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Dowland as early music and new music

 

It’s been a heady two weeks. First Ariel Abramovich and I did a programme of Dowland and Campion (mostly of pieces we hadn’t done before) at the Sounds of Old Almada Festival in Portugal (just across the Tagus from Lisbon).

 

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Then The Dowland Project got together for the Enjoy Jazz Festival at the Old Fire Station in Mannheim.

 

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Both very different, and both exactly what I love to do. The lutesong recital was in an exquisite, tiny chapel – the perfect size and acoustic for voice and lute – so we could really engage the very attentive audience directly with the musical rhetoric. Os Sons de Almada Velha is a new festival (now in its third year), very much community based, and most of the listeners had probably not heard a lute song before. They loved it. Mannheim’s Alte Feuerwache is now a night club and we used a PA to create an acoustic. The audience was a sophisticated cross-section of people who’d learned to trust the eclectic taste of Enjoy Jazz festival director Rainer Kern and are continually exposed to music they haven’t heard before – but in this case to add to the many musics they’re already familiar with.

There was actually an overlap of one piece – Dowland’s Come Again. I loved the cool flexibility we could achieve in the Portuguese church, the intimate dialogue with the lute – it can’t have been that far from the kind of performance Dowland himself might have done, so you feel a real sense of history. But as always I was knocked sideways by the outrageous soprano solos from John Surman in the Fire Station. We tend to do it a bit more rhythmically, with Milos Valent embroidering Jake Heringman‘s lute part, and it’s always a struggle to keep a straight face after one of Surman’s blitzes on the material as the audience is still reeling when I have to start the next verse. The piece survived and was greatly enjoyed by both audiences. The Enjoy Jazz audience demanded a second encore and we’d only prepared one, so I sang One Yeir Begins to the guys (having first owned up to the audience that we’d never done it before) and they joined in and we made a piece. That sort of music making just makes your heart soar. It’s an amazing band to be a part of.

 

The Hilliard Ensemble and Jan Garbarek

The Hilliards and Jan were at the Enjoy Jazz Festival a little before us. Some reviewers have described DP albums as being a kind of coda to the HE/Garbarek project, and it’s certainly true that the Dowland Project wouldn’t exist without the earlier collaboration. The crucial thing they have in common is using early music as a resource, a point of departure. Although the Hilliard Officium and Mnemosyne albums were highly experimental we took the process much further in live gigs; at its most radical we could go on stage with one line of music that I handed to guys as we walked on, saying this is piece number 6 (or whatever) and we’d create something in the moment. It was absolutely exhilarating, and it was the urge to continue that kind of risk-taking that was one of the factors in my decision to leave the group. When Manfred Eicher suggested what eventually became the Dowland Project I had the means to do it.

To my great surprise – and I was very touched by the invitation – the Hilliards have asked me to join them for two of their last concerts with Jan Garbarek and to bring along some new 5 voice pieces for us to do. I’ll be at the Ely Cathedral gig on November 15th and the very last one in King’s Cambridge on December 6th. The King’s concert is sold out, but there are still tickets for Ely  if you’re quick. At the time of writing we don’t know what the new pieces will be or how they will work with 5 of us. We’ll find out on the night.

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Interesting collection of books in the foyer of the Wyndham Hotel Mannheim. I was reading The Rabbit Back Literature Society, and on the table were books on Bacon and veg…

 

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