:: Hilliard Ensemble


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.

 

 

 

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).

 

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.

 

Roaming with Fauvel

Tuesday, January 31st, 2017

When the French poet Gervais de Bus wrote his epic satire featuring a corrupt egomaniac  sociopathic horse he probably wasn’t thinking that the wheel of Fortune (which also features in the plot) would come round again almost exactly 700 years later. My first engagement of the year took in both manifestations in rapid succession, with a performance of Presidentes in Thronis with Serikon in Sweden after which I was back in time for the anti-Trump demo in York (and we went straight on to La La Land to complete one of the most surreal 24 hour periods I can remember).  Musicians out there: if you want to protest, Fauvel is the perfect programming opportunity (it even has leaders adrift without a moral compass who can’t wait to curry favour with the beast).

I’ll be returning to Sweden with Serikon several times later in the year, and hopefully Fauvel will rear his ugly head at least one more.

 

It’s going to be another busy year. There will be a brief reunion with my old Hilliard Ensemble mates as we join Singer Pur for their twenty-fifth anniversary celebration at the Prinzregententheater in Munich on March 9. This collaboration was born at the Tampere Vocal Festival in the late nineties, after Singer Pur had won one of the major prizes. Klaus Wenk and I sat down to breakfast one morning and chewed over the idea of our two ensembles getting together at some point in the future. The project got off the ground with a commission from Joanne Metcalf, who’d been a winner in the Hilliards’ 1994 composition competition (and who wrote Doom-Begotten Music for me in 2003) and the two groups went on to do many concerts and a CD together after I left. Joanne will there for the concert, as will Gavin Bryars who is also a longstanding friend of the ensemble.

March 21 Ariel Abramovich and I will give a recital for the Wunderkammer in Trieste (there’s a Facebook page about it if you’re signed up). I haven’t been there since 1965 when hitch hiking through Europe after school. I went swimming with a Carabiniere who insisted on diving for oysters. I don’t think I even knew what an oyster was and having tried one I certainly wasn’t going to eat any more, so each time he brought one up I threw it back as soon as he submerged (possibly to bring up the same one over and over again). I’ll be trying a bit harder this time. Ariel and I will be doing our Dowland to Sting programme, which we’re also doing in July for a series of recitals in Catalunya in the FEMAP festival.

In May I’ll be returning to Sweden to rehearse the Musik i Syd project with Serikon and Ensemble Mare Balticum and then going on to Helsinki for some more PhD examining at the Sibelius Academy (and possibly some ensemble coaching if I can fit it in). Then the Amores Pasados season starts with a concert in the Swaledale Festival on June 4th. It’s possible that ECM will have released Secret History by then, and we’re still holding dates to record some of our new repertoire (including more fantastic pieces from John Paul Jones and Tony Banks).  In the middle of June I’ll be coaching in Germany, and at the end of the month Gavin Bryars’ new piece for the Hull City of Culture will have its first performance in Winestead church, followed by outings in Hull itself and the Royal Festival Hall. This project will renew Gavin’s association with Opera North, which began with the co-production with the RSC of  Nothing Like the Sun for the Shakespeare anniversary of 2006. One of the sonnets from Nothing Like the Sun is now in the Amores Pasados programme in Jacob Heringman’s arrangement for Anna Maria Friman, Ariel Abramovich, himself and me, and this will be on our new ECM recording. I’ll be working with Gavin again in the autumn with performances of Nothing Like the Sun  in Leeds and Prague, and there will be a new commission with his band for the 40th anniversary of the Triskel Arts Centre in Cork next year.

 

More details on all of the above in  due course.

 

 

 

Encounters with Veljo Tormis

Monday, January 23rd, 2017

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Veljo Tormis 1930-2017

The York connection…

I first met Veljo Tormis in the mid 1980s, when Estonia was still part of the Soviet Union.  It was, I think, the Hilliard Ensemble’s first visit to Finland, and I was only dimly aware of the extraordinary, symbiotic relationship between Finland and Estonia. Two black-clad figures came up to us after the concert and thrust LPs into our hands. ‘I am Tormis’, said one – the only English he knew back then. His companion was the conductor Tõnu Kaljuste, and the records were of the recently formed Kammerkoor Ellerhein, later to be re-invented as the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir. Both men were on a semi-legal visit to Helsinki from Tallinn. I went home and put the LPs on a shelf.

I was getting used to being given stuff after concerts, and I didn’t think about them until several months later when I pulled them out and had a listen. I was immediately hooked. I didn’t know what the words meant, but I could certainly recognise a good tune when I heard one, and here were scores of wonderful melodies, sung in that vibrant non-western way that was the hallmark of the old Estonian Chamber Choir. Time passed; I made many visits to Finland and Estonia. I finally met the great man again when the Hilliard Ensemble commissioned Tormis to write ‘Kullervo’s Message’ (he didn’t much care for our interpretation of it…too English!)…but we recorded it for ECM, and stole one of his Estonian Lullabies for Jan Gabarek to improvise over.

Then in 2006 I taught a project at York called Estonian Icons: the Music of Arvo Pärt and Veljo Tormis. It was an exuberant experience: Tormis himself visited the Department and we serenaded him in the staff kitchen; one of the students went on to win  the BBC writer of the year with an article on the composer.  The Department serendipitously came in for some rare extra cash and we bought the entire Tormis catalogue for the university library.

Veljo Tormis (4th from left) in the Music Department kitchen

It was one of my last and most exciting undergraduate projects at York and I’m so glad to have done it. We performed most of the Forgotten Peoples cycle in one memorable concert with The 24. It was a timely reminder that in the far corners of northern Europe there is extraordinary music that is fun to sing and moving to listen to, and that Veljo Tormis was a crucial part of the nexus between folk and art music (along with Bartok, Kodaly,  Vaughan Williams and other composers who have kept alive oral musics that would otherwise have been lost). It’s a cliché to say that a country’s musical soul resides in a particular composer, but if it’s true of anyone it’s true of Tormis. He dedicated his life to the recovery and dissemination of the music of the Baltic peoples. Estonia, that most musical of nations, will never forget him, and nor will we musicians the world over who were privileged to know him and to know his music.

Buenos Aires to Blackburn

Friday, September 30th, 2016

he-flyer

Ex-Hilliard Ensemble

October’s concerts start with a trip down memory lane with my old Hilliard Ensemble colleagues. On Wednesday  5th we’re taking part in a charity concert in St Paul’s Covent Garden. The plan is to sell off the group’s remaining stock of albums in aid of  Music For Open Ears which supports classical music in primary schools. We’ll be singing Tallis, Brumel, Dufay and Leonin among other composers. So come along and see if we can still cut it! If we’re still alive and kicking we’ll all be at the Singer Pur 25th anniversary concert at the Prinzregententheater in Munich on March 8th next year.

The Hilliards’ recording of Roger Marsh’s Poor Yorick, commissioned for the anniversary tour with us ex-members,  is hot off the press and available from the Lawrence Sterne Trust.

'Alas Poor Yorick' CD by Roger Marsh

and Miserere and Officium are now available on Vinyl! Though the picture accompanying the Officium catalogue entry is a little misleading…

Goodly Ayres in Buenos Aires and Tenerife

 

Palacio correos BA 2015.jpg

 

At the crack of dawn the next day I set off for Argentina, and a recital with Ariel Abramovich in the fabulous CCK hall in Buenos Aires on the 8th. It’s a programme of Dowland and Campion with one or two surprises thrown in (and will be my first visit there). I then have a week off before meeting up with Ariel again in Tenerife on the 21st (my first visit to the Canaries since playing in a lava tube in Lanzarote with the Dowland Project a while ago). This time we’ll be featuring Johnson’s Shakespeare settings alongside Danyel, Campion, Dowland and Tony Banks at the Festival de Música Antigua La Laguna .

Amores Pasados news

 

 

Then it’s swiftly to Germany via Madrid for Amores Pasados in Murnau at the Grenzenlos world music festival on the 23rd  and  Enjoy Jazz in Heidelberg’s Heiliggeistkirche (above) the following day. We’ll be adding Jacob Heringman’s new transcriptions of Butterworth and the elusive Peter Pope, and having a first rehearsal of John Paul Jones’ Blake Lullaby which he’s just finished for us and which we’ll probably unleash in Madrid or Trieste in March (it’s going to be a busy month). We’ve just agreed to do the Swaledale Festival next June and hope to slot in more UK dates before recording the next album.

Northern Song

I’ll be making my way to Blackburn on the 30th to join my ex-Swingle colleagues Linda Hirst and Catherine Bott on the panel for the Kathleen Ferrier Junior Bursary. I was unable to make the recent Swingle reunions (one of them coincided with the Hilliard reunion gig) and I don’t think the three of us have sat down together in the same room for decades so we’ll have a lot to catch up on as well as listening to some of the brightest young singers of the year. Very appropriate, having started the month raising money for primary school music, to end it hearing what talented first year conservatoire students can do.

 

 

 

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.

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.

Hilliard Havana tribute

Sunday, October 11th, 2015


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The Hilliard tribute concert by the Cuban Sine Nomine ensemble was amazing. They are a phenomenally gifted group – not remotely like the Hilliards (think more Latin American King’s Singers, if that’s not an oxymoron), but all the more impressive for that. It was very touching that the festival was celebrating both the HE’s 40 years and Arvo Part’s 80th birthday. As I was going to be there anyway, they’d got in touch a few months ago to ask for advice on what pieces to do, and whether it would be OK to do the Morales with trumpet. My only suggestion was not to try and imitate the model but do something that just acknowledged it. The Morales worked well (it’s just a chord sequence so perfect for improvising over) and there was no attempt imitate Jan Garbarek. They also used the trumpet in a Hassler piece that the Hilliards didn’t do but was the kind of piece we might have done.  It worked spectacularly well. The young trumpeter, Yasek Manzano really came into his own in the encore, a fiery version of Joshua fit de battle of Jericho where he could really let rip. It was a wonderful collection of voices – especially the countertenors. Two of them had been winners in the contest earlier in the week, full-on and over the top, and here they were perfect ensemble countertenors. It was an extraordinary transformation and a great tribute to their musicianship and sense of purpose. They’re directed by Maestra Leonor Suarez, who sometimes conducted but mostly left the singers to their own devices. They were usually more than one to a part and were obviously rehearsed to perfection (two of the ways they differed from the Hilliards) but they were perfectly in tune, energetic (they can even dance…), well balanced and blended, and great communicators. It was a privilege to be there, and I’m sure my former colleagues would have loved it too.

 

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Ariel and I spent the afternoon exploring the old city. This was a great adventure. It takes a bit of getting used to as it’s unlike any other city on the planet. There’s no sign of big business, no towering new hotels, no advertisements, no stressed people struggling to get from A to B. It’s the most relaxed and informal city I’ve ever been to. But that doesn’t come close to telling you what it’s actually like. In some ways it’s as though time has stopped since the revolution in the 1950s – many of the grand Spanish baroque buildings are just as they were then or have been left to decay, or patched up to make living quarters or mysterious small enterprises . But just as you think the whole city’s falling apart you come across beautiful restoration. Once you’ve got over the architecture you begin to see the people – the ethnic mix (the whole spectrum from white to black and almost never two of the same shade at the same time – an object lesson in social cohesion), the colourful life of the street. I was very fortunate to have Ariel with me, as whenever anyone approached us he would chat away and they’d end up talking about football or the problems of being an Argentinean (even the drug dealer, a jovial villain who knew he had no hope of a sale but enjoyed a bit of Cuban-Argentinean repartee). I’ve not yet met a Cuban who wasn’t utterly charming. It was very humid, but as the sun went down it cooled a bit and the lights came on. That’s another very distinctive characteristic – minimum lighting creating a sort of gloomy intimacy. It’s often loud, and on the main streets you see those fabulous cars smoking past, but most of the streets in the old city are too narrow for cars. You just have to watch out for bicycle taxis, though even these are very polite in their attempts to avoid you. We forgot to change some local currency, which is what you need to do for the proper Cuban experience (there are two varieties of peso, one convertible and tied to the dollar, the other the one in which Cubans are paid and which you need once you get off the tourist track). That was the only downside (apart from the fume-laden air). We were also approach by people who’d been to our concert – so touching to meet people who had themselves been touched by what we did two nights before.