:: Conductus


Worms to Uppsala

Saturday, 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

Tuesday, 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

Saturday, 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.

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

 

Anon at the BBC

Wednesday, August 2nd, 2017

If you’ve been listening to Radio 3’s Composer of the Week – The Birth of Polyphony – you may be interested to know who was doing the singing (Donald Macleod being rather reluctant to identify who’s who). In the second programme I sang for the best part of an hour without once being credited. The opening piece, Leonin’s Goria Redemptori meo (around six minutes) was me and Rogers Covey-Crump, in case you were wondering, and it’s from a live concert recording at one of our Hilliard Cambridge Summer Schools.  The programme featured Perotin’s two big four voice pieces Viderunt and Sederunt at the other end of the programme, and in between a huge hunk of Leonin sung by Richard Wistreich and me (from what we think of as our Hyperion Lenin phase). The third programme began with the anonymous Fas et Nefas conductus, sang anonymously by yours truly with Rogers Covey-Crump and Christopher O’Gorman (also available on Hyperion). Well, I guess it’s good for us egomaniacs.

I’ll be listening in to the interval chat during Sunday’s prom. At least we all get a credit in the blurb:

8.10pm INTERVAL: Throwing a Wobbly
Louise Fryer uncovers the ups and downs of vocal vibrato. How and why do singers use it? With guests sopranos Janis Kelly and Peyee Chen, tenor John Potter, scientist Helena Daffern and early music researcher Richard Bethell. 

While I’m on the subject of the BBC…the Dowland Project gets an honorary mention in Andrea Valentino’s piece for BBC Global News. Along with Sting of course, and Ed Sheeran (the Dowland de nos jours). Thanks to Jake Heringman for sending the link.

FEMAP

 

A huge thankyou to Josep Maria Dutrèn and the FEMAP team. Ariel and I had a fabulous time in Catalunya – and special thanks to those who followed us all the way up the mountain.

 

Autumn gigs

Saturday, August 27th, 2016

It’s going to be an interesting autumn with the first Amores Pasados concerts in Germany, and recitals in Argentina and the Canary Islands with Ariel Abramovich. I’ll also be getting together with my old Hilliard Ensemble colleagues for a grand charity concert at St Paul’s Covent Garden, and Jacob Heringman and I will be doing a lutesong course at Benslow (the first time I’ve been there since the days of Tragicomedia and the Hilliard Festival of Voices eons ago). We hope to encourage participants to think beyond the 30 year window that is English lute song.

Here’s what I’ll be up to in the next two months:

September 10 Blaibach  Kulturwald Festival Amores Pasados

September 19 Benslow Music Hitchin Secret Lute Songs recital with Jacob Heringman

September 20-22 Benslow Music Hitchin lutesong workshop with Jacob Heringman

October 5 London  St Paul’s Covent Garden ex-Hilliard Ensemble charity concert

October 8 CCK Buenos Aires lutesong recital with Ariel Abramovich

October 21 La Laguna (Tenerife) lutesong recital with Ariel Abramovich

October 23 Murnau World Music Festival Amores Pasados

October 24 Heidelberg Enjoy Jazz  Amore Pasados

 

There are no Conductus dates in the diary at the moment, but we have a newly revamped webpage here.

Conductus complete

Wednesday, July 20th, 2016

nb: new Conductus webpage here

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The performance element of the Conductus project reached its climax at the 5th annual course on medieval music inBesalú  at the weekend.

 

Concert pic

 

Funded by the AHRC, led by Mark Everist at the University of Southampton, and known officially as Cantum pulcriorum invenire (‘Finding a finer song’), the project has involved Christopher O’Gorman, Roger Covey-Crump and me in more than a dozen concerts and workshops in five different countries as well as three CDs. Our repertoire consists of some fifty pieces and is continuing to expand.  A big thankyou from the three of us to the AHRC, all the Southampton team, our manager Robert White and those workshop organisers who did such a great job. We’re looking forward to future collaboration (and, of course, the book). For those interested in the complete story – the venues, the repertoire, the name changes… there are more than 30 posts on this site charting our progress over the last few years.

We had a terrific time in Besalú – a great bunch of students from all over the planet (Mexico, the USA, Japan, Canada, France, not to mention Catalunya…) and a relaxed, friendly,  efficiently organised course.

 

Workshop pic

 

Mauricio Molina‘s vision will surely carry his project forward to great things in the future.  Part of our concert was featured on the local tv station (the final shot, somewhat embarrassingly, featuring an edition that was more Australian than Southampton…). We ended our last workshop with an open rehearsal of Exiit sermo, a virtuosic three voice organum which we’re performing in Gloucester next week.

 

Cantum image

One of the conditions of the AHRC grant was that we should reach beyond the higher education community, and we tapped into the wider audience this implied by engaging with festivals and concert series, some of which had never had a medieval experience before. Now that the research project is complete we’re able to take a sideways step into academia, so if there are universities out there interested in our post-Conductus projects do please get in touch…

The Hilliard Ensemble and the Art of Tidying

Tuesday, July 12th, 2016

DUFAY,  TALLIS AND THE ART OF TIDYING

David James   | Rogers Covey-Crump | Steven Harrold |

 Gordon Jones | John Potter

LONDON: St Paul’s Church Covent Garden

Wednesday 5th October at 7:00pm

http://www.wegottickets.com/event/362390

To quote Mirjam James…

‘After retiring at the end of 2014, the former members of The Hilliard Ensemble (one of the world’s foremost male a cappella ensembles) have had time to tidy up their shelves, lofts and drawers and discovered a number of unsold cd-treasures. Realising that they don’t really need to keep multiple copies of their own cds and not wanting just to sell them they have kindly offered to donate their hidden stocks as part of a fundraising concert to support the charity ‘Music for Open Ears’. Music for Open Ears gives children of primary school age the opportunity to develop their active listening skills and fosters a love for classical music. Supporting the spirit behind Music for Open Ears – that the most exciting music is performed live – five members, David James, John Potter, Rogers Covey-Crump, Steven Harrold and Gordon Jones, will perform a selection of pieces from the cds to be sold at the concert. The one hour concert will include works such as Viderunt omnes by Perotin and the first part of Tallis’ Lamentations and will be followed by a reception and the opportunity to purchase cds. ‘

This should be a terrific occasion – not just the five of us resurrecting ourselves which should be entertaining in itself, but a chance to meet lots of old friends and make some money for Open Ears, a wonderful charity that supports music in schools. Oddly enough, before Steven Harrold took over from me permanently we had a brief incarnation as an occasional five-voice group (and we three tenors even joined Trio Mediaeval for a Scandinavian tour with Gavin  Bryars’ Second Book of Madrigals which he wrote for the six of us). The last time I appeared in the Covent Garden piazza Sean Williams and I were  busking John Edmonds’ and Nigel Osborne’s Paganini. Ned was about five and has never quite recovered from seeing me leap out of a coffin brandishing a cardboard violin.

In the meantime Rogers, Chris O’Gorman and I are off to Besalu for the final AHRC Conductus event. When we get back we begin charting a slightly new path, still exploring the conductus but branching out into organum at the Three Choirs Festival in Gloucester. Coincidentally, this programme will also have a Hilliard connection as Rogers and I will be doing Perotin’s Dum Sigillum which, like Viderunt Omnes, can be found on the Hilliards’ famous Perotin album.

More info on the reunion concert from Mirjam James musicforopenears@gmail.com or 0759 0657 025.

May news

Wednesday, April 27th, 2016

I had a lovely time in Canada, as I always do. From the moment  you arrive at Immigration Canadians welcome you (so different from the US). Peter-Anthony Togni’s Responsio is a great piece to sing, and for these performances I got to stand next to Jeff Reilly so got the full impact of his amazing bass clarinet playing. May 3rd I was in Winchester cathedral with Gavin Bryars for more danced Laude as part of the Yorke Dance Project. We were just one part of a major sacred dance event that included the Winchester University Gospel Choir.  As usual we were terrifically moved by the dancers – and what a building for such a project.

Christopher Robinson’s 80th birthday evensong

I was in Cambridge a week later to celebrate Christopher Robinson’s 80th birthday. He’s one of those people who’s had a huge effect on my life, inviting me to join the Worcester cathedral choir and thereby rescuing me from the Guildhall School of Music (whose principal had said it was his duty to ensure I became an opera singer). It was my first job, and Christopher encouraged me to audition for the BBC, which led to our doing programmes of English song together (my first broadcast recitals). Singers from all of his former choirs  joined the St John’s choir for a celebratory evensong. It was a magnificent occasion with a mighty noise lofted to the vaulting on the wings of Elgar and Howells. I managed to keep up until Dear Lord and Father of Mankind at the end. As I was snivelling into my tissue the tenor behind me laid a hand on my shoulder. I feel a bit like that too, he said.

Conductus in Cambridge

I was back in Cambridge for the Conductus concert and workshop on the 14th. This was the last AHRC sponsored event in the UK (there’s a final one in Besalu on July 16/17th; our Three Choirs Festival concert on July 26th will be a new departure).  We had a great time – fabulous workshop (‘there’s a lot of intellect here…’ Rogers observed), in many ways the most rewarding we’ve done. It was great to see so many old friends – and very gratifying that the pioneering work of Selene Mills is in very safe hand with the new CEM team. The perfect acoustic of Little St Mary’s and the beautiful light streaming in more than made up for the fact that performing in the afternoon felt distinctly weird. To our great surprise we sold a huge number of CDs, so we must have been doing something right.

Amores Pasados in York

Not long to the first UK Amores Pasados at the National Centre for Early Music in York on June 9th.   Tickets are available on line at: https://tickets.ncem.co.uk/en-GB/shows/amores%20pasados/info and if you use the coupon code AP241 you can get a  special 50% discount offer on full and concession tickets (or ring 01904 658338).

We’ll be doing several Shakespeare settings including a beautiful new setting of Sonnet 73 by Tony Banks as well as Jacob Heringman’s version of Gavin Bryars’ Sonnet 128 (originally written for Anna and me as part of his Nothing Like the Sun project commissioned by the RSC and Opera North). ECM have a new album page for the CD. This doesn’t have tour dates like the release page, but these can be found here. I can confirm that John Paul Jones is working on a new piece for the autumn for us, having finished his opera.

 

P1070578a

photo: Maria Silvera

April fuel

Friday, April 1st, 2016

It’s April – so back to work. Needless to say, I didn’t get my first book draft done (my excuse being that I was clobbered by a virus which put me out of action for several weeks) but the government’s proposals to privatise the education system to better prepare children for the job-factories we used to call universities have at least kept me focused. I’ve even contemplated a Fahrenheit 451-type futuristic novel in which the Humanities are studied in secret by teenagers who’ve opted out of the compulsory South Korean-style music-for-profit boy-band creation courses.

On a more cheerful note, I had a great time in Helsinki as part of the exam board for the fourth of five Doctoral events at the Sibelius Academy.  The Sibelius Academy runs the only Doctoral programme I’ve come across which has cracked the ‘performance as research’ conundrum; it’s expensive, individually tailored to each student, with the candidate’s creativity treated with a professional seriousness that’s very heart-warming – ie nothing like anything available in the UK (apart from being expensive).  It was a very efficient trip – I arrived in time to check in  to my hotel, did the judgin’, went to bed and caught the 3.30 (am!) bus to the airport, arriving in Manchester in time for breakfast. The next day I headed to Seville (about the same distance in the opposite direction) for our first Amores Pasados gig of the year. After a rainy start it turned out to be T-shirt weather. We did lots of songs from the album and several pieces that we hadn’t performed before including two of E J Moeran’s ‘Songs of Springtime’. Moeran’s a hugely-underestimated composer (somewhat in the shadow of his friend Peter Warlock), and his lyrical, folk-like settings that wander between modality and added-note harmonies become magical lute-songs in the hands of Jacob Heringman.  There will be more new stuff in our York performance in June, including a Shakespeare sonnet from Tony Banks., and we’ve just heard that John Paul Jones will write us a new piece for the autumn.

I’m now off to Canada for performances of Peter-Anthony Togni’s Responsio in Halifax (19th) and Montreal (20th).  There’s a great review by Dean Frey of our Juno-nominated album (we didn’t win, sadly) here. My mum tells me she’s got lots of cousins (my 2nd cousins, presumably) in Montreal, one of whom was a professional golfer (sounds a bit unlikely!). If any of you are still around come and say hi.  I’m back in the UK in time for more danced Laude with Gavin Bryars in Winchester, then it’s on with the book for a couple of weeks before the Conductus gig in Cambridge. More details in a bit.

 

album cover