:: Secret History


Shedding time

Saturday, June 16th, 2018

edited 26/6/18 after non-appearance of the shed…

One of the features of the freelance life is that work is rarely regular – you’re either running yourself ragged or staring at a blank page in the diary. Having been to Spain, South America and the Canaries earlier in the year (and even done a record number of gigs in the UK) I now have a month off during which I was intending to build a greenhouse/shed. The greenhouse bit will be a very posh creation made from the Georgian(ish) sashes currently on the front of the house that we’re replacing with double glazed versions (beautifully crafted by the wonderful Nigel Wood). We’re going to graft a selection of the old ones onto half a spanking new shed and I was intending to blog about its progress.  Unfortunately the shed can’t now get here until  August, so the great work has been put on hold.  In the meantime, this is what I’m up to from the summer onwards:

Alternative History

We’ll be 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 will include new compositions and intabulations alongside the early music. Ariel and Jake will play Arvo Pärt’s Pari Intervallo in a version newly sanctioned by the composer (‘Play it faster!’), and we will do the first performance of Ash and Snow composed by former Weather Report drummer Peter Erskine, and the first performance in Poland of John Paul Jones’ Cradle Song which we first performed in the Swaledale Festival last year.

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).

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 Rogers Covey-Crump (another ex-Hilliard colleague) in the Magnuskirche Worms for a programme 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, hopefully with a new piece by Gavin Bryars, following on from our concerts in Sweden last year.

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 (24) and Dublin (25) 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.

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.

 

 

 

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

 

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

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