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Sound & Fury, 3 Medieval Tenors…


Caron cover

Sound & Fury Caron review

Long review of the Caron box set in the US mag Fanfare (http://www.fanfaremag.com/content/view/52971/10262/). The reviewer comments on the fact that we don’t do concerts but just focus on recording. He then adds that we must do a great deal of rehearsal as such recordings would impossible without it. Hmmm…which just goes to show you can’t tell anything about the rehearsal quotient just by listening to the results. When we’re all competent sight readers and have been singing the same texts since childhood, and have literally decades of experience singing 15th/16th century polyphony what would rehearsal achieve? If anything we’re more in need of a reverse-engineered concept that would enable us to unlearn what we know all too well: risk-taking not reinforcement, negotiation on the hoof, not sanitized pre-planned effects. In practice, the S&F recordings are mostly not the first takes so the music does evolve during the recording process, but what evolves is the musical conversation we have with each other, not some over-reaching concept of how the music should go.

The obsession with rehearsal is basically a 20th century phenomenon. Perfection is a very Modernist concept and there’s not much evidence of anyone doing very much of it before Wagner. Coincidentally, I learned at the weekend that the King’s Singers do a two hour rehearsal before every concert. That must surely make it more likely that a performance will just sound like another version of the rehearsal.  I have fond memories of early Hilliard concerts with Jan Garbarek, where TV crews would sometimes ask to come and film us. We’d say no, and they’d say well let’s film the rehearsal then. We’d  tell them we didn’t rehearse but might sing a chord to test the acoustic and that would be it. They’d never believe us, and would be mightily exercised when we turned up, sang a chord and then went for a cup of tea while they removed the gear they’d spent hours setting up.

Rehearsal, if you must do it, is more like Qualifying or Practice in Formula 1: it’s about making sure everything works – it has nothing to do with the race itself, where if you’re not absolutely in the moment you might lose everything.

The reviewer didn’t like the cover, incidentally, but he wouldn’t be the only one there. We’ve had some great feedback though, just people emailing to say how much these recordings mean to them – which is hugely gratifying.


Conductus 2…3 Medieval Tenors

Bernhard Jung 0420 resized

Hyperion will release the second volume in the first week of December, for anyone looking for an antidote to Christmas recordings. We’re now planning for the 2015 season, by which time all three CDs will be out and we’ll have a huge repertoire to choose from. We’ve also been debating whether or not to give ourselves a name. The recordings are Conductus 1, 2 & 3, and we refer to the whole process as the Conductus project (the full name of the research project that the live concept has been developed from is the rather cumbersome Cantum pucriorum invenire: finding a finer song). From its initial focus on recording the two-tenor repertoire the project is gradually morphing into a three-tenor performance platform, a process which will be complete when Rogers Covey-Crump becomes more available from the end of next year. We plan to focus specifically on the extraordinary Conductus repertoire for the foreseeable future but may eventually diversify into slightly earlier or later music (or possibly something slightly more radical one day). The term Conductus isn’t (yet) on everyone’s lips, so we’ve started to use the sub-title ‘three medieval tenors’ to give more of an idea of what we’re about. For the record, we do rehearse this music – but that’s because we read from facsimiles as far as possible and they not only take a bit of figuring out but the notation actually shapes the music. But as the pieces become more familiar we rehearse them less, so we can reinvent them each time.


Ambrose Field in Rumania


It’s been a while since Ambrose and I worked together on Being Dufay, and I’m very much looking forward to his new commission for tenor and amplified strings to be premiered at the Jazz in Church Festival in Bucharest next April.Here’s a reminder of our Leipzig gig: http://vimeo.com/41348327


The Dowland Project

There’s been lots of press interest in the Night Sessions on the web, but relatively little in print media. I wonder if it’s that the new media appreciate the risk-taking, whereas the papers look at the date and consider it past its sell-by date (which, for some of it, was indeed a while ago). I’m still very proud of it, even though I sometimes can’t help thinking about what we might have achieved had it come out even four or five years ago.

Here’s a few recent samples from the blogosphere:






Coaching Swedish speaking Finns

I love coaching ensembles. It doesn’t matter if groups are newly-formed amateurs or experienced professionals – there’s always a creative conversation to be had. I had a great time in Helsinki at the weekend, though it was very weird to hear almost no Finnish as I was a guest of the oldest Swedish-speaking male voice choir.   They still have that mordant Finnish sense of humour though:

me: What’s this next piece about?

tenor: We sing it at parties.

bass: Yes, it’s a funeral song.

me: ?

bass: At midnight we turn the lights out, sing it and then carry on partying.


me (on seeing a poster saying FAN in big letters): Does this mean what I think it means?

tenor: Probably not.

me: We get a lot of Swedish TV cop shows in the UK…

tenor: Ah, well it probably does then.

me: How do you manage with just the one swear word?

tenor: We swear in Finnish.

Sadly, I got home to discover that my lovely A3 had been wrecked (together with the four cars parked next to it) by a builder’s van, so I’m entering a period of mourning while the insurers sort it out. The one crumb of comfort was that West Yorkshire Police and LV Insurance have been terrific – efficient and courteous all the way.



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