:: Secret History


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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Alternative History

Thursday, July 13th, 2017

Winestead

The final performances of Gavin Bryars’  Winestead in the New Music Biennial took place at London’s Festival Hall. It’s been great to spend so much time with one piece (and it’s a beautiful piece) and I hope there will be many more to come. The film, which like all films involving classical singing has too many shots of the inside of my throat, is available on YouTube. It was done in one take (very cleverly) on the afternoon of the first performance in Winestead church.

 Dowland to Sting in Catalunya

I’m soon off to Catalunya with Ariel Abramovich for three recitals in the Festival de Música Antiga dels Pirineus (FEMAP). where hopefully the weather will be a bit better than at our recent photo shoot.

The programme will be a mixture of Dowland and Campion with some Tony Banks, Sting and one of Jacob Heringman’s beautiful new Peter Pope intabulations. The first is in the Monestir de Sant Llorenç in Guardiola de Berguedà on July 28 at 22.00. The next day we go to Ordino in Andorra, where we’ll perform at the Museu d’Areny-Plandolit (20.00 start) and then on to the Refugi de l’Estany Gento in La Torre de Capdella on the 30th. As far as I can see this is a hut in the mountains, so it should be an intimate occasion. It starts at 6.00, presumably to allow time to climb back down the mountain for dinner.

Vibrato in the Proms

A few weeks ago I took part in a round table discussion about vibrato for Radio 3 with Peyee Chen, Helena Daffern, Janice Kelly and Richard Bethell.  Interestingly York-orientated – three of us were/are connected with the Music Department (and Richard Bethell gave a paper at the NEMA conference). We rabbited on for ages and the final 21 minute cut will be broadcast during the prom interval on August 6th. Not sure what Moussorgsky fans will make of it (my chosen example was June Tabor’s Finisterre).

Alternative History

 

 

ECM will release the new CD on August 25 worldwide.  I always pre-order a copy of my own albums on Amazon so that I can check it’s actually for real, but at £25+ I think that would be a bit silly (and they can’t spell Josquin…). You can get it from Amazon.de for 18.99 euros or from the US site for roughly the same in dollars. This is actually the first album I recorded with Anna Maria Friman, Ariel Abramovich and Jacob Heringman, and it’s the first purely ‘early music’ album I’ve done for ECM since Hilliard Ensemble days (we went on to record Amores Pasados which was then released first). It’s by no means conventional early music though, with motets and a mass in new versions for two voices and two vihuelas (with two teams of vihuelists: Ariel and Jacob for Victoria, and  Ariel with Lee Santana for Josquin). It’s called Secret History because although cannibalising ‘acapella’ polyphony and performing it in this way was typical of the 17th century, the  modern early music movement has generally focused on the first pristine incarnation of the music rather than what musicians subsequently did with it (the real history which is too often ignored).  We’ve been inspired by later sources – in this case the English 17th century Paston ms which has both Josquin and Victoria side by side (though not pieces we do on the album). A little late in the day the four of us have decided to name our whole project Alternative History. The Dowland Project didn’t have a name until its second release, so we’re going a bit further with only half the name on our second one.  A while back I did an interview with Jazz Views which puts it all in  context (though it pre-dates the name). Our first concerts under the new name will be in Poland and Portugal later this year, and we’ll tweet about them nearer the time.  We’ll also be using the name for any permutation of the four of us when we’re doing programmes informed by these ideas. Jake and Ariel have recently released Cifras Imaginarias (on Arcana), an album of 2-vihuela intabulations which works in a similar way, and the three of us are working on a Morales project for next year.

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September is busy, and will include a Conductus concert with Rogers Covey-Crump and Christopher O’Gorman, a gig with Serikon at the Luther conference in Uppsala, a recital with Jacob Heringman at our course in Benslow, and the first Mare Balticum events with Cecilia Frode in Sweden. I’ll update the diary properly in a bit.

photos Guy Carpenter

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Autumn release for Secret History

Sunday, March 12th, 2017

The saga continues, and our Josquin & Victoria album will not now be released until the autumn. Think Christmas presents…

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 began. 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.

 

St Gerold in the snow

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