion: An immersive performance