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trio mediaeval at St Gerold

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Back in January I decided to take six months more or less off to focus on grandfathering and house moving stuff. There were some things I just had to do though (the final Conductus album and a last Hilliard trip among them), and last weekend I sat in on Trio Mediaeval’s latest ECM recording at St Gerold.

I’ve known the Trio almost since they started, setting a Hilliard summer school alight just a year or so after they’d first got together. Several summer schools later they surprised me by asking me to produce their first album – which I agreed to do as long as they also hired Peter Laenger as Tonmeister. At the time they had no record label in mind, but Manfred Eicher got to hear a first edit and the rest is history. We did two more albums together, and each one was pure joy. I’d never produced anything before (hence the crucial role of one the business’s great Tonmeisters), and my technique turned out to be not unlike my coaching – a sort of homeopathic approach, depending not so much on input from me as encouraging a certain sort of creative self belief in everyone else.

 

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This was the Trio’s first album with Berit Opheim. In Torunn Østrem Ossum they had a unique and much-loved bottom line, but fans of the group needn’t worry about her successor: Berit is a fantastic singer and her background as both a ‘classical’ singer and a distinguished folk musician means she’s a perfect fit in the magical Trio soundworld. The recording revealed a staggering range of tone colours from all three singers (they can all switch instantly from ‘early music pure’ to rich Nordic dialect, and from a flute-like sopranino to a bell-like tenor). I won’t reveal what’s on it (the languages range from Icelandic, southwards to Italy via a small island off the European mainland) but I can tell you it’ll be out in time for Christmas (unusually quick for ECM…).

 

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My last experience at St Gerold was definitely one to forget, so it was great to be able to go back and erase the memory properly. Previous visits included many Hilliard recordings (Officium and Mnemosyne were both recorded there) and three of the four Dowland Project albums. We were on our way to record Care-Charming Sleep when I had a message from my son Ned telling me to get to a TV set. Changing planes in Amsterdam I caught a fleeting glimpse of the screens showing the planes hitting the twin towers. We arrived at the monastery to find a small black and white tv that only worked sporadically, so we spent the next few days completely ignorant of the fact that the world had changed.

 

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It’s not quite the same as it was in Pater Nathaniel’s day – it’s a bit more business and a bit less Benedictine – but the view and the acoustic haven’t changed, nor has the arrival of copious amounts of wholesome mountain food at far too frequent intervals. And you still get woken up at 5.00 by the dawn chorus across the valley before it gives way to the chirping of house sparrows in the eves. As for the weather – it was 32 degrees and yet so cold in the church that we had to put the heating on.

The Trio went on to another gig in Switzerland, meeting up with trumpeter Arve Henriksen for a completely different programme with electronics and video. The group is unique – and surely one of the most versatile vocal ensembles in the world. Who would have thought at that first summer school that we were dealing with future Grammy-nominated artists? Well…I did…and a lovelier bunch of people you couldn’t hope to meet.

 

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