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Micro-managing…

September 23rd, 2018

The South Bound Blues Train c1963

In my first school band I played guitar, as I was the proud owner of a rather unwieldy but incredibly exciting left-handed Hayman. I had an amplifier (10 watts or thereabouts) built from a kit, housed in a beautiful box made by the carpenter husband of my mum’s hair dresser. We chose the singer partly because he owned a microphone. I got to sing sometimes but I never became the singer because he had the gear.  I got into microphone singing proper when the close-harmony group I sang in at university (the legendary Fab Cab that morphed into the semi-mythical ‘sixties freakbeat’ Gentle Power of Song) got to record pop songs for Polydor. So by the time I joined the Swingles I knew quite a bit about how to do it, and was totally seduced by Ward Swingle’s interest in what he called ‘microphone experiments’,  one of the main reasons he decided to re-found his group with English singers. We all learned a lot from Ward, and I still rate singing the Berio vocal pieces as among the most exciting thing I’ve done. It was so inspiring that some of us eventually left the group in order to start Electric Phoenix, an ensemble dedicated to amplified vocal music.  That was when I wrote my very first published article, a piece for The Composer – about microphonic singing, which I believed to be the future of singing, so liberating compared with what I’d been taught at the Guildhall and by a series of famous teachers. At around the same time I was lucky enough to do backing vocals for all sorts of pop bands, and it coincided with the start of Electronic Vocal Theatre, my duo with the legendary polymath John Whiting (legendary also for his unique blend of coffee, the smell of which permeated everything in his studio and has forever been associated in my memory with Bose speakers).  John had an octophonic sound system – you could move the sound up and down as well as round and round (those were the days!) – and we had some very labour-intensive sets which eventually proved too much for two blokes to put up and take down either side of quite complex performances.  Then the Arts Council gave me a grant to fund what I like to think of as the first vocal synthesiser. Electric Phoenix had used individual custom-made effects boxes but I wanted something more elaborate that would also function as a mixer so I could control the whole shebang. It was very clever, but a nightmare to use. The effects –  harmoniser, ring modulator, filters and so on, were all linked by a 10×10 patchboard, so if I wanted to change anything I had to re-patch into one of a hundred holes, singing the while. It mostly worked, but hitting the wrong hole could produce either silence or the loudest fart you ever heard (both equally frightening).  Then I joined the Hilliard Ensemble and forgot about all things tech for a couple of decades.

The Hilliards never used amplification, and more often than not sang in wonderfully resonant churches – very large ones when we started to work with Jan Garbarek. Negotiating with the acoustic was very much what the group up was all about (and I’m sure our ability to engage with the acoustic environment was a key ingredient in our relationship with ECM’s Manfred Eicher). The singing itself wasn’t really of any consequence – it was what came back to you from the building that enabled you to micro-manage the sound and create the performance. In retrospect all those years of singing with a mic seemed rather crude and analogue compared with the organic process of using the building itself as your amplifier.

I still feel that, and at its best I think that amplification basically reproduces the perfection of a CD rather than the uniqueness of the building. But increasingly I find myself at venues where amplification is the norm and I’m expected to provide a technical rider. It reminds me a bit of touring the USA with the Hilliards, arriving at the venue and being asked where we’d like the mics (and worse still, the piano…).  I can remember how to do it, but it seems incredibly unsubtle compared with responding to a building that’s been made for sound.  And yet…as I discovered in Cork last week, with the right sound man and the right repertoire it can work. Once you take away the need to project, much of your classical technique is redundant. It means you can sing more like your speech (something I banged on about a lot in my first book Vocal Authority). You can be far more nuanced, conversational even. Best of all, it meant we could do Finisterre without me sounding like some  cross-over cretin.  My project for early next year when I have a bit of free time, is going to be to develop a repertoire specifically to be done with a sound system.  In the meantime, if you’d like to hear Finisterre, come to Murnau next month and see what John Surman, Milos Valent and Jacob Heringman make of it.

Worms to Uppsala

September 8th, 2018

We had a wonderful time in Worms – a big thankyou to Holger Wittgen and Annette Herschelmann from Kultursommer Rheinland-Pfalz for being so hospitable and so efficient. I’ve been lucky enough to perform several times on the Via Mediaeval (the first three-voice Conductus Ensemble concert took place  in Otterberg five years ago, and it was great to return last week with the results of the research project).  We branched out from our all-conductus programme to include four huge Alleluias from the Magnus Liber. These were exhilarating to perform (and slightly frightening). I’ve done the famous Perotin 4-voice pieces many times over the years, but the 3 voice organa (possibly by Perotin but anon as Anon 4 didn’t mention them) are every bit as bizarre and exciting.  Lovely German audience, as always, and they really appreciated it:

 

 

It was a lot of notes – possibly the most notes per minute/euro that we’ve ever sung. But the music is so extraordinary and so rarely done, that we’re determined to explore the Magnus Liber repertoire further. In the context of chant maybe, so we get a bit of a rest between these humongous medieval vocal symphonies.

Uppsala

On to Uppsala next week for Serikon’s St Brigitte programme in the cathedral. This will also take in some Ars Antiqua music, but the travels of  Europe’s patron saint enable a wide variety of performance styles and periods with a uniquely Scandinavian edge.  We’ll also be doing Gavin Bryars’ Lauda 47, a new arrangement especially for this ensemble. I’ll be doing more Bryars in Cork and Dublin in the autumn, including the haunting Winestead that he wrote for the Hull City of Culture.

Dufay

David James, Jacob Heringman and I have just had our first rehearsal of Dufay’s L’homme arme mass. It works! Sheffield, we’re coming…

Secret History reviews

More reviews for Secret History, from the Lute Society of America (which also has a terrific review of Ariel & Jake’s duo album Cifras Imaginarias), and his (in Italian) from Avvenire. Not long to our next attempt to get to Cork, weather permitting…

Cambridge History

August 28th, 2018

I’ve been very fortunate to have been associated with Cambridge University Press since my first book Vocal Authority was published in 1998. It was followed by the Companion to Singing, and then a long while later by the History of Singing which I wrote jointly with Neil Sorrell. At one point there was a suggestion that the singing history would be a multi-authored  Cambridge History of Singing, but bearing in mind the impossibility of writing anything definitive about singing, we insisted that ours was only A History. In between I did contribute to two Cambridge histories the latest of which, The Cambridge History of Medieval Music, has just appeared. These huge multi-authored projects are an editorial nightmare and very rarely run to schedule. As it happens I got my chapter in pretty close to the deadline – I was still an academic so these things were important. Long after I’d left academia, and the inevitable and infuriating late submitters having finally come up with the goods, the handsome two-volume set is on the shelves. My chapter is called ‘Issues in the modern performance of medieval music’ and I got it done so long ago that it doesn’t mention the Conductus project that has in its small way revolutionised the performance of 12th century music in the present.  For the outcomes of that research project you have to get another Cambridge publication, Discovering Medieval Song (which I haven’t yet read but which I suspect also doesn’t have much to say about the performing experience which was such a major part of the research programme).

Last weekend I was in Worms with my fellow ‘Conductors’ Rogers Covey-Crump and Christopher O’Gorman for the Tage alter Musik und Literatur  and the first concert in the Via Mediaeval season.  Our performance was as close to 12th/13th century performance ideals as we could make it, and although the musicology will presumably last a bit longer, as is the way with performance the sound of it is now lost for ever. Next week I’ll be in Uppsala with Serikon’s St Bridget project. Unlike Conductus, which was a state funded research project designed to explore 12th century performance practice, the Serikon ensemble references history in a creative and pragmatic way, with musicology used as a starting point to make the music work in the present. Then next month I’ll be taking a further step away from the past with the Dowland Project’s visit to Murnau.  Our programme in the Grenzenlos festival reflects the agenda of the event: no boundaries, so we’re not constrained by musicology at all. The programme will probably open with a troubadour song, a lute improvising, acknowledging the past (though it will be Jacob Heringman’s renaissance instrument, some 500 years later than the song). Then maybe I’ll start on the song itself, or perhaps you’ll hear Milos Valent’s viola or John Surman’s saxophone.

I love exploring historical performance practice (and even once came out briefly as a musicologist) but writing about it is pretty well always going to be out of date before the ink is dry.  The more rigorous connection to the past provided by the Conductus project yielded many unique insights, but even if I had written about it in the Cambridge History I couldn’t have accounted for the evolution of the project over the last five years that culminates in its latest iteration in Worms on Sunday. The books, outdated though they mostly are, will survive in print whereas the performances they deal with disappear into the ether straight away. But that’s always been the problem with musicology: musicians do what they can with what they have,  then it’s gone and we’re off to the pub.

 

Jana Jocif Dowland Project

photo: Jana Jocif

 

New season dates

June 16th, 2018

 

 

 

Alternative History

We were at the magnificent Kościół św. Józefa in Krakow on August 11 with a new programme called Secret History: ancient and modern polyphony for voices & lutes. The title comes from our current ECM album but unlike the CD (which is of music by Josquin & Victoria) this programme included new compositions and intabulations alongside the early music. Ariel and Jake played Arvo Pärt’s Pari Intervallo in a version newly sanctioned by the composer (‘Play it faster!’), and we did the first performance of Ash and Snow composed for us by former Weather Report drummer Peter Erskine, as well the first performance in Poland of John Paul Jones’ Cradle Song which we first performed in the Swaledale Festival last year. Huge thanks to the incredibly hospitable Musica Divina team.

We’ll be doing a similar programme in Cork at the wonderful Triskel Arts Centre on September 21, a kind of enhanced replacement for the gig we had to cancel because of snow back in March (enhanced because European Early Music Day had to go ahead without us so we’re not limited to the Renaissance this time). We had a wonderful time on our last visit and we’re really looking forward to actually getting there this time.

The quartet  next meets in York on November 7, my first time back in the Jack Lyons since my farewell concert of music by Veljo Tormis  with The 24 back in 2010 or so. This will be River God Songs and will include material from our proposed next album, including Moeran, Warlock and Peter Pope as well as the new John Paul Jones and Peter Erskine pieces. We’re also hoping to  do Ian Telfer’s Finisterre. This is a song June Tabor first recorded with the Oysterband in 1989, and then re-recorded in 2010 for her own album Ashore. The first version is a fairly anonymous sea shanty, the second one of the most eloquent and moving songs I’ve ever heard, so it’s a sort of tribute to June T and the idea that a song can be whatever you want it to be. I’ll probably try it out in September with the Dowland Project to make sure it works in our semi-improvised way (I’m tempted to play the piano…).

Two days later we’ll repeat the York programme in the Greenwich Early Music Festival (in Blackheath), and then we reconvene in Spain for concerts in Seville (28th) and Cadiz (29th) after which we go on to the Canary Islands.

Conductus in Worms

On September 2 I’ll join Christopher O’Gorman and my former Hilliard colleague Rogers Covey-Crump in the Magnuskirche Worms for the opening concert in the Kultursommerreihe Via Mediaeval series (no idea why it’s billed as in that link – I’m obviously bigger in Worms than I thought). Five years ago we did one of our first trio concerts in the same series. We’re returning 3 CDs, acres of research and dozens of performance later, to present a completely new programme which will also include some heavyweight organa (possibly being sung for the first time in 800 years).

St Bridget in Uppsala

On September 14  I’ll be with Serikon for the Travels of St Bridget programme in Uppsala cathedral,  following on from our concerts in Sweden last year. The programme will also include new versions of at least one of Gavin Bryars’ Laude arranged by Gavin specially for this ensemble.

Gavin in Bryarland

…and I’ll be doing two concerts of Gavin’s music in Ireland in November (it’s a very busy month). These will be in Cork (25) and Dublin (26) and will include Winestead (composed for the Hull City of Culture last year) and a new commission to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Triskel Arts Centre.

Resurrecting Dufay 

On November 10  I’ll be getting together in Sheffield Cathedral with my ex-Hilliard Ensemble colleague David James to do Jacob Heringman’s transcription of Guillaume Dufay’s L’Homme Arme mass for the three of us (Jake playing the two lower parts). In between the mass movements we’ll do Byrd and Tallis Motets. The Dufay mass is one that I particularly enjoyed singing with David and the Hilliards. It must be nearly 20 years since we last did it, so fingers crossed…

Dowland Project in Germany

It’s been a while since the Dowland Project’s last gig so I’m delighted we’ve been asked to Murnau on October 21 for the Grenzenlos world music festival. The line-up will be me, John Surman, Milos Valent and Jacob Heringman and there will be improvisations galore (based loosely around the Night Sessions album), some Schubert and a tribute to local musical hero Placidus von Camerloher. There is nothing more liberating than a Dowland Project gig, and I can’t wait.

 

…and a postscript:

I don’t think I actually mentioned Aretha Franklin in A History of Singing, so it was a big surprise to see the book quoted (though not attributed) in a Guardian leader celebrating her life.  It’s quite touching when you discover someone’s actually read your stuff, and especially when they can extrapolate from it (the Guardian’s writer puts a wonderfully human gloss on the real importance of singing). In Krakow last week a couple came up after the concert and asked me to sign their well-worn copy of the Cambridge Companion – or their bible, as they called it.

Anglo-German Adventures

May 20th, 2018

 

I first visited Germany on my way to Istanbul, hitch-hiking between school and university. My friend Nick, who was bolder than I, blagged us a lift from the car deck on the ferry and we were dropped somewhere in Germany. Off the Autobahn we found ourselves apparently lost in the countryside, but were soon picked up by a lorry from a nearby brewery. The driver was politely amused by our schoolboy German (I’d just scraped an O level) and reached behind to pass us a bottle each. The three of us happily slurped away until he dropped us off at an inn for lunch. That’s the kind of welcome a teenager doesn’t forget. A few weeks later we were in what was then Yugoslavia and were picked up by German shirt smuggler (if I understood him correctly) and he took us most of the way to Turkey, stopping near the border at a mountain spring where he treated us to fresh yogurt and gherkins. I’d never had either before and can still taste them.

I’ve been enjoying German hospitality ever since, one way or another. I got to know towns I’d never heard of through concerts with the Hilliard Ensemble. The group could have survived handsomely just on the German gigs alone (and, of course, we had a famous German record company). The hypothecated church tax meant that most churches had more money than they knew what to do with, and concert promotion was a great way to spend it.  The group’s success meant that when we started our summer school series we had many applications from some amazing German singers. Singer Pur and Amarcord, for example, went on to become world famous; some students returned each year with different ensembles and are still firm friends. The person we most have to thank is Werner Schüßler, who not only introduced us to scores of wonderful German musicians but rescued the summer school and was responsible for bringing it to Schloss Engers on the Rhine.   Werner is an educator extraordinaire (as his recently published book on singing comprehensively demonstrates) and has coached hundreds of young singers over the years (and I’ve been delighted to join him on numerous occasions). He has a particular affinity with Northern England (he speaks fluent Geordie) and is a frequent visitor to this part of the world. At 3.30 on Tuesday 29th May he will be presenting two of his student ensembles in York Minster’s Chapter House. If you can get there, come and support these young singers (I’ve coached them myself too, and can guarantee you’ll have a great time). It’s a wonderful programme including music by Hildegard von Bingen, Mendelssohn, Rheinberger and Whitacre among others, which should sound stunning in the Chapter House acoustic.   If you miss them, on the 31st they can be heard in a lunchtime concert at St Andrew’s Corbridge (12.30) followed by evensong at Hexham Abbey at 6.30.

 

English Music Festival

The previous weekend (Saturday 26th at 2.15) Jacob Heringman and I will be opening the latest edition of our Book of Lost Lute Songs at Sutton Courtenay church (where George Orwell is buried).  The first half of the programme is a sort of Paston tribute, with movements from all three Byrd masses and motets (sung and played) by Tallis, Byrd, Dowland and Anon. The second half is an all-Heringman intabulationfest of music by Warlock, Butterworth, Moeran, Stephen Wilkinson, Peter Pope and Tony Banks. Quite a lot of this we’ll be doing in versions we haven’t tried before; it will be our third recital in England this year – a record for me. Jacob can also be heard with Ariel Abramovich in the Swaledale Festival on June 7th (sold out but you might get returns). The three of us will be joining Anna Maria Friman for Alternative History gigs in Poland, Ireland, Spain, Sweden, the UK and the Canary Islands later in the year.

 

 

 

Passports for academics and musicians

May 1st, 2018

 

This is an update of my previous one on the topic to draw attention to Peter Scott’s Guardian piece this morning (sorry subscribers…). The fact that the Professor of Higher Education Studies at the Institute of Education has to show his passport to do a visiting lecture shows just how absurd the system has become. I happen to know that he’s not the only senior academic in the IoE who refuses to go along with this enforced alienation of British citizens. The comments under the by-line are interesting too – plenty from academics and administrators who’ve fallen foul of the same rules but also an undercurrent of troll-like contributions from those who think the hostile environment should be the new (continuing) normal. In fact, one doesn’t have to show one’s passport – it’s just a convenient way for university administrators to apply government policy – and I have to say that on the occasions when I’ve been asked for it the relevant admin person has clearly enjoyed  being an enforcer and raising the question of non-payment. It’s gets doubly daft, as Prof Scott and several others point out, when you wonder who in the Home Office imagines that illegal immigrants live off the fees paid to visiting lecturers. For me, the assumption that I’m an illegal immigrant unless I can prove otherwise makes me a foreigner in my own country. A passport, whatever its colour, is a document that you use when wanting to visit a foreign country, not one that proves you live in one.

It comes down to trust. University administrators don’t trust academics on all sorts of issues, and that lack of trust is what underpins much of the admin structure. If you don’t trust your employees it’s not that difficult to become an agent of government. The government doesn’t trust anybody.

———–

 

This was my original post:

The cruel and degrading treatment that the British government inflicts on those in the desperate situation of not being able to prove their citizenship reminded me of the spat I had with Aldeburgh some years ago. My problem was trivial, and in the first instance only involved one engagement,  compared with the appalling examples of long-term residents being deported or refused medical treatment. But it did involve my passport, and it shows that the government does not just suspect immigrants of being illegal but everybody.  It was the first time I’d been asked to show my passport in my own country, and I refused to do it. To cut a long saga short, I withdrew from the concert rather than collude with the Aldeburgh Festival’s collusion with the UKBA.  Rather than tell the government where to put their shameful policy, Aldeburgh felt they had to go along with it or risk losing the right to use overseas musicians.  What kind of government does this to its leading centres of culture? What kind of centre of culture acquiesces in such a policy? I subsequently discovered that braver souls in music promotion had no qualms about resisting the UKBA.  When Aldeburgh did Grimes on the Beach I wondered if the cast all had their passports in their pockets in case someone tried to sneak in from the sea behind them.

 

So musicians: keep your passports with you. Academics too. The government also requires visiting academics – British nationals giving lectures at British universities – to show their passports. The default position, as with musicians working for major promoters, is that you’re not who you say you are, and they treat you as a foreigner in your own country. If you read through my old posts you’ll see that I had a lot of support from some very unexpected sources and there has been some heartening  resistance in the academic world.  It’s yet another example of what Stefan Collini calls the ‘erosion of integrity’ in British universities, as they become ever more closely allied to the economic interests of the state rather than the educational needs and ambitions of  its people.  Stefan Collini’s piece takes as its point of departure the 1998 Bologna statement agreed by all European countries about the nature and purpose of universities, their autonomy and freedoms.

 

We are about to leave Europe.

 

Death of the CD?

April 29th, 2018

 

I stopped keeping a tally of the number of recordings I’ve made when the total got to 150 or so. Some of them I’ve never owned or heard, some get re-issued and re-packaged, some even continue to sell; I suppose they represent  the story of a musical life – from fantastic highs that you want to remember for ever and some you’d rather forget. They’re also a history of the technology, from acetate demos of my more or less embarrassing teenage bands to my first LP (Handel, would you believe, but closely followed by David Munrow’s Early Music Consort of London),  lots more  vinyl, cassettes and finally CDs. Finally, because in my musical neck of the woods we’ve been around too long to get a grip on streaming and video.

Brigid Delaney’s recent piece on the death of the CD in the Guardian, provocative, simplistic and inaccurate, stimulated a fascinating discussion below the by-line from lovers and loathers of the format.  For consumers there’s no argument – if you’re younger than me you go with whatever the current technology is, if you’re of a certain age you’re probably keeping the CD industry going. It’s a curious thing about the niche world that I inhabit that the performance side tends to be age-blind (I may be flattering myself here) whereas the audiences we mostly perform to tend to be of CD-buying age. Decades ago I used to worry that the demographic we performed to would all be dead in twenty years, but it doesn’t work quite like that: there seems to be a threshold at which people start to go to concerts so the same demographic is still there. I can’t see music-lovers of my son’s generation returning to CDs though – streaming is just too comprehensive and convenient (not to mention somehow magical).

As the various formats have changed, so has the relationship between record companies and their artists. In the classical world it used to be the case that the company would pay you a fee (known as a buy-out, which meant you had no residual rights) or give you a non-repayable royalty advance (which is what being ‘signed’ means in the pop world).  The companies that I have had most to do with over the years have been Hyperion, ORF, EMI and ECM; the first two worked on a fee basis and the second two on royalty advances. The Hilliards left EMI still owing many thousands in non-repayable advances (that were spent on, among other things, extravagant post session dinners that we didn’t know we were paying for). Almost all the ECM recordings repaid their advances within a year or so. As far as I know ECM is the only company that still works in this way, giving its artists a stake in their own music, and it can do this partly because the CDs still sell – either through one of the online distributors or by artists selling them at gigs. The numbers are small compared with even a few years ago, and the company has recently embraced streaming, though everything is available on CD or vinyl, but ECM will always be identified with a physical product – the Gesamtkunstwerk, every aspect of which has the imprint of Manfred Eicher.

If you’re not lucky enough to record for a major label (or if you’re a new jazz or pop band) there are plenty of smaller labels who will consider taking you on. These are often run by audiophile entrepreneurs who produce excellent recording, but they work to a very different economic model. You pay for the recording, and may agree to buy a certain number of CDs. The company may have a distributor or you might decide to create your own label and sell at gigs. Either way, you are very unlikely to get your money back unless you do a lot of gigs. If it costs, say, £5000 to make an album you’ll need to sell 50 albums at 100 gigs to break even. Many of us would be lucky to sell half that at most gigs, so call it 200 gigs. Average 25 gigs a year? 8 years before you break even – probably longer as you won’t still be doing the same repertoire in 8 years’ time, and you might well have more recent recordings to compete with it.

Like most of my fellow performers I’ve never considered recording as an economic activity – it’s primarily a musical thing which may or may not earn something (some of mine have). As Manfred Eicher put it in his Royal Academy talk recently, you go somewhere, meet people, make music then go home. It’s always a wonderfully intense experience but it’s a one-off and you then forget all about it. That’s fine if the production and distribution are in the hands of the record company of course, but if you’re funding your own recordings you can’t avoid engaging with the whole process. I’ve never done that, and I continue to have a wonderfully creative relationship with ECM after some twenty-five years, but there is a musical elephant in the room in connection with the Alternative History project. The quartet is an ECM band, but increasingly various fractals (as Robert Fripp would put it) perform music that taps in to the project agenda but which there is no chance ECM would want to record. It’s the even niche-er end of a very niche market. Do we go down the self-funding route? Will I still be performing in 8 years’ time? Quite possibly, but almost certainly very different repertoire (my plan to sing until I drop involves doing much older music as I get much older). A YouTube channel maybe?  That might be the way forward – no profit but relatively little outlay, and the music will be there for people to enjoy. We’ll see.

Life after Josquin…

April 2nd, 2018

A luxury of lutenists

 

Jacob Heringman  &  Ariel Abramovich

(with John Paul Jones, centre)

 

I don’t know what the collective noun for lutenists is, but I’m very fortunate to work with two amazing players, Ariel Abramovich and Jacob HeringQman (John Paul’s preferred instrument after the bass guitar is the mandolin…). Together, they are the creative engine room of the Alternative History project which has produced the ground-breaking Amores Pasados and Secret History albums for ECM. The Alternative History diary for this year includes concerts in Krakow, Cork, York, London, Gothenburg, Seville, Cadiz and the Canaries, and the three of us also have plans for a programme that combines the calm subtlety of renaissance lute duets with the virtuosic mayhem of the jazz-like ‘division repertoire’ of the early 17th century. Ariel and Jake can be heard as a duo in the Swaledale Festival on June 7th, but book soon as they are likely to sell out.

escaping to Ecuador with Ariel Abramovich

[photo Guy Carpenter]

In addition to our quartet with Anna Maria Friman, I do separate programmes with Ariel  and Jacob. Ariel and I are celebrating ten years of concerts together, most recently in the Canary Islands and Ecuador, and we will be returning to Spain (our more familiar stamping ground) later in the year. Our repertoire has focused heavily on English lute songs, notably Dowland and Campion, and our current programme In This Trembling Shadow, combines this with intabulations of Byrd and Victoria.  Our performance of the Byrd 3 voice mass in Quito at around 3000 metres above sea level may be the highest Byrd has flown (I was actually offered oxygen before our first gig…).

[photo Guy Carpenter]

Jacob and I first worked together so long ago that neither of us can remember when, and Jake’s concern for our carbon footprint has serendipitously led to our doing more concerts in the UK. Our most recent work has evolved under the title ‘Life After Josquin’ and taps into both Jacob’s well-known work on Josquin intabulations and the ‘Alternative History’ way of doing things.  The title refers to the renaissance practice of re-inventing choral music as lute-based chamber music with (or without) voice(s) which often continued to be performed long after the composers were dead.  Jake has become adept at tabbing not only Josquin and his contemporaries but also twentieth & twenty-first century choral music and songs. Especially those called Peter (as in Warlock, Pope and Erskine).

April 22: Life After Josquin in York

The intabulation repertoire was created for informal performances at home, and it was probably the way most people heard renaissance polyphony (the choral interpretations beloved of the early music movement were relatively rare). Having said that, modern performances (whatever the Besetzung) invariably happen in a concert environment that is not remotely domestic, and although you can finesse the repertoire itself you can’t really avoid ‘Performing’ it. On April 22 Jacob Heringman and I will have a unique opportunity to explore this repertoire in something like a renaissance environment, courtesy of  Thomas and Jo Green who occasionally put on concerts in their house in York.  The plan at the moment is to repeat most of the Life After Josquin programme that we did in Newcastle in February, but in keeping with the informal nature of the event we will probably make it up as we go along (taking requests might be a bit tricky but not out of the question). It should be the perfect acoustic environment for the lute, but it will present interesting challenges for me as a singer: even my ‘early-music-lite’ way of singing would be a bit in yer face in a roomful of 20 people, so I’ll be experimenting with an even more speech-like delivery than usual. God knows what it’ll sound like, but it’ll certainly be the closest I’m likely to get to what we used to call an authentic performance.

May 26: The Book of Lost Lute Songs at the English Music Festival

Jake and I will be appearing next at the English Music Festival on May 26th at All Saints church Sutton Courtenay Oxfordshire (2.15 start). This programme takes the intabulation principle into more recent music. The first half will be all Tallis, Dowland and Byrd (excerpts from all three masses); the second half will consist of Jake’s intabulations of Warlock, Butterworth and Moeran, and of more recent pieces by Peter Pope, Stephen Wilkinson and Tony Banks. The festival was a little wary of including the latter (it’ll be Follow thy fair Sun from Amores Pasados) but I hope they’ll be reassured after the success of Tony’s orchestral album 5. 

 

Peter Erskine writes for Alternative History

We’re thrilled that American jazz legend Peter Erskine has written a new piece for us (with words by Anne Hills and intabulation by Jake).  Ash and Snow will be premiered in Krakow in August and we’ll also do it at Triskel in Cork (now re-scheduled for September after the snow beat us last time) .

 

S(no)w business like…

March 1st, 2018

 

STOP PRESS! Triskel concert re-scheduled for Sept 21!

 

Triskel travel terminated…

We tried very hard to get to Cork for the Alternative History concert in Triskel’s 40th birthday series but the weather gods eventually won.  Jacob Heringman got as far as Holyhead before turning back after my flight was cancelled. After all Tony Sheehan’s hard work to get us there I just wanted to cry, but we’ll have another go later in the year. If you’re sitting in Cork airport with a cancelled flight, the album is on Spotify… or you can catch us soon in Poland, Spain, the UK or the Canary Islands.

Islas Canarias

So I now have a few days off before going to the Canary Islands with Ariel Abramovich for the Sacred Music Festival. Our programme there is a new one and is the first in our 10th anniversary season. The title In This Trembling Shadow comes from the eponymous song in Dowland’s  Pilgrim’s Solace. We’ll also be doing the famous Thou Mighty God trilogy from the same book, Campion’s Author of  Light and motets by Victoria. In between there will be movements from Byrd’s 3 voice mass.

The first recital is at the Iglesia de Santa Brigida in Gran Canaria on March 16th. We then go to Tenerife and the Iglesia de Las Clarisas in  La Laguna on March 17th, and finally to the Iglesia San Francisco in Sta.Cruz de La Palma. Three evenings of intensive music making in amazing churches (and much as love snow it’ll be relief do go somewhere where there isn’t any).

Tristram Shandy

I come back to England for the Tristram Shandy celebration on March 22nd before re-joining Ariel in Madrid the next day on our way to Ecuador.  For the concert at St George’s Hanover Square I’ll be getting together briefly with my old Hilliard Ensemble colleagues for a performance of Roger Marsh’s Poor Yorick. This promises to be a hugely entertaining evening with readings and music on the 250th anniversary of Sterne’s funeral in the same building.

Festival Internacional de Música Sacra Quito

This will be my first visit to Ecuador, and Ariel and I will be opening the sacred music festival with In This Trembling Shadow, and once again we’ll perform in extraordinarily beautiful churches. The schedule looks like this:

  • Sunday, March 25 Church of El Carmen Alto. 18.00
  • Monday, March 26 Variety Theater Ernesto Albán. 11.00 Master class.
  • Monday, March 26 Church of the company. 7:30 PM

Flammarion Correspondences

I get a week off at Easter (unlike  most of my fellow tenors who are frantically Bach-ing away with the seasonal passions), then at the beginning of April I’ll be spending a week at Trinity Laban working on Edward Jessen’s Flammarion Correspondences. This is a preliminary exploration with a production company intended to produce promotional material which will appeal to theatrical promoters in the UK and Europe. We’re aiming at a work-in-progress preview on Friday April 13th.

 

Life after Josquin

Jacob Heringman and I had the first outing of our Josquin programme at Newcastle University last week. We were asked not to cross the picket line and to cancel the concert, but I came to an amicable understanding with the union having gently I pointed out that they were expecting us to give up our meagre fee so that they could have a better pension and I couldn’t recall any of my old academic colleagues volunteering a pay cut so freelance musicians could be paid more. I was all prepared to thank a tiny audience for crossing the line and announce that we nevertheless supported the strike, but was completely wrong-footed when we went on stage to one of the biggest audiences for a lute song recital that I’ve seen for a while.

Our next performance, probably of this programme or something very like it, will be one of the smallest at a house concert in York.  We’ll be doing two performances (with tea and biscuits!): 2.30 for 3.00 or around 4.30 for 5.00 on April 22nd.  Unlike our previous one in the hugely resonant King’s Hall this will be very intimate, and perhaps not unlike listeners in the early 17th century might have experienced it (I don’t think I’ve ever performed in such a minimal acoustic, and I hope it doesn’t sound like my front room).  You can book a seat here but be quick as it’s likely to be full.

In May we’ll be back to a more resonant acoustic in the 12th century church of All Saints Sutton Courtenay. We’ll be doing parts of all three Byrd masses as well as Jake’s transcriptions of Warlock, Moeran, Peter Pope and Stephen Wilkinson at the English Music Festival.

 

There’s a longer list of ECM-related gigs on the ECM site.

 

 

 

More Spring updates

February 8th, 2018

Since the last update more details have come in about Roger Marsh’s Poor Yorick at the Laurence Sterne celebrations with my former Hilliard Ensemble colleagues on March 22, after which I leave for Ecuador for concerts and a masterclass in Quito with Ariel Abramovich.  I’ll post further details about all these shortly, and concerts in April with Edward Jessen and Jacob Heringman.

La dársena

Ariel Abramovich has just given a long interview about Secret History (in Spanish)  for RTVE’s  La dársena music magazine programme. You can catch it here (starts at 1.25.19):  http://www.rtve.es/alacarta/audios/la-darsena/darsena-ariel-abramovich-04-02-18/4459498/

Tony Banks 5

Tony Banks’ new orchestral album 5 has had a rapturous reception in the prog press, and Tony has spoken about the songs he’s composed  for me on the Genesis-News Website as well as in the current Record Collector (no relation to The Record Collector I mentioned in a recent post):

 

I went several times to the Marquee in 1967 though I didn’t see the Nice. I did hear the Yardbirds (with Eric Clapton), John Mayall,  Sonny Boy Williamson, Long John Baldry  and a very young and delicate Rod (‘the Mod’, as he then was) Stewart. The  Swingles stayed at the same hotel as Rod in Perth about ten years later, and we all stood and gawped as he processed through the foyer with his entourage.  I once heard a journalist ask Ward Swingle what he thought of progressive bands like Genesis, Pink Floyd, Nice, Yes? To which he replied ‘Very…’.

The diary for the next couple of months looks like this at the moment (recent updates in blue):

February 22

Life after Josquin                           Newcastle University (13.10)

(with Jacob Heringman lute)

 

March 2

Alternative History                        Triskel Arts Centre Cork

 

March 16

In this trembling shadow

Iglesia de Santa Brígida, Sta. Brígida, GRAN CANARIA. (20:00)

(with Ariel Abramovich (lute)

 

March 17

In this trembling shadow

Iglesia de Las Clarisas, La Laguna, TENERIFE (20:30)

(with Ariel Abramovich lute)

 

March 18

In this trembling shadow

Iglesia San Francisco, Sta.Cruz de La Palma, LA PALMA (12:30)

(with Ariel Abramovich lute)

 

March 22

Laurence Sterne celebrations       St George’s Hanover Square, London

(Roger Marsh: Poor Yorick with former members of the Hilliard Ensemble)

 

March 24

Master class                                  

Festival Internacional de Música Sacra, Quito, Ecuador

(with Ariel Abramovich lute)

 

March 26

In this Trembling shadow           

Festival Internacional de Música Sacra, Quito, Ecuador

(with Ariel Abramovich lute)

 

March 27

In this Trembling shadow           

Festival Internacional de Música Sacra, Quito, Ecuador

(with Ariel Abramovich lute)

 

April 13

Flammarion Correspondences   Bonnie Bird Theatre, London

(Edward Jessen preview)

 

April 22

Life after Josquin                           York (house concert 3.00)

(with Jacob Heringman lute)

 

May 26

Book of Lost Lute Songs               EMF Sutton Courtenay (2.15)

(with Jacob Heringman lute)

Discography

I’ve at last got around to updating the discography page. It’s still not complete but at least the press quotes are now pasted beside the relevant albums (thanks Inigo).