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Conductus in the Colosseum




I left Helsinki before dawn to get to Rome in time to rehearse with my old Hilliard mates for our gig in the Colosseum. It rained in Rome for the first time since June… This meant we couldn’t use the centre of the arena but had to sing under the arches.  The occasion was a conference coinciding with the  Constantine exhibition celebrating the Edict of Milan in 313. Looking at the humungous building in the dark and driving rain you couldn’t help feeling that Constantine should have had more talks with St Helena before agreeing to let any old religion loose on the place. The papal plaques on the outside looked like cheap propaganda compared with the grandeur of the building itself.

Apart from the amazing venue, the event was particularly interesting for me as the programme was Perotin and and anon Conducti, and it came between the Southampton Conductus concert last week and the Otterberg outing this weekend. For ages I used to worry that musicology should relate more to performance reality, but I now tend to think of the two as completely different worlds that only occasionally coincide.  At the conference, Chris O’Gorman, Rogers Covey-Crump and I tried out some of the latest thinking on performance practice, much of it on a similar track to what we’ve been working on for the last few years. It’s always difficult to ‘perform’ musicology as you don’t want to think aboutt the nuts and bolts while you’re emoting away, and our conference renderings were very different from what we did in the evening concert. The concert material is now part of our evolving performance tradition which is grounded in the musicology but will eventually leave it behind as we personalise the process more and more. Something similar must have happened in the 12th century to account for the differences in the sources,  and it’s exactly what happened with the Hilliard Ars Antiqua programmes: we went through a phase of acknowledging the changing musicology and then left it behind as we found our own way  of doing it.  All of these stages are valid  – it was interesting to sample the latest musicology in Southampton, great to slot in to the Hilliards well-honed way of doing things, and I’m looking forward to further stages in the evolution of the Conductus project.

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