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Ring in the Old!


Am I alone in thinking English cathedral and college choirs all sound the same? The three I came across over the Christmas break –  King’s Cambridge, York Minster and Westminster Abbey -seemed pretty well identical.  All terrifically good (to the  point of being almost clinically professional). Is it because trebles have singing lessons these days and are already generic pros in the making?  Sad if they all go down that route – just think of the difference between the choirs of, say,  George Malcolm and David Willcocks half a century ago. I hope we’re not witnessing the triumph of excellence over innocence.  BUT…my new year’s resolution is to whinge a bit less, so sing on choristers, and here’s a few words about what I’m up to …


The Early Music Show Saturday 5th January Radio 3           (or on BBC iPlayer till January 12th)

My year kicks off without my actually doing anything, except listen to myself and James Gilchrist giggling our way through an Early Music Show refereed by Catherine Bott.  The programme’s called i Tenori (or at least it was when we recorded it just before Christmas) and takes a fairly informal (not to say slightly incoherent) look at the history of the tenor voice in early music.

Once the three of us got going there was no stopping us, and producer Lindsay Kemp had to cut a couple of pieces to accommodate all our witterings. Kate Bott and I sang in the Swingles together in the seventies (seems eons ago) and then in the New London Consort for a few years after that. Just about the only time I’ve seen her since was when we did a similar broadcast (Sprit of the Age, I think) about ten years ago. I’d never really met James properly – I think the only repertoire we share is a lute song or two and some songs by Gavin Bryars – and it was a good opportunity to apologise for a mobile phone incident in one of his recitals at York (fortunately in the same key as the piece he was singing). We happily crashed our way through several hundred years of history, and I managed to get in Kozlovsky’s 3 octave Rossini cadenza as well as Slezak singing Boieldieu and Blanche Marchesi doing Bis du bei Mir. I suspect diehard listeners to the show might want to put the kettle on during those bits. If anyone wants to know more about tenor history – have a look at my Tenor: History of a Voice which Kate mentioned at the top of the programme. Make sure you get the paperback  – it’s cheaper and a couple of howlers have been corrected. I didn’t play Conductus 1 on the programme, but if you want the latest in earliest tenors, give it a listen (there’s more info on this site here). There’s also more tenor history in A History of Singing, but it’s ridiculously expensive so wait for the paperback…


…trips off the tongue nicely, and is the new name for the combined Sibelius Academy, Theatre Academy and the Academy of Fine Arts in Helsinki. The Sibelius Academy used to be conveniently shortened to SIBA.  Ken Dodd, where are you now?  Anyway, I’ll be going there this month, the first of several Finnish trips this year for examining, coaching, concerts and lecturing, and of course the Tampere Vocal Festival in July (where I’ll once more chair the ensemble jury). I’ll also be celebrating the 175th anniversary of the Akademiska Sångföreningen in October, with workshops and concerts. The depth of Finnish musical culture never ceases to astonish me.

Conductus II

Also this month is the next Conductus recording. Chris ‘Glorious’ O’Gorman and I are a bit more confident this time round, and should even begin the sessions knowing what we’re doing. The press for the first CD was gratifyingly good (David Fallows’ description of Chris’ voice above being one of many kind things). Especially, as Simon Perry almost put it, for a record that no one would want to listen to. The new album will have more Rogers Covey-Crump and more solo pieces, and we’re now thinking in terms of a three tenor live programme for 2014, by which time we’ll have finished recording all three albums and will have a vast repertoire to choose from. In the meantime, you can catch up with Chris and me (and Mick Lynch’s film) at the Cambridge Festival of the Voice in April. I’ll also be in Cambridge in March for the Verse Anthems conference, coaching with Bill Hunt and trying to apply the rhetorical methods of Divinity to 16th/17th century music by Morley, Gibbons, Tomkins et al.

Songs for Dowland

Rather than inflict yet more HIP Dowland on the record-buying public in this anniversary year, I’m going to be recording an album of John Paul Jones, Tony Banks and Sting, who have all provided me with new lutesongs to go alongside Dowland and Campion. Ariel Abramovich and I will be joined by Anna Maria Friman and Jacob Heringman for this, and we have a live version of the programme which works with just about any permutation of singers and players. The first live outing will be in Spain in the autumn. The recording will be done in a studio in Oslo or Lugano rather than my usual stamping ground of St Gerold, as Manfred Eicher envisages the soundscape as being more like that of a jazz album.

Sound and Fury

S&F will re-convene in Mauerbach in June to record masses by Pipelare, and it’s rumoured that we may do a rare performance of Gombert in Venice around the same time.

arrivals/ departures

In the summer I’m scheduled to do a Canadian tour with fellow tenor Charles Daniels and soprano (and more recently film star) Suzie LeBlanc – a new work by Peter Togni based on the Machaut mass. I caught up with Suzie last year when she passed through York on her way to a writers’ retreat in Scotland. Some weeks after her visit I had an email from her friend David McGuinness asking me to join him and his Concerto Caledonia for a concert in Aldeburgh at the end of March. Not quite sure what we’re doing yet, but the band are sh*t hot improvisers so I’m really looking forward to it.

In June Edward Jessen’s Minghella Dialogues will finally happen at the Spitalfields Festival. This is another intriguing venture which has been a long time in the making. To put it rather simply, it’s a staged realisation of dialogues extrapolated from Anthony Minghella’s films The English Patient, The Talented Mr Ripley and Cold Mountain. Peyee Chen and I will have the conversations accompanied by Consortium 5.  Ed Jessen describes Minghella’s adapted creations as ‘a blueprint from which an interpretative filmmaker might distil views and motivations within the aesthetic world of another artist.’  Ed’s music theatre piece is, in  effect, a further distillation of this process.


Two sentimental gatherings later in the year: the Gentle Power of Song will get together for a week of informal gigs in London in November, and in December the Hilliard Ensemble will give 40th anniversary concerts in London and Germany. Hard to imagine the Hilliards will actually stop for good in 2014, but I’m told that’s the plan. The anniversary  gigs will feature former members and include a new piece for the assembled company by Roger Marsh.

Social Media

My son Ned, fresh from his triumphant authorial debut as a social media guru, has told me it’s time I got a grip on such things, so the next iteration of this site will (for which read ‘might…’) feature a YouTube channel and possibly a Twitter presence. I put off getting a fax machine, email, mobile phone and iPad for far too long, so I hope I haven’t left it too late this time.

So…news of what I’ve had for breakfast,  when I’m going to Sainsbury’s and other updates coming soon.

Happy New Year all!

2 Responses to “Ring in the Old!”

  1. asoio says:

    I’ve just been told that the Hilliard farewell concert is planned for December 2014, not 2013 as I thought and as I understood from what you wrote here. Actually, in December 2013 they will celebrate their 40th Anniversary precisely on December 11th with repeat performances in Germany and Austria. This makes me a bit less sad.

    Happy New Year 2013, dear John!

  2. John Potter says:

    Old age is finally catching up with me… Thanks for this – I’ve changed it to make it clear.

    Happy New Year to you too!

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