:: Conductus


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

 

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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.

 

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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.

 

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photo: Maria Silvera

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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

 

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Conductus: workshops & reviews

Friday, March 25th, 2016

Our final Conductus season is now under way with the release of the third and last eponymous Hyperion album. The deadline for applications for our next workshop (part of the  Cambridge Festival of the Voice) is fast approaching. You need to apply by April 11 and you can find details of how to register here. It takes place at Little St Mary’s 10.30 – 12.30 on Saturday May 14 before our concert in the afternoon. It’s the last AHRC-funded workshop we have planned in the UK. The next one is at the Medieval Performance Course  in Besalu July 16-17, after which we have a concert (but no workshop) at the Three Choirs Festival in Gloucester July 26. If you’re not familiar with this extraordinary and long-forgotten music you’ll find several posts below and a page of background info (with some sound clips) here.

Press has been good so far for Conductus 3. On the coals to Newcastle front Diapason gave us four stars (and tactfully avoided mentioning our French); Musicweb considered it ‘a small but bright jewel’  and our singing to be ‘fragrant’ (a first for all of us, I think); the Sunday Times was impressed with the ‘refinement and intimacy’ and several enjoyed the NCEM acoustic. The excellent  Hyperion page has longer extracts from the major reviews, and there’s a similar page for Conductus 1 and Conductus 2.

Rogers, Chris and I are greatly looking forward to meeting old friends and making new ones on our latest Conductus adventure, and to new trio projects next year.

 

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Juno, new writing & releases

Thursday, February 11th, 2016

Apologies to those looking for the gig list (there’s a provisional one below).  I’m taking three months off to finish a book. I’ve promised myself a first draft by Easter so work starts again in April (writing, being pure self-indulgence and hardly profitable, doesn’t count as work). It’s going quite well so far – that early rush where you get everything down in a very raw form before you realise it probably has to be a bit more tactful (and possibly better researched).  Later in the year three other odd bits of writing will finally appear: ‘Voice, Genre, Species? How the tenor voice has been defined since the first recordings’ will be published by Schott Mainz in Der Tenor: Mythos, Geschichte und Gegenwart (in my original English after all rather than a German translation); my piece on Pier Francesco Tosi for the Max Planck Institute’s music aesthetics encyclopedia project will be published (in German) by Bärenreiter, and the long delayed Cambridge History of  Medieval Music for which I contributed on modern performance of medieval music is now with CUP.

Responsio nominated for a Juno

album cover

In the meantime… our recording of Peter-Anthony Togni’s Responsio (with Jeff Reilly, bass clarinet) has been nominated for a JUNO award (the Canadian equivalent of the Grammies). The list also includes Adele and Justin Bieber (though they needn’t worry about the competition as they’re in different categories). We’ll be performing the piece in Montreal and Halifax in April. There’s a great review of the recording here.

Conductus 3 released February 26

Details in my two previous posts., together with info on concerts & workshops in the UK and Spain later this year. There will be a review in the April Gramophone. 

Amores Pasados reviews, future plans

Two interesting reviews from critics who really understand what we’re all about: the autumn issue of the Journal of the Lute Society of America has just reached us, and Nick Lea writes for Jazz Views here. There’s also a long interview on the Jazz Views site with info about the genesis of the Dowland Project, Conductus, Being Dufay,  Amores Pasados and much more.  Gramophone decided not to review the album, incidentally  – the first ECM release of mine that they’ve ignored. I guess they just don’t like rock musicians. Our next one’s going to be even worse…

The Amores Pasados season kicks off in Seville at the Teatro Centrale in April – details to follow. Gigs in the UK and Germany later in the year and a possible South American tour in 2017. New recording some time after the summer – be prepared for some unique engagements with Shakespeare from some very distinguished rock musicians.

 

The provisional gig list for the spring and early summer looks like this:

April 2/3

Helsinki Sibelius Academy

April 6

Amores Pasados, Teatro Centrale, Sevilla

April 16

Responsio Halifax (Canada)

April 17

Responsio (Montreal)

May 3

Gavin Bryars Laude dance project, Winchester Cathedral

May 14

Conductus Cambridge Festival of the Voice

June 9

Amores Pasados National Centre for Early Music, York (Festival of Ideas)

(the next Amores Pasados gigs will be in Germany in September & October)

July 16-18

Conductus Besalu (International Course on Medieval Music Performance)

July 26

Conductus Gloucester (Three Choirs Festival)

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Conductus 3 released!

Friday, January 29th, 2016

C3 cover

Le Conductus nouveau est arrivé! …At least it has in East Parade. Though I don’t know anyone who listens to their own records more than once. You put them on when the freebies arrive and then put them on a shelf. Three things happen every time: firstly, relief that it’s not as bad as you thought; secondly, yes it is; thirdly, it’s nothing like you do it now.

 

I actually enjoyed this one much more than I feared I might. It has a very cool feel to it compared with the stile saggitari (Mark Everist’s joke, not mine…) that usually afflicts performances of this repertoire. There are lots of pieces that we don’t programme live because they’re too long, but which work well in the context of the album. It’s also pretty obvious in the polyphony that we really can sing together without the tyranny of rhythm, and the hybrid musical-poetic form that is conductus reveals itself to be at least very different from previous ideas of how the music should go.

The thing that’s most striking is that none of it is anything like we do it now: it really shows how un-definitive recordings are – and in our case how our performances have continued to evolve almost out of sight of our first efforts. We always say that albums are just documents, of course.  Recording is nothing like the unrealistic scramble for perfection that it used to be – you do long takes and minimal editing – but you can’t get away from a certain carefulness and attention to specific parameters (with all three Conductus albums, for example, we took a lot of care over pronunciation; we worry a lot less about being fake Frenchmen when we do it live). You do take risks but they are of a different order from those you might take in live performance. One of the most elemental and exciting things about music is that it’s over the instant it’s uttered so you give your all to each of those moments. In a recording you can never quite forget that not only is it not over, but it might come back to haunt you.

I hope people interested in the period will enjoy it – it’s been huge fun to do and the whole project continues to energise the way we do this music.  It’s been quite a journey, and each of the albums represents a fascinating stop along the way. A big thankyou to Mark Everist and the Southampton team, and to Hyperion, Jeremy Summerly and Jules Millard.

 

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The recording project is complete but Conductus live lives on! We’re greatly looking forward to the new Conductus season – it’s not too late to register for our workshops in Cambridge and Besalu. Oh, and you can buy the album direct from Hyperion here, or from Amazon. There are also some short promo clips from Vol 3 on YouTube here, and from Vol 2 here  and there are more thoughts in my previous post below.

 

 

 

 

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