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Gareth Malone stages Bach’s St John Passion with the help of untrained singers

22 Feb 2024 4 minute read
Gareth Malone and contributors – Image: BBC

This Easter, acclaimed choirmaster and broadcaster Gareth Malone, is taking eight untrained singers and staging his own performance of Bach’s St John Passion on the 300th anniversary of its first performance.

It will be broadcast on BBC One, BBC Two and BBC Wales, and involve the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and the BBC Singers.

Putting his own twist on the performance, Gareth (The Choir: Military Wives, Boys Don’t Sing) has invited people from all walks of life to apply.

His only requirement was that they had a good voice but either very little or no experience singing in a classical choir.

From a budding young singer from Port Talbot who found his voice through his drag act, to a flute-playing amateur footballer from Cardiff, the choir is made up of a variety of passionate singers.

Gareth Malone’s Passion – Image: Kirsten McTernan


They may not have ever sung in a classical choir before, or have ever heard of J S Bach, let alone the St John Passion, but with Gareth’s help, they will tackle this demanding choral work alongside the BBC Singers and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales.

In addition to the amateur choir, a stellar professional cast will include baritone Roderick Williams OBE – who sang at the King’s Coronation -, tenor Nicholas Mulroy as The Evangelist and soprano Julia Doyle.

Gareth Malone said: “Ever since I sang and fell in love with this work as a student, it has been a piece I have returned to again and again.

“Now I have the dream opportunity to bring this favourite piece of music to a wider audience through the ears and voices of eight wonderful people who barely knew of Bach let alone this great masterpiece just two months before we performed it. What a fitting and spectacular way to celebrate its 300th anniversary.”

First performed by Bach in Leipzig on Good Friday in 1724, ‘the John’ has been close to Gareth’s heart ever since he took on the daunting role of The Evangelist as a young music student.

Gareth now hopes that through this performance, he can bring Bach’s musical interpretation of the Easter story to a new and wider audience.

Along the way, his choir may even find the music of Bach and the story of the crucifixion connects with them in a way none of them could have expected.

Eight weeks of intense rehearsals in Cardiff will build up to the performance, with the series consisting of two 60-minute documentaries broadcasting on BBC One and BBC One Wales on the mornings of Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

The performance itself, recorded at Cardiff’s Hoddinott Hall, will then broadcast on BBC Two and BBC Two Wales on Easter Sunday evening, with the series available to watch on BBC iPlayer.

Gareth Malone’s Passion is a co-commission between BBC Wales and BBC One. The project has been devised and produced by Somersault Studio.

It was commissioned by Christina Macaulay for BBC Wales and Daisy Scalchi, the BBC’s Head of Religion and Ethics for Television.

Christina Macaulay, Commissioning Editor for BBC Wales, said: “It’s been so exciting to bring together the forces of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, the BBC Singers and a stellar cast of soloists and to give eight local people the chance to sing one of our great choral masterpieces.

“The audience will discover the work through their eyes. There’s been a lot of laughs along the way and a few tears too. And working with Gareth has been such an inspiration for them.”


Daisy Scalchi, the BBC’s Head of Religion and Ethics for Television, said: “By telling the Passion story through extraordinary music and with such talented novice singers, Gareth is emulating what Bach intended to do 300 years ago in making this story accessible to a wide audience. This is a brilliant way to bring both the Passion to everyone, religious and secular alike.”

Richard Farmbrough, executive producer for Somersault Studio, added: “When I realised that 2024 was the 300th anniversary of the first performance of the St John Passion, I knew we had to bring it to a modern audience, and there is no one better to do that than the inspirational Gareth Malone.

“Gareth has taken eight wonderful individuals with no experience of Bach and made them fit to sing alongside a world class choir and orchestra. It has been a transformative journey for all involved.”

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