Soloists announced for York Minster's St John Passion

Saturday 23 March 2013

The guest soloists have been announced today for the highlight of York Minster’s new Festival of the Passions, a performance of JS Bach’s St John Passion by the Minster Choir on Saturday 23 March, which includes a mix of home grown and international talent.

Performing the key solo parts will be:

John Mark Ainsley – Evangelist

Iestyn Davies - counter tenor

Judith Cunnold - soprano

Neil Griffiths – tenor

Benedict Nelson - Pilate

Roland Wood - Christus/bass

The St John Passion is a dramatic representation of the events leading up to Christ’s crucifixion, as told in the Gospel of John.  Described as a ‘musical tour de force’, it will be performed in German accompanied by period instruments.

“The Minster Choir has a superb national and international reputation for the quality of its singing – and indeed, many of our resident Songmen are solo performers in their own right – so it is an honour for us, and a rare treat for the audience, to gather these esteemed musicians together for the St John Passion,” comments director of music, Robert Sharpe.  “York Minster is such a wonderful setting for this piece, with superb acoustics creating a magnificent sound.  It certainly promises to be a wonderful foundation ahead of Holy Week.”

Tickets are available for the St John Passion via the York Minster Box Office, tel: 0844 939 0015, or online at priced at £25 per person for Front Nave seats, and £18 for seats in the rear nave.

It is hoped that many of those attending the St John Passion will return the following morning for the Palm Sunday Procession, which starts from St Helen’s Square at 10.00am.  The clergy and choir are joined by the congregation for a walk through the streets and into York Minster, led by a donkey, marking the start of Holy Week.

The Festival of the Passions is the first series of concerts in York Minster’s Year of Music.  In May, the venue will host a series of informal promenade organ performances, with weekly organ concerts throughout August.  The York Minster Choir will participate in the York Early Music Festival in July, and further extend its seasonal concerts programme with a performance of Handel’s Messiah in December.

For more information, please visit


Notes to editors:

Soloist biographies:

John Mark Ainsley has appeared with the world’s greatest orchestras and conductors, including the London, Boston and San Francisco Symphony orchestras and the London, Berlin, Vienna and New York Philharmonic orchestras, with Sir Colin Davis, Bernard Haitink, Sir Charles Mackerras, Kurt Masur, Sir Roger Norrington, Sir Simon Rattle and Claudio Abbado.

His discography covers the baroque and classical repertoire, the German Lied and English song and the American musical. His Britten recordings include the three tenor cycles Serenade for tenor, horn and strings, Les illuminations and Nocturne.

2010 saw his first Captain Vere in the UK in Michael Grandage’s production of Billy Budd for the Glyndebourne Festival. He sang Skuratov in Janacek’s From the House of the Dead directed by Chereau and conducted by Boulez at the Amsterdam, Vienna and Aix-en-Provence Festivals and subsequently in his house debut at La Scala, Milan under Salonen.    Recent operatic engagements include From the House of the Dead at the Deutsche Staatsoper Berlin under Sir Simon Rattle and Orfeo at the Theater an der Wien under Ivor Bolton.  Future engagements include concerts with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra under George Benjamin, the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Chicago Symphony Orchestra under Charles Dutoit and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra under Sir Simon Rattle.

He is a Visiting Professor at the Royal Academy of Music.

Iestyn Davies is an internationally renowned Counter Tenor.  He regularly headlines concerts at St John Smith Square, Wigmore Hall, and the New York Metropolitan Opera, and in 2012 was lauded for his ‘sublime’ arias in the Gramophone award-winning “Arias for Guadagni”. Iestyn lives in York.

A full biography is available at

Judith Cunnold has appeared throughout Europe as soloist and consort singer, including concerts for York Early Music Festival, Bachfest Leipzig and Festival Mitte Europa. As a member of the specialist early music ensemble Corona Coloniensis she has made numerous recordings for WDR-Köln; she also sings regularly with Yorkshire Bach Choir. Operatic roles include Cherubino in Le Nozze di Figaro) and Zerlina in Don Giovanni.  Judith also teaches singing and trains the probationer choristers of York Minster.

Neil Griffiths has sung with opera companies throughout Europe, including The Royal Opera, Glyndebourne Festival Opera, Glyndebourne Touring Opera, L'Opéra de Lyon, De Nazionale Reisopera (Netherlands) and Maggio Musicale Fiorentino.  Since moving to NorthYorkshire Neil has continued to appear on the concert platform when his work as a manager of a local NHS Primary Care Trust permits.  He also makes occasional appearances as a songman and soloist atYork Minster, where his son and daughter are choristers.

Benedict Nelson studied at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and the National Opera Studio. He has won numerous prizes including 2nd prize at the Kathleen Ferrier Awards and the Guildhall Gold Medal, and is an ENO Harewood Artist.   Highlights last season include the title role in David Alden’s new production of Billy Budd and Belcore The Elixir of Love, both for ENO, as well as concert appearances with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra, his US concert debut with the Utah Symphony Orchestra under Thierry Fisher, and performances with the RTÉ Orchestra, the Basel Chamber Orchestra and for the Cheltenham Festival.

A protegée of Sir Thomas Allen and a Samling scholar, Nelson has performed under conductors including Sir Neville Marriner, David Parry, Bernard Labadie, Sir Roger Norrington and Thomas Zehetmair. Other engagements include his BBC Symphony Orchestra debut under Jiří Bělohlávek singing Brahms’ Requiem, Britten songs at Snape Maltings with Malcolm Martineau which was recorded and released commercially, Silvano Un Ballo in Maschera for Opera Holland Park, The Tender Land at Opéra de Lyon and the world premiere of The Lion’s Face at the Royal Opera House Linbury Studio.

Baritone Roland Wood studied at the Royal Northern College of Music then the National Opera Studio. Since his debut at Glyndebourne singing Nick Shadow/The Rake’s Progress soon after graduation from the NOS his career has blossomed and he has appeared with many of the leading opera companies in the UK, and increasingly, abroad. His English National Opera roles include Alfio/Cavalleria rusticana, Kissinger/Nixon in China, Zurga/Pearl Fishers, Marcello/La Bohème, Albiani/Simon Boccanegra, The Count/Marriage of Figaro and – most recently and to great acclaim – Pilgrim in Pilgrim’s Progress. He was a Company Principal at Scottish Opera and the last two years have seen him return for Robert Storch/Intermezzo and this year Albert in Werther. He has become a firm favourite of De Nationale Reisopera in Holland, singing Renato/Un Ballo in maschera, Enrico/Lucia di Lammermoor and Germont Père/La Traviata. He has also appeared at the Edinburgh Festival, English Touring Opera, Opera Holland Park and Opera Theatre Dublin. Regularly heard on the concert platform last year he sang ‘Messiah’ with the Huddersfield Choral Society and the Edinburgh Royal Choral Union and this year sings the St John Passion in London with the Aurora Orchestra. 2013 also sees his US debut at the Santa Fe Opera (Germont Père) and Papageno/The Magic Flute at ENO. In 2014 he makes his Canadian debut with Renato then sings the main role in a new opera at ENO before his Royal Opera Covent Garden debut as Rouchier/Andrea Chénier and a performance of Mahler 8 at the Royal Festival Hall with the Philharmonia under Esa-Pekka Salonen. He returns to the Royal Opera in 2015 for Ford/Falstaff