Vote yes or stay at home?
Our gig at the NCEM York on June 9 will be our first (and at the moment, only) performance in the UK. It’s rather timely, a European ensemble giving a concert a couple of weeks before the referendum. Like many of my contemporaries I don’t get to perform in England very often. It’s a great place to live, but when it comes to audiences and fees (the two basic requirements for performers) the European mainland seems to be more able to come up with the goods. There are exceptions of course (thank you NCEM!) – though it’s weird (and slightly frightening) that after amazing gigs all over the European mainland our only UK performance is here in my home town. As far as the referendum is concerned I’m almost (almost…) inclined to stay at home, so pathetic and vision-free has the Remain campaign been, led by a bunch of opportunists who’ve been whingeing about Europe for decades and now find themselves having to justify it: none of them seems to know or understand anything about the Europe most performers inhabit. The arts, scholarship and education are inextricably bound up with the European project, as the Guardian (rather late in the day) reminds us. Incidentally, I have a postal vote since I can never be sure I’m going to be around on election day, and my PhD wasn’t enough to enable me to understand the ballot form which I ‘spoiled’ by mistake by tearing off a bit of tear off stuff that was just asking to be torn off. I phoned the election help line several times to ask for a replacement, but they obviously have very long lunch breaks at the York chapter as no one has picked up so far. I hope we don’t lose by one vote.
Amores Pasados – rock & reverse engineering
Amores Pasados has been a huge adventure. Our basic premiss is that a song is a song, whether it’s written by Schubert or Paul McCartney. If you’ve had vernacular language beaten out of you (as we of the English choral tradition mostly have) you can’t actually sing a Paul McCartney song without sounding like a middle class twat. But given a tune and harmony and a poetic text all sorts of things become possible, and you can tap in to some of the most creative song-writers around. I’ve been banging on about this for years, and John Paul Jones actually wrote his three Amores Pasados songs for Red Byrd back in the Eighties; it took decades to persuade Tony Banks to write me a lute song (and now we have four). As luck would have it, with serendipitous foresight in my 1998 book Vocal Authority I suggested Sting singing early music would be revelatory and sure enough, having listened to my Dowland album (among many others) along the way, he eventually did. When Ariel Abramovich was a student at the Schola Cantorum he shared a room in Basel with Edin Karamazov, who would become Sting’s lutenist many years later. As students at the Schola, Ariel and Edin both played in a Hilliard early/new music project involving Swiss composers, putting up with the old gits that we were even then. So getting Sting to agree to give us a song only took an email or two. Russell Crowe had rejected his contribution to the Robin Hood film (not the right stuff, apparently) and Sting kindly passed it on to me. And it turned out that Jake Heringman had even played the lute at one of Sting’s parties. It was clearly meant to be.
The other strand of our work is the reverse-engineering of 20th century English song, creating lute songs that Warlock. Quilter, Moeran and others would surely have written had they known any lutenists. Philip Heseltine, aka Peter Warlock, transcribed hundreds of lute songs, bringing them into the 20th century light as songs with piano. His obsession with 17th century music and poetry was shared by many of his contemporaries, especially his drinking buddy Jack Moeran. Their music is as lyrical and pastoral as Dowland, as English as the songs of Genesis and Sting. We’re fortunate that Jacob Heringman choses not to fly anywhere, which means that the many hours he’s spent crossing Europe by train have enabled him to work lutey magic on other people’s piano parts, bringing back into circulation a repertoire that fell out of fashion a generation 0r two ago.
York Festival of Ideas
The NCEM concert is part of the university’s Festival of Ideas. Our insistence that a song doesn’t need to be Winterreise to have artistic value would probably qualify on its own (a sort of counter-intuitive Leeds Lieder…). We’re also acknowledging the Shakespeare centenary: as well as bardic connections from Warlock and Moeran there will be the first performance of Tony Banks’ That time of Year (Sonnet 73) and a unique version of Gavin Bryars’ Sonnet 128, originally written for the last Shakespeare fest, which may have a surprise or two in store.
Tickets are selling fast but can still be had at a special discount if you quote voucher code AP 241 (https://tickets.ncem.co.uk/en-GB/shows/amores%20pasados/info
or ring 01904 658338).