John Middleton - Blog

What the performers said about the music

´We are all used to music that “draws on previous traditions”.  Sometimes that means in reality that there is craftsmanship rather than artistry at work.  In my own improvisations, I am sometimes satisfied with a decent result but I could never claim a distinctive or original voice is evident.

 John’s work, on the contrary, is unified by a unique and unmistakable voice.  His music repays the attention required to perform it with continuingly evolving vistas.  The musical language owes something to the naivety of folk music and, through that to an older, pre diatonic tradition but the striking thing about it is its novelty.  There is a clear intellectual framework underpinning the work that becomes more evident with repeated hearing.  Despite the scarcity of the usual melodic and harmonic anchoring points, I found it rewarding to sing and a revelation to explore.´


John Bassford - tenor


´Having sung the parts of Caiaphas and the Voice of God in John Middleton’s St John Passion, recently first performed, it is quite apparent to me that a new captivating style of writing matched with a different style of creating vocal line and complementary orchestration came together to create something exciting, vibrant and of profound spiritual value. To sing the work was actually a spiritual experience, capturing the text and expressing profound Johannine sentiments in a very creative way. A work to be taken very seriously into the future.´


Stephen Foster - basso profundo


´I have been privileged to have been invited to take on major roles in numerous World Premières in the past, amongst which feature song cycles, oratorios, the first modern performances of three early operas by Stradella and Colonna, the World Student Premiere of Stravinski’s Les Noces, the contemporary outdoor/interactive installation operatic venture ´Out of the Blue´ for the Seachange Trust at Great Yarmouth, ‘The Last Broadcast’,  and the ´5K Opera´ which was broadcast on Channel 4 television in the UK and in San Francisco. 

But none of these come close to the challenge I faced when performing the role of Jesus in John Middleton´s ´Saint John Passion´ in March this year, 2013.

This new work by John Middleton is a truly seminal work which demanded a meticulous approach to the preparation of the music, a deep understanding of the biblical text and a very close liaison with the composer over a period of over 18 months.

Musically very difficult in its atonal sections, vocally demanding in the length and variety of the musical styles, frequent key and time signature changes and vocal colours required and a tour de force for any singer´s concentration, it was a significant demand in every aspect of a singer´s armoury. 

However, this was easily the most rewarding experience of my singing career to date.  For me the SJP was a remarkable combination of the very personal involvement felt in performing the role of Gerontius, the sublime musicality found in the music of Bach´s setting of the same Passion and the technical difficulty of Britten´s War Requiem.

Above all, it was the intense personal feelings it evoked during its performance that I recall the most, which, after all the emotional output, left me in a heap of tears in the green room upon its conclusion.

With its Symphonic and Concertante structure, with solo voices in subtly varied and constantly changing vocal and instrumental ensemble, the welding together melody with recitative aria and an almost Wagnerian thematic style of text delivery this work is very different from much I have sung before. 

As far as I am aware this setting of the Biblical text has never been undertaken before in that it utilises only the spoken words from the St John Passion, which gives an extra impact that could not have been generated by a more traditional use of the text.

Every part of the work has something for both the listener and performer and on the evening in question I received many kind compliments upon my interpretation of the work and many more in praise of the composer John Middleton whose inspiration and dedication to his composition lead to a truly remarkable World Première of The Saint John Passion. 

Many of my other Premières have turned out to be just one off performances, never to be heard again, but this grand opus deserves a second, if not many more hearings, for it has so much to offer in so many ways.  I just hope that when the time comes, John will feel that I did sufficient justice to his work the first time that he asks me to become Jesus once again.  For me, that would be a real labour of love and one well worth the effort.´


Lyndon Gardner - tenor