:: Victoria


ECM not to release Secret History till autumn

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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Avila (Abvlensis 2014): Victoria en Cifras

Sunday, August 31st, 2014

 

Ávila_24-8-2002

We had a wonderful time in Avila. It was a real milestone – Ariel Abramovich and I had talked for ages about exploring the intabulation repertoire and then a couple of years ago we got together with Anna Maria Friman and Jacob Heringman to record the Secret History album for ECM (due early next year); now we’ve finally made our live debut.

 

Avila selfie

 

The centre-piece of the album is Victoria’s Surge propera mass (in our own version for two voices and two vihuelas) and we couldn’t have had a more appropriate occasion to do the first live performance than Abvlensis 2014, the third Victoria festival in the composer’s birthplace. Coincidentally, the Hilliard Ensemble were in residence and performed their In Paradisum programme (devised by Gordon Jones when I was still in the group), so the audience would first get to hear the ‘pure’ acappella way of doing renaissance polyphony and then our more secularised historical version with voices and instruments.

 

Ariel at night

Although history tells us that in the renaissance our way of doing things was as common (if not more so) as unaccompanied choral performance, very few modern performers attempt it. The gap between (quiet) reconstructed instruments and (relatively loud) modern singing is just too great for an intimate performance where voices and lutes are supposed to be equally audible. Most of us can just about cope with, say, Monteverdi’s Vespers, as there can be plenty of instrumental support and however loud the singers are they’re less frightening than they were back in the 1970s. But who has ever heard a lutesong recital where voice and instrument balance as well as voice and piano in a Lieder recital? In renaissance ‘vocal’ polyphony where all the lines are of equal importance, trying to blend modern voices and old instruments is a very tricky task indeed.

 

Jake & Ariel

So the concert wasn’t going to be easy, and if we didn’t get it right the audience would have found it impossible to listen to. It was actually one of the most frightening I’ve done for a long time. We were all incredibly nervous – the church had a crystal clear acoustic – perfect for this music but giving you no place to hide. It was our very first live performance and we have big plans for the future, so a lot was at stake. Crucially it was the first real test of whether Anna and I could balance to the vihuelas, Anna singing very low in her register and me trying out the much lighter technique needed for the ridiculous virtuosity of Bovicelli’s version of Victoria’s Vadam et Circuibo . The last thing we wanted was the typical lutesong scenario where you can’t hear the pluckers, and we needed to convince the audience that they weren’t getting a raw deal by hearing Victoria’s exquisite polyphony plundered by a bunch of early music avant-weirdos…

 
The result was almost all we could have wished for: the concept that we’d had in our heads for so long finally materialised. This was what it must have been like when musicians got together at the beginning of the 17th century to explore the very latest music in whatever way they could. It didn’t have the 21st century renaissance polyphony ‘purity’ – but you could hear (and almost feel) the clarity of the writing, and that mysterious partnership between dead composer and living performers. We loved it, and from the first nervous note we knew it would work; the very attentive audience did too, fortunately.

 

Avila review

…and there’s another excellent review here.

 

Avila bow

 

A big thankyou to the festival team for giving us this opportunity – and for great hospitality. The festival is a major cultural event now in its third year and already raising the profile of one of Spain’s greatest composers (still unfortunately overshadowed in his home town by his more famous near-contemporary St Theresa). May it go from strength to strength.

Avila 1

Our next meeting as a quartet in in November, when we go to Rainbow Studios in Oslo to record Amores Pasados. This will be a yet another new adventure (you can find more details on the lutesongs page).

 

 

 

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Happy Days to Enjoy Jazz

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014

 

Gavin Bryars Ensemble in Enniskillen

Lovely time at the Happy Days Festival in Enniskillen last week. Peyee Chen and I sang the rarely-heard Irish Madrigals – Gavin’s setting of J M Synge’s translations of Petrarch – as a prelude to the legendary Iarla ó Lionáird singing both Gavin’s music and Sean Nos songs. We also got to play in Jesus Blood. This is a bit like suddenly finding yourself on stage with a rock star hero of your youth – something you never imagined could happen. I’m no keyboard player (as generations of students will confirm) but I couldn’t say no to Gavin’s invitation to join in in Vilnius last year. Needless to say, I made sure the volume was turned down so low that no one could hear my potentially performance-wrecking efforts, but this time I was a bit more confident and could actually hear myself. It’s an extraordinary experience – the Vilnius and Enniskillen performances were among the most moving musical experiences I’ve ever had. I’m always banging on about performers not experiencing real emotion on stage – that way madness lies – but with so many and simple repetitions you somehow get hypnotized into the real thing. Then there’s that stunned silence at the end as the audience realises it won’t actually last for ever, as the tramp finally leaves the building accompanied by Tom Waites.

I see the Hilliards are there this week doing their amazing Heiner Goebbels theatre piece – one of the last opportunities to catch this if you haven’t seen it.

Secret History

There’s no sign of a release date from ECM, but we’re very excited about our first live concert at the Victoria festival in Avila on August 29th. The Hilliard Ensemble will be there too as artists in residence, so you’ll be able to compare an ‘a cappella’ way of doing things with our voices + instruments realisations. One obvious difference is that the four of us (Anna Maria Friman, Ariel Abramovich, Jacob Heringman and me) will be doing music in five or six parts.

We’ll also be rehearsing our new pieces by Sting, John Paul Jones and Tony Banks for the recording in Oslo later in the autumn.  Ariel and I hope to do the first performances of the Banks pieces in Portugal in October.

Coaching in Germany

I’m delighted to be coaching again with my old friend Werner Schussler in September at the Sing Akademie Saulheim. Ensembles on the course include the wonderful Nobiles from Leipzig, whom we coached in Engers two years ago.

Lutesongs in Portugal

In October Ariel Abramovich and I will spend some time in Seville recording a video before driving to Almada in Portugal for a recital of lutesongs. This may be an opportunity to try out one or two of the new settings of Campion written for us by Genesis keyboardist Tony Banks.

Potter & Abramovich

Dowland Project in Heidelberg

Shortly after this I’ll be in Heidelberg with the Dowland Project for the Enjoy Jazz Festival. The programme will have music from all our albums including the Night Sessions, and will also be a chance to hear our latest foray into Schubert. We’re not intending to do any more recording, so if you want to hear our latest material you’ll have to come to a gig.

Dowland Project

Hilliard Ensemble & Jan Garbarek

The Hilliards are in Heidelberg with Jan Garbarek the previous week. Strange how we seem to be following each other around in this their final year. They’ve just asked me to join them for the very last concert with Jan in King’s Chapel on December 6th – back to where it all began twenty-odd years ago. I hope we won’t be too tearful to sing. The very last concert will be at the Wigmore on December 23rd. Not sure how they’ll be able to get through that one, but I’ll be there cheering them on.

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History of Singing

Thursday, December 19th, 2013

 

History of Singing paperback

book cover

I know we’re not supposed to support Amazon because of the tax business, but I have to congratulate them on the Potter & Sorrell paperback. I always pre-order a copy of my own albums and publications on Amazon as it’s a good way to know if they’re really out. This time my Amazon copy reached me three days before an email from CUP telling me it would be published on February 13th. CUP helpfully included a link to the book’s CUP page but this turns out to be the one for the American hardback copy (125 US dollars, in case you’re interested).

Victoria in Avila

Anna Maria Friman, Ariel Abramovich, Jacob Heringman and I have our first live performance since the ECM recording a while ago, in Victoria’s home town in August. We hope this will really kick start our alternative history of renaissance sacred vocal music as dynamic accompanied song rather than the usual bland a cappella polyphony.  We’re negotiating for more concerts in Spain around the same time; more details soon. There’s no news of the recording we did for ECM a couple of years ago yet, sadly.

Dowland Project Night Sessions Press

Night Sessions cover

It’s been good to see the reception for the final Dowland Project album. This ensemble was very much an ECM creation and couldn’t have happened on any other label. When the Night Sessions first came out there was a flurry of (mostly quite perceptive) press on the web but the UK print media were much slower to take it up. I recently caught up with the monthlies and was quite touched by reviewers who really seemed to get it. We have no plans for more albums, and it feels good to complete the set with a radical retrospective.  I gather that the University of York Music Department has the DP as one of its Impact case studies to be submitted to the government’s so-called Research Excellence Framework;  very gratifying, though somewhat ironic since we’ve never had any truck with ‘Excellence’ as the government understands the term.

International Record Review had it as one of five Outstanding recordings of the month. Ivan Moody even forgave my ‘extra-terrestrial’ Portuguese pronunciation, and I’m deeply flattered by the references to jazz and smokey night clubs.He concludes:

Barry Witherden enjoyed it in BBC Music Magazine too:

Dominic Clements in Music Web International had some reservations, but sort of got it:

You can find additional reviews, mostly online, in my previous post on the subject, and here’s a sample of thoughts from the blogosphere:

http://classicalmodernmusic.blogspot.co.uk/2013/09/the-dowland-project-john-potter-night.html

http://www.klassikakzente.de/aktuell/klassik-news/artikel/article:222873/magische-nacht-the-dowland-project-veroeffentlichen-night-sessions

http://www.jpc.de/jpcng/classic/detail/-/art/The-Dowland-ProjectNight-Sessions/hnum/1565456

http://www.diariofolk.com/criticadisco/night-sessions-john-potter-and-the-dowland-project/

Hilliards at 40…

If you scroll down or go to here you can read my blog, written as the mini tour went along. I’ll be doing gigs with the group in Leeds (Howard Assembly Rooms) and Seville Cathedral in April. Details soon.

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

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