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Conductus complete

July 20th, 2016

nb: new Conductus webpage here

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The performance element of the Conductus project reached its climax at the 5th annual course on medieval music inBesalú  at the weekend.

 

Concert pic

 

Funded by the AHRC, led by Mark Everist at the University of Southampton, and known officially as Cantum pulcriorum invenire (‘Finding a finer song’), the project has involved Christopher O’Gorman, Roger Covey-Crump and me in more than a dozen concerts and workshops in five different countries as well as three CDs. Our repertoire consists of some fifty pieces and is continuing to expand.  A big thankyou from the three of us to the AHRC, all the Southampton team, our manager Robert White and those workshop organisers who did such a great job. We’re looking forward to future collaboration (and, of course, the book). For those interested in the complete story – the venues, the repertoire, the name changes… there are more than 30 posts on this site charting our progress over the last few years.

We had a terrific time in Besalú – a great bunch of students from all over the planet (Mexico, the USA, Japan, Canada, France, not to mention Catalunya…) and a relaxed, friendly,  efficiently organised course.

 

Workshop pic

 

Mauricio Molina‘s vision will surely carry his project forward to great things in the future.  Part of our concert was featured on the local tv station (the final shot, somewhat embarrassingly, featuring an edition that was more Australian than Southampton…). We ended our last workshop with an open rehearsal of Exiit sermo, a virtuosic three voice organum which we’re performing in Gloucester next week.

 

Cantum image

One of the conditions of the AHRC grant was that we should reach beyond the higher education community, and we tapped into the wider audience this implied by engaging with festivals and concert series, some of which had never had a medieval experience before. Now that the research project is complete we’re able to take a sideways step into academia, so if there are universities out there interested in our post-Conductus projects do please get in touch…

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The Hilliard Ensemble and the Art of Tidying

July 12th, 2016

DUFAY,  TALLIS AND THE ART OF TIDYING

David James   | Rogers Covey-Crump | Steven Harrold |

 Gordon Jones | John Potter

LONDON: St Paul’s Church Covent Garden

Wednesday 5th October at 7:00pm

http://www.wegottickets.com/event/362390

To quote Mirjam James…

‘After retiring at the end of 2014, the former members of The Hilliard Ensemble (one of the world’s foremost male a cappella ensembles) have had time to tidy up their shelves, lofts and drawers and discovered a number of unsold cd-treasures. Realising that they don’t really need to keep multiple copies of their own cds and not wanting just to sell them they have kindly offered to donate their hidden stocks as part of a fundraising concert to support the charity ‘Music for Open Ears’. Music for Open Ears gives children of primary school age the opportunity to develop their active listening skills and fosters a love for classical music. Supporting the spirit behind Music for Open Ears – that the most exciting music is performed live – five members, David James, John Potter, Rogers Covey-Crump, Steven Harrold and Gordon Jones, will perform a selection of pieces from the cds to be sold at the concert. The one hour concert will include works such as Viderunt omnes by Perotin and the first part of Tallis’ Lamentations and will be followed by a reception and the opportunity to purchase cds. ‘

This should be a terrific occasion – not just the five of us resurrecting ourselves which should be entertaining in itself, but a chance to meet lots of old friends and make some money for Open Ears, a wonderful charity that supports music in schools. Oddly enough, before Steven Harrold took over from me permanently we had a brief incarnation as an occasional five-voice group (and we three tenors even joined Trio Mediaeval for a Scandinavian tour with Gavin  Bryars’ Second Book of Madrigals which he wrote for the six of us). The last time I appeared in the Covent Garden piazza Sean Williams and I were  busking John Edmonds’ and Nigel Osborne’s Paganini. Ned was about five and has never quite recovered from seeing me leap out of a coffin brandishing a cardboard violin.

In the meantime Rogers, Chris O’Gorman and I are off to Besalu for the final AHRC Conductus event. When we get back we begin charting a slightly new path, still exploring the conductus but branching out into organum at the Three Choirs Festival in Gloucester. Coincidentally, this programme will also have a Hilliard connection as Rogers and I will be doing Perotin’s Dum Sigillum which, like Viderunt Omnes, can be found on the Hilliards’ famous Perotin album.

More info on the reunion concert from Mirjam James musicforopenears@gmail.com or 0759 0657 025.

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Profumo di violetta

June 27th, 2016

What do you do when the world seems to have gone mad? I watched the TV pretty well round the clock for two days (a year’s worth of TV watching for me). Then eventually I found the wherewithal to listen to some music – Gianluigi Trovesi all’opera.  Italian music performed for centuries all over Europe and recorded by a German record company (one that I, born an English person, record for). It’s the most joyous expression of the universality of music I know (read the liner notes by Trovesi and Renato Magni and you’ll see what I mean). I also sits well with my prejudices about the relationship between popular and ‘classical’, and the dreadful damage the early music movement has done by focusing on the work rather than the humans who enact it.  Who wouldn’t want to be part of a culture that has produced such music making over so many centuries?

As the music played – Monteverdi, Cavalli, Verdi, Mascagni – and the wine bottle emptied – I realised that I believe in the concept of Europe in much the same way as some people believe in god. It’s an unshakeable faith, and nothing said or done by this pathetic bunch of political nonentities will dent it.

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I am a European

June 25th, 2016

I am a European

 

 

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We’re all immigrants…

June 14th, 2016

 

I was recently reminded of my refusal to show my passport at the Aldeburgh border when I heard that a world-renown academic had declined to show his at the University of York and was a persistent thwarter of the UKBA’s insidious policy of assuming everyone is here illegally unless they can prove otherwise. It gave a new twist to the referendum immigration debate. If I were to be offered a paid engagement at the university here I’d have to produce my passport. I’m not only a foreigner in my own country but an immigrant in my own town.  Thank heavens I can still go to a Chinese or Polish supermarket without a visa. It’s OK for the Poles and Chinese of course – they really are living in a foreign country – and I suppose it sort of puts us all on an equal footing if I have as little right to a passport-free job here as they do.

Unsurprisingly, the music profession knows nothing so banal as national boundaries. The Hilliard Ensemble was, unusually, an all-British group, though you probably wouldn’t have to delve very far to discover that half of us were descended from Johnny Foreigner (and we worked with a Norwegian saxophonist, a German violinist and an Austrian cellist among many other international musicians). Almost every other permutation of musicians I’ve worked with has been a rag tag assortment of nationalities. The Sound and the Fury, for instance, records in Austria, but apart from me are all Germans and are sponsored by Austrian Israelis. The Dowland Project currently has an American lutenist who lives in the UK, a British sax player who lives in Sweden and a Slovakian fiddle player of no fixed abode. For the Amores Pasados project we have a Swedish soprano, American and Argentinian lutenists, with another American lute player for our Josquin project. I’ve recently been in Canada working with one other Brit and two Canadians. I record for a German record company staffed by Europeans; I’ve never had to produce a passport for any gig in Europe.

We enjoy what we have in common and relish our differences. I used to think that a musical ensemble was a kind of microcosm of an ideal society, with everyone contributing and supporting each other –  and when things are going well I’m sure that’s true. When I meet up with my German friends we don’t discuss the economy or migration – except on the one occasion when Angela Merkel’s open door policy came up, and my great German friend said that for the first time in his life he was proud to be German.

None of this will change if we leave the EU, and if the pound collapses I’ll actually be rather better off. But there are no circumstances in which I could vote to leave. Europe is a vision to which we should all subscribe – surely the grandest and most human geo-socio-political concept of the late 20th century. I’m a European and have been since I was old enough to know what the word really meant, and I’m going to say a European.

 

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Amores Pasados at the NCEM

June 11th, 2016

There’s something really special about doing a gig on your own doorstep. Apart from doing concerts with students at the university I’ve only ever performed in York courtesy of the NCEM and the Conductus Project, and it was great to be able to do Amores Pasados to the most friendly audience imaginable, largely made up of family and friends. It was also special because it was the first time my granddaughters Emily and Grace had been to a ‘proper’ concert, and it made the heart sing to see them there (and Grace making a beeline for John Paul Jones’ leg shows she’s already heading in the right direction).  We were privileged to have both John Paul  and Gavin Bryars up to hear their pieces for the first time. John Paul spent a lot of time with Jake and Ariel discussing tunings and scales for his new piece (and did some exquisite busking on the piano). It’s going to be  quick, he says (somewhat alarmingly).

 

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Twitter was alive with Zeppelin-inspired names of the superlute group these three might create…

Gavin Bryars’ Sonnet 128 from his Nothing Like the Sun is one of my favourite pieces. The original (the recording of our Adelaide performance is about to be released) has a rich texture of Gavin’s signature string quartet (2 violas, cello and bass) plus piano, guitar and cimbalom, and I was a bit worried he might find Jake’s miraculous two lutes arrangement a bit of a shock. He loved it and we managed to persuade him to join us for the postlude. I’d had the idea that as we got near the postlude, an old bloke would get up out of the audience and approach the piano, which he would then play. And sure enough it came to pass. Gavin didn’t knock over any chairs or glasses on his way, but apart from that it was a nicely successful surprise. We’re used to either grand Spanish churches where the lutes really carry or big theatres where we have to use PA, so we enjoyed the intimacy of the NCEM (though I suspect it wasn’t quite resonant enough for the lutes).

We continue to accumulate repertoire. The Warlock and Moeran pieces worked very well this time round, and there are more to come. Our next performances as an ensemble are in Germany: a late night in Blaibach on September 10th, then the Weltmusikfestival Murnau  October 23rd and Enjoy Jazz Heidelberg October 24th. That’s all for this year at the moment. We hope to return to the UK next year, and we  have concerts in Spain, Italy and Argentina in the diary at the moment.

 

 

 

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Amores Pasados comes to York

May 27th, 2016

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.

 

Avila selfie

 

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

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).

 

 

 

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May news

April 27th, 2016

I had a lovely time in Canada, as I always do. From the moment  you arrive at Immigration Canadians welcome you (so different from the US). Peter-Anthony Togni’s Responsio is a great piece to sing, and for these performances I got to stand next to Jeff Reilly so got the full impact of his amazing bass clarinet playing. May 3rd I was in Winchester cathedral with Gavin Bryars for more danced Laude as part of the Yorke Dance Project. We were just one part of a major sacred dance event that included the Winchester University Gospel Choir.  As usual we were terrifically moved by the dancers – and what a building for such a project.

Christopher Robinson’s 80th birthday evensong

I was in Cambridge a week later to celebrate Christopher Robinson’s 80th birthday. He’s one of those people who’s had a huge effect on my life, inviting me to join the Worcester cathedral choir and thereby rescuing me from the Guildhall School of Music (whose principal had said it was his duty to ensure I became an opera singer). It was my first job, and Christopher encouraged me to audition for the BBC, which led to our doing programmes of English song together (my first broadcast recitals). Singers from all of his former choirs  joined the St John’s choir for a celebratory evensong. It was a magnificent occasion with a mighty noise lofted to the vaulting on the wings of Elgar and Howells. I managed to keep up until Dear Lord and Father of Mankind at the end. As I was snivelling into my tissue the tenor behind me laid a hand on my shoulder. I feel a bit like that too, he said.

Conductus in Cambridge

I was back in Cambridge for the Conductus concert and workshop on the 14th. This was the last AHRC sponsored event in the UK (there’s a final one in Besalu on July 16/17th; our Three Choirs Festival concert on July 26th will be a new departure).  We had a great time – fabulous workshop (‘there’s a lot of intellect here…’ Rogers observed), in many ways the most rewarding we’ve done. It was great to see so many old friends – and very gratifying that the pioneering work of Selene Mills is in very safe hand with the new CEM team. The perfect acoustic of Little St Mary’s and the beautiful light streaming in more than made up for the fact that performing in the afternoon felt distinctly weird. To our great surprise we sold a huge number of CDs, so we must have been doing something right.

Amores Pasados in York

Not long to the first UK Amores Pasados at the National Centre for Early Music in York on June 9th.   Tickets are available on line at: https://tickets.ncem.co.uk/en-GB/shows/amores%20pasados/info and if you use the coupon code AP241 you can get a  special 50% discount offer on full and concession tickets (or ring 01904 658338).

We’ll be doing several Shakespeare settings including a beautiful new setting of Sonnet 73 by Tony Banks as well as Jacob Heringman’s version of Gavin Bryars’ Sonnet 128 (originally written for Anna and me as part of his Nothing Like the Sun project commissioned by the RSC and Opera North). ECM have a new album page for the CD. This doesn’t have tour dates like the release page, but these can be found here. I can confirm that John Paul Jones is working on a new piece for the autumn for us, having finished his opera.

 

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photo: Maria Silvera

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April fuel

April 1st, 2016

It’s April – so back to work. Needless to say, I didn’t get my first book draft done (my excuse being that I was clobbered by a virus which put me out of action for several weeks) but the government’s proposals to privatise the education system to better prepare children for the job-factories we used to call universities have at least kept me focused. I’ve even contemplated a Fahrenheit 451-type futuristic novel in which the Humanities are studied in secret by teenagers who’ve opted out of the compulsory South Korean-style music-for-profit boy-band creation courses.

On a more cheerful note, I had a great time in Helsinki as part of the exam board for the fourth of five Doctoral events at the Sibelius Academy.  The Sibelius Academy runs the only Doctoral programme I’ve come across which has cracked the ‘performance as research’ conundrum; it’s expensive, individually tailored to each student, with the candidate’s creativity treated with a professional seriousness that’s very heart-warming – ie nothing like anything available in the UK (apart from being expensive).  It was a very efficient trip – I arrived in time to check in  to my hotel, did the judgin’, went to bed and caught the 3.30 (am!) bus to the airport, arriving in Manchester in time for breakfast. The next day I headed to Seville (about the same distance in the opposite direction) for our first Amores Pasados gig of the year. After a rainy start it turned out to be T-shirt weather. We did lots of songs from the album and several pieces that we hadn’t performed before including two of E J Moeran’s ‘Songs of Springtime’. Moeran’s a hugely-underestimated composer (somewhat in the shadow of his friend Peter Warlock), and his lyrical, folk-like settings that wander between modality and added-note harmonies become magical lute-songs in the hands of Jacob Heringman.  There will be more new stuff in our York performance in June, including a Shakespeare sonnet from Tony Banks., and we’ve just heard that John Paul Jones will write us a new piece for the autumn.

I’m now off to Canada for performances of Peter-Anthony Togni’s Responsio in Halifax (19th) and Montreal (20th).  There’s a great review by Dean Frey of our Juno-nominated album (we didn’t win, sadly) here. My mum tells me she’s got lots of cousins (my 2nd cousins, presumably) in Montreal, one of whom was a professional golfer (sounds a bit unlikely!). If any of you are still around come and say hi.  I’m back in the UK in time for more danced Laude with Gavin Bryars in Winchester, then it’s on with the book for a couple of weeks before the Conductus gig in Cambridge. More details in a bit.

 

album cover

 

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Conductus: workshops & reviews

March 25th, 2016

Our final Conductus season is now under way with the release of the third and last eponymous Hyperion album. The deadline for applications for our next workshop (part of the  Cambridge Festival of the Voice) is fast approaching. You need to apply by April 11 and you can find details of how to register here. It takes place at Little St Mary’s 10.30 – 12.30 on Saturday May 14 before our concert in the afternoon. It’s the last AHRC-funded workshop we have planned in the UK. The next one is at the Medieval Performance Course  in Besalu July 16-17, after which we have a concert (but no workshop) at the Three Choirs Festival in Gloucester July 26. If you’re not familiar with this extraordinary and long-forgotten music you’ll find several posts below and a page of background info (with some sound clips) here.

Press has been good so far for Conductus 3. On the coals to Newcastle front Diapason gave us four stars (and tactfully avoided mentioning our French); Musicweb considered it ‘a small but bright jewel’  and our singing to be ‘fragrant’ (a first for all of us, I think); the Sunday Times was impressed with the ‘refinement and intimacy’ and several enjoyed the NCEM acoustic. The excellent  Hyperion page has longer extracts from the major reviews, and there’s a similar page for Conductus 1 and Conductus 2.

Rogers, Chris and I are greatly looking forward to meeting old friends and making new ones on our latest Conductus adventure, and to new trio projects next year.

 

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