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3 questions to conductor and harpsichordist Trevor Pinnock

11 March 2024
conductor-harpsichordist Trevor Pinnock
Trevor Pinnock

British harpsichordist and conductor Trevor Pinnock has been pioneering the modern revival of early music since the early 1970s, when he founded The English Concert. In the run-up to Easter week, Pinnock will be conducting the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra and Netherlands Radio Choir in Bach’s St John Passion. Here he answers our 3 questions.


Q: This year marks the 300th anniversary of Bach’s St John Passion. Why do you think this work represents a watermark in Western classical music?

A: Bach’s St Matthew Passion and St John Passion firmly entered the canon of classical music following Felix Mendelssohn’s revival of them in 1829 and 1831. Beyond the religious aspects, which for Bach were the very heart of the matter, his music speaks to music lovers of all beliefs and none, with a depth and intensity which survives every fashion of performance from generation to generation. Of the two passions, Robert Schumann considered the St John to be ‘bolder, greater and more poetic’. Bach’s setting of the biblical text moves fast and is so graphic and violent in crowd scenes that we are rightly left disturbed. And there are many questions to answer. In contrast, chorales and arias are set to Bach’s own choice of texts, which make it very clear that it is the Christian faithful, the ‘us’, who are responsible for Christ’s death.


Based on what we know today about the subject, what are, for you, the biggest challenges in early music performance?

The challenges of performance don’t change - we have to be honest with the composer and make the music speak to our audience. Knowledge and broad thinking are always essential. There are so many questions. The sort of thing I ask myself is ‘what is the purpose of our performance today?’ ‘Armed with my knowledge of Bach’s performances in the Nikolai Kirche in Leipzig, what musical decisions should I take to perform a concert version in the setting and acoustic of the Concertgebouw?’


If you had the chance to meet Bach, what would you ask him about?

I doubt I would dare to ask a question to this greatest of all masters. I would be more wanting him to forgive me my failings. Although, away from music or the question of faith in a pre-enlightenment age, it would be fun to know why he bought shares in a silver mine.

Music Exchange offer

Trevor Pinnock will conduct the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra and the Netherlands Radio Choir in Bach’s St John Passion on 24 March 2024 at the Royal Concertgebouw, Amsterdam. Offered by NPO, the concert is available live and deferred in MUS under EURO/2023-2024/H/009, as part of the Euroradio Holy Week Music Series.

Relevant links and documents


Monica Schütz

Community Manager