It’s taken a while, but our Josquin & Victoria project now has a definite release date. If you only know the songs by Sting, John Paul Jones and Tony Banks that the four of us recorded on the Amores Pasados album you might wonder how we got to Josquin and Victoria. In fact, Josquin and Victoria was where it all started…
Ariel Abramovich and I had been contemplating an album of Josquin, versions of his motets pared down for the two of us in keeping with our belief that the pristine ‘early music’ acappella performance of Franco-Flemish polyphony has misrepresented the way the music was mostly performed. This then evolved into a much more sensible plan to use two vihuelas and two voices, so we asked Anna Maria Friman and Lee Santana to join us. In the meantime it dawned on us that there was a Victoria anniversary coming up which we could approach in the same spirit. Lee couldn’t make the Victoria sessions so we asked Jacob Heringman (also a great intabulator whose approach was identical to ours). In one of those serendipitous ECM meetings Hille Perl happened to be there too, so she joined us for a couple of pieces.
The recording wasn’t easy – we were learning on the hoof how best to re-invent a performing style that was both unique to us and yet absolutely true to the spirit of the pre-baroque – and it was the first time each of the combinations had worked together. It was also the only time I’ve proposed a purely ‘early music’ project to ECM (early music being a concept that the label doesn’t really do). The Dowland Project uses early music as a resource – we live entirely in the musical present and have very little to do with the early music movement. Secret History, on the other hand, is a deliberate attempt to challenge the conventions and assumptions of the ‘early music’ approach to historical performance. The music lives in the present of course, but in just the same way as it lived in the present of 400 years ago.
The next chapter was the realisation that the combination of two voices and two lutes or vihuelas was not only the perfect way to perform almost any music from the 15th and 16th centuries, but that we could apply the same principles in a bit of reverse historical engineering to 20th century English song. From there it was a short step to asking Sting and Tony Banks to write something for us, and to revive the suite that John Paul Jones wrote for Red Byrd. In contrast to the occasional awkwardness of Secret History, the Amores Pasados recording sessions were pure joy, and even though the first album was ready to go it was decided to hold it back until after Amores Pasados. The rest, as they say, is History, and it’s Josquin and Victoria that we’ll be focusing on for the next season, alongside new developments in the Amores Pasados repertoire in preparation for a future recording.
There’s another reason this recording resonates for me. Amores Pasados was recorded at Rainbow in Oslo and our current plans assume studio recordings in future, so this may turn out to have been my last at St Gerold. This jewel-like monastery in the Austrian Alps was the spiritual birthplace of so many ECM projects. It was where the Hilliard Ensemble developed its formidable creative partnership with Manfred Eicher, where we did the first experiments with Jan Garbarek that resulted in the Officium and Mnemosyne albums, all under the kindly eye of its only monk (and wine buff), Pater Nathaniel. Three of the Dowland Project albums were made there, the first coinciding with the attack on the twin towers which we watched uncomprehendingly on the monastery’s stuttering black and white television. More recently I produced Trio Mediaeval recordings there (or rather, I sat beside Peter Laenger). The legendary Pater Nathaniel had retired but the monastery garden was still producing its own organic food and the wine still flowed. I’ll never forget it.