:: Alternative History


Shedding time

Saturday, June 16th, 2018

 

One of the features of the freelance life is that work is rarely regular – you’re either running yourself ragged or staring at a blank page in the diary. Having been to Spain, South America and the Canaries earlier in the year (and even done a record number of gigs in the UK) I now have a month off during which I’m going to build a greenhouse/shed. The greenhouse bit will be a very posh creation made from the Georgian(ish) sashes currently on the front of the house that we’re replacing with double glazed versions (beautifully crafted by the wonderful Nigel Wood). We’re going to graft a selection of the old ones onto half a spanking new shed. The next time I have a month off – likely to be next spring at this rate – I’ll be able to get the garden going a lot earlier than this year.

This is the current miserable version:

 

From time to time I’ll post updates as the great work evolves. In the meantime, this is what I’m up to from the summer onwards:

Alternative History

We’ll be 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 will include new compositions and intabulations alongside the early music. Ariel and Jake will play Arvo Pärt’s Pari Intervallo in a version newly sanctioned by the composer (‘Play it faster!’), and we will do the first performance of Ash and Snow composed by former Weather Report drummer Peter Erskine, and the first performance in Poland of John Paul Jones’ Cradle Song which we first performed in the Swaledale Festival last year.

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).

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 Rogers Covey-Crump (another ex-Hilliard colleague) in the Magnuskirche Worms for a programme 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, hopefully with a new piece by Gavin Bryars, following on from our concerts in Sweden last year.

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 (24) and Dublin (25) 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.

Anglo-German Adventures

Sunday, 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.

 

 

 

Life after Josquin…

Monday, 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…

Thursday, 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

Thursday, 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).

 

Spring diary dates

Friday, January 19th, 2018

 

Life after Josquin

Jacob Heringman and I start the season with our new Life after Josquin programme at the King’s Hall Newcastle at lunchtime on February 22nd. This continues the Alternative History agenda of performing 15th & 16th century polyphony as it might have been performed by subsequent generations deconstructed for voice and lute. We’ll be doing Josquin’s Pange Lingua mass and motets by Tallis and Byrd. At the English Music Festval later in the year we’ll be doing a programme of Byrd and Tallis alongside Jake’s intabulations of Warlock, Moeran and Peter Pope, and keep an eye out for our version of Dufay’s L’homme arme mass with my old Hilliard colleague David James.

Triskel’s 40th anniversary season

 

The full Alternative History quartet will assemble in Cork the following week for our contribution to the Triskel Arts Centre’s 40th season. The programme, Secret History: Renaissance Polyphony for Voices & Vihuelas, is based on the album (Victoria’s Missa Surge Propera and motets by Josquin) and will be recorded by Lyric FM and broadcast throughout the EBU on European Early Music Day on March 21st. This is doubly wonderful for us – firstly it’s a delight and a privilege to be back at Triskel, and secondly as a European ensemble it’s fantastic to be broadcasting to the whole continent from a proper European country. A huge thankyou to Tony Sheehan and to Lyric FM. Later in the year the quartet be returning to Poland and Spain, and even to the UK…

Festival de Música Religiosa de Canarias

 

Ariel Abramovich will start our tenth anniversary season with a short tour of the Canary Islands March 14-18. This will also tap into the Alternative History idea, this time with a programme based on the Paston manuscripts featuring English and European music from many periods as it might have been performed in England in the early 17th century.

Stay tuned for news of Former Members of the Hilliard Ensemble late March in London, and have a look at Lalala for an interview with yours truly which expands a bit on my time with the Hilliards and other collaborations.

photos Guy Carpenter (1&2) & Pablo Juarez (3)

Remembering Roger Williams

Wednesday, November 22nd, 2017

Every now and again something happens to remind me that the life of a freelance performer is not quite the same as those who do a regular job. You share with your fellow musicians the excitements and the uncertainties of life on the road or in the studio and you have to get to know people pretty quickly, often working in intense bursts with people who briefly become great friends but whom you may never see again.

A few months ago I was contacted by Gillian Williams, wife of the trombonist Roger Williams who died earlier this year after a long struggle with cancer. Gillian had some photos that she thought might be of me, that Roger had taken back in the eighties. Would I like them? The first rule of being a performer is never listen to your recordings and the second is never look at your photographs, so it was with some trepidation that I asked Gillian to send them. I’ve lost count of the number of photographers I’ve met over the years, but some stand out. My earliest pro photographer memories are of sitting on a canon in the Tower of London with the Gentle Power of Song while someone from Polydor tried to get us to take the session seriously. Some years later Colin Gibbs took the iconic shot of the Swingles in a mason’s yard that became the cover of Madrigals (but what impressed me most was being driven around in CBS art director Roslav Szaybo’s brand new E-type Jag). The Douglas Brothers pics for the cover of Red Byrd’s Songs of love and Death were also spectacular (Factory Records sparing no expense).  The Hilliards used to dread photo sessions, but every so often Roberto Masotti would hit the mark between espressi at his Milan place (the Officium cover is one of his) and Tonmeister Peter Laenger was, like Roger Williams, a musician who also had a very sensitive eye for a visual composition. The other cover pic that stands out is Anna Tchernakova’s shot of Anna Maria Friman and me for Gavin Bryars’ Oi me lasso – Anna looking serene as ever and me close to death with ‘flu. More recently I’ve had some windy, wet and wonderful times with Guy Carpenter and the Alternative History project (there was a wonderfully orange reproduction of his water shot in the programme booklet for the Poznan Nostalgia Festival last week).

Seeing Roger Williams’ photos brought back a sheaf of memories from so long ago it seems like another life. As a musician Roger knew what it was like to be photographed, to have to summon up enthusiasm for something so vital and yet so tangential to what we do. We were all struggling young(ish) musicians then and it probably cost him more in film than I was able to pay him. The results still look convincing after thirty years. I probably first met him around 1983 as there’s a set of shots from the one gig I did with Gothic Voices, Christopher Page, Rogers Covey-Crump, Margaret Philpot looking very young.

Sometime after that there’s a set of formal portraits to send to promoters and agents (in which I look uncannily like my son Ned who’s now several years older than I was then) , and from 1988 a series of publicity shots for Henry Brown’s ‘And the Word was made Flesh’. This was an elaborate theatre piece that subsequently got me into no end of trouble. The pictures are from a dress rehearsal and Henry hadn’t finished constructing the set so Roger had to capture the spirit of the work with none of us quite knowing what the show would actually look like.

The plot was based on the pataphysical concepts of Albert Jarry, and took place in and around a giant vagina…

…and involved a complicated sound and light set-up as well as monkey masks and rather fine waistcoats.

One of the props was a ‘Physick stick’ –  part pistol and part loo-plunger. The score specified one shot, standing on one leg behind the audience before I clambered onto the stage while everyone was still in shock. The business end of the physick stick – a German bird-scaring pistol – hadn’t arrived in time for the photo session so we had to improvise:

After the first performance I was advised that theatres would require me to have a gun license so I took the contraption to the Essex Police fire arms department, who clearly thought I was bonkers (it’s not me guv, it’s the composer!) but conceded that I’d better have the right paper work. By the time it came through I’d done what turned out to be the last performance and I forgot all about it until a knock on the door a few years later. ‘About your gun, sir…’. ‘What gun?’ ‘The one with the expired licence…’ I retrieved it from the attic. The somewhat bemused WPC obviously hadn’t seen a physick stick before but after some rather surreal discussion she granted me an amnesty on the condition I gave her a carrier bag to take it back to the nick without anyone seeing it. I later kept the props (including a large plastic penis and two infra-red sensitive monkey costumes) in my office at York, and left them there for my successor to enjoy.

‘And the Word’ was the most elaborate and most fun theatre I piece I ever commissioned. It was also the most exhausting, needing hours to set up and take down (it had 8 channel tape wielded by the legendary John Whiting), and I just couldn’t keep it up. The photo session was also the last time I remember seeing Roger. He went on to become one of the most successful bass trombonists, and I got very busy with the Hilliard Ensemble and the newly-founded Red Byrd. I remember him as a warm and charismatic fellow musician with a huge amount of patience. There’s a wonderful online tribute to him by the trumpeter Paul Archibald. I think I only worked once with Paul, and that was on the first performance of part of Stockhausen’s Donnerstag at Riverside Studios under Richard Bernas. It was my first experience of Stockhausen and led indirectly to my being one of the few performers paid a huge sum not to appear at Covent Garden when I understudied the role at very short notice a few years later. My audition piece to Stockhausen and Michael Bogdanov was the monkey dance from ‘And the word was made flesh’.

with huge thanks to Gillian Williams

Nothing like the sun in Leeds & Prague

Thursday, October 19th, 2017

 

I haven’t sung Gavin Bryars’ great Shakespeare cycle since the Australia trip a couple of years ago (though we did Sonnet 128  with Alternative History in Querenca last week).  This  time I’ll be joined by Sarah Dacey (famous soprano from Juice – who many moons ago was the first student to brave doing an MA with me at York). The Leeds performance is at the Howard Assembly Rooms at 7.45 on Wednesday 25th, and then we go to Prague for a performance on the 27th at the Archa Theatre.

Alternative History

We had a great time in Portugal last week and I’m looking forward to our next gig in Poznan at the Nostalgia Festival on November 18th. Jake, Ariel and I will then record some Josquin back in the UK the following week. Our dedicated page on this site is now up and running and you can find more details of the project here.

Cecilia Frode’s Från det blå skåpet 

I’m back in Sweden for the last week November for the intriguing Cecilia Frode project with Serikon and Mare Balticum. I now know something of what Cecilia’s script is about and it’s fascinating to watch the audience’s reactions to Från det blå skåpet. And yes, I do wear tails but so do the women, and I get to wear blue shoes.  Duo Lingo tells me I’m only 13% fluent in Swedish. Better than the 1% I got down to earlier this year though.

I’m taking most of December off. This is what the current diary looks like:

October 25 Gavin Bryars Nothing like the sun Howard Assembly Rooms Leeds

October 28 Gavin Bryars Nothing like the sun Archa Theatre Prague

November 18 Alternative History Nostalgia Festival Poland

November 24 Josquin recording with Ariel Abramovich & Jacob Heringman

Novermber 29 Cecilia Frode/Serikon Från det blå skåpet: Teatern i Falkhallen Falkenberg

November 30 Cecilia Frode/Serikon Från det blå skåpet: Växjö Theatre

December 1 Cecilia Frode/Serikon Från det blå skåpet: Kalmar Teater

 

Sunday, October 8th, 2017

Not very close encounters

Some months ago I had a bizarre phone call. Are you the UK’s world expert on John Dowland? Er…well…I spluttered, modesty and all that… It was someone from the production company making the Philip K Dick series currently showing on Channel 4. I had to sign a confidentiality agreement before I found out anything more, and then I was sent a script for Crazy Diamond, which went out last night. My task was to teach one actor (Steve Buscemi) to teach another actor (Sidse Babbet Knudsen) a bit of Flow my Tears, to enable them to operate some sort of electronic key and burgle a building.  A few weeks later I turned up at the rehearsal studio but the two stars needed very little coaching from me. I always try to get singers to sing like actors and here were actors actually doing it (there are plenty of YouTube clips of both of them in action). They were so good I told them they didn’t need me at the actual filming, which was a bit silly, on reflection. Oh, and they said they were going to use the track from my Dowland album over the credits. They didn’t.  Steve and Sidse were lovely by the way – and he’s still got my tuning fork.

The Dowland Project will be doing gigs in Germany next autumn.

Alternative History

Amores Pasados was taken by British Airways for their transatlantic flights, and Secret History is continuing  the tradition: it’s been selected by Oman Airways. This weekend we’re in Portugal at the  XIX Encontro de Música Antiga de Loulé Francisco Rosado. It’ll be the first time we’ve appeared under our new name. It’s a special Shakespeare-orientated programme but we’ll also be doing a couple of Josquin pieces. Next month we’re in Poznan and there are lots of gigs next year, so far in Spain, Poland and Ireland, and even (possibly) in the UK.

Alive or Dead: my life in composers

I’ve been asked to do a composers’ seminar at the Music Department. It’s the first time I’ve been back apart from concerts or seeing old friends. I thought I’d talk about composers I’d worked with since I left. But then I thought why only seven years – I’ll do all sixty since I was a choirboy. That’ll teach them. It’s at 4.00 on Tuesday in Sally Baldwin D008, Music Department, University of York. Open to all – it would be great to see some old friends there.

 

 

 

ALTERNATIVE HISTORY

Friday, September 1st, 2017

Alternative History has a number  of things in common with the Dowland Project, the most obvious of which is that we didn’t settle on a name until after the first release (2nd, in the case of AH).  The name business is a really tedious question to wrestle with (we just want to get on with the music) but it’s obviously important for concert promoters and agents. My own only slightly egotistical take on this is that we’re all already known to most of our likely audience, and a new name would mean starting from scratch. We managed to release Amores Pasados under our own individual names, but this led to endless confusion about the name of the album vs the name of the ensemble, a problem which got even worse when Secret History came along. I very much wanted this to have everyone’s name on the front – like everything we do it’s a totally collaborative effort. But having tried several drafts, ECM just couldn’t fit us all on. The result, ironically, is just my name in massive letters. I love the ECM design criteria and I absolutely understand the aesthetic, but it doesn’t always work in favour of the musicians and can have unintended consequences. The Guardian online review has our  great Guy Carpenter puddle pic (above) but talks of Potter going solo, which is to completely misunderstand the nature of our work (mind you, one of the German papers talks of ‘the Potter phenomenon’, which no one’s ever called me before). Anyway, the important thing is that the album is out there, and we’ll be featuring a Josquin & Victoria programme alongside Amores Pasados. In the duo programmes with Jake and Ariel we’ll also be doing some Josquin alongside Banks and Sting, and Jake and Ariel will be including duets from the album in their duo programmes. We also have a brilliant Alternative History pdf which we’ll be sending to promoters. I’ll  put up an update with press comments etc later this month, and when I have a bit of time (unlikely this month) I’ll do a dedicated Alternative History page. There’s a bit of video and an extract from the Victoria Benedictus on the ECM Facebook site here.

 

 

There hasn’t  yet been a Gramophone review of Secret History but the September issue has a retrospective of all the Les Noces CDs, of which the 1990 Hyperion recording I did with James Wood comes out top of the pile. We’re in some very distinguished company, so it’s quite an achievement. It was a wonderful Anglo-Russian collaboration,  myself and Jane Ginsborg with the formidable Elena Medvedovskaya and Alexander Nazarov (who were very tactful about our pronunciation). I think it’s the only time I’ve recorded in Russian (the Hilliards didn’t record the early Part pieces, though Alternative History has plans…).

This is the diary for September:

8            Conductus   Romaldkirk

15           Serikon         Uppsala (Luther conference)

18           Benslow        Book of Lost Lute Songs (with Jacob Heringman)

18-21     Benslow voice & lute course with Jacob Heringman

27           Serikon/Cecilia Frode      Kristianstad

28           Serikon/Cecilia Frode      Halmstad

29           Serikon/Cecilia Frode      Ystad

30           Serikon/Cecilia Frode      Malmo

To come: Alternative History in Portugal and Poland, Gavin Bryars Nothing Like the Sun in Prague and more Serikon/Cecilia Frode shows in southern Sweden