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Hilliard/Garbarek at Ely Cathedral


Ely rising out of the Fenland mist couldn’t have been a more magical setting for this concert. It was completely sold out – a thousand people or more – and the audience was enchanted by it.  We decided on three of the new pieces I’d brought to try. One worked quite well, another less so, and one we left out by mistake. I also sang in a couple of old  ‘Officium’ pieces that seemed to work just as they had fifteen years ago, and the guys did a mixture of old stuff and more recent material from Officium Novum (including a stunningly beautiful Mother of God, the only piece Arvo Pärt actually wrote for the four of them). And of course Jan Garbarek’s saxophone, funky, lyrical, discreet and brash in turns, rocked the very stones. We didn’t do Parce mihi (maybe in Cambridge…) – which someone once famously said is what Coltrane hears in heaven. That assumes heaven is somewhere in the misty north – the earthy reality of Jan’s playing is more a case of a very personal Nordic modality energised by the ghost of Coltrane’s boundless imagination.


I’d expected to feel sentimental – Penny and Ned were there, just as they’d been at the very first gig in Cambridge twenty years ago, and they were quite touched by the occasion – but it was somehow easy just to slip into business as usual and not think too hard. I did allow myself a nano-second of wondering what it would be like if I hadn’t left the group when I did – and decided that on balance everything was as it should be: the guys had honed an incredibly successful collaboration into something that has made a huge impact all over the world, and having helped to set it going I then had the whole York experience and the adventures of the Dowland Project and countless other schemes over the ensuing decade and a half.  I’m looking forward to the grand finale in Cambridge, and I think it’ll feel right – a proper end to a project that everyone has loved. All in all, we’ve been incredibly fortunate.


Incidentally, the Song School where we assembled before the start was equipped with a dart board and bottles of water that are brought from France each month (as well as a cache of even more interesting lubricants). Cathedral vestries weren’t like that in my day.


0463 Medieval Tenors

Rogers Covey-Crump, Christopher O’Gorman and I currently have around a dozen concerts pencilled for next year in the UK, Germany, Slovenia, Spain and Belgium as the Conductus research project enters its final phase. More details in a week or so. The third Conductus CD will be released by Hyperion in June.


Conductus 2 cover

13 Responses to “Hilliard/Garbarek at Ely Cathedral”

  1. Gail says:

    The evening was wonderful, magical, atmospheric. As I arrived it seemed like a pilgrimage was heading to the Cathedral that was slowly disappearing into the descending fog. I wanted to hear Parce mihi but it may be that Cambridge would be more fitting, the full stop on a full circle completed. I heard the 1994 performance on the radio, it blew me away then and the Ely performance fully deserved the standing ovation at the end. The sound in the cathedral was unbelievable. Hilliard’s four, then five, voices filled it with no microphones and those achingly beautiful tones of Garbarek’s sax. Was there some improvising going on, is every performance different? I’d like to think so. I was lucky to get a standing only ticket for King’s. I cannot wait. I’m going to bring tissues…

  2. John Potter says:

    It was amazing to see the crowds queuing in the fog. I had a very similar reaction sitting in the audience when Steven Harrold took over from me for the first time. Some sort of alchemy takes place which very hard to explain. It’s partly to with sound – it never works quite so well in a dry acoustic and we’ve been lucky enough to do the programme in some wonderful buildings. And yes, it is different every time – the sax hugely so, and the voices wherever there’s an opportunity. The King’s acoustic will be drier, especially with a full house, but hopefully no less magical. I think we’ll all need tissues…

  3. Gail says:

    Parce mihi sung by the original four of you finally without Jan (as on Officium) would bring the rafters down at King’s. It is possible to be heartbroken and uplifted at the same time isn’t it?

    I’ll leave that thought with you!

  4. John Potter says:

    It’s certainly possible to be heartbroken and uplifted at the same time! I think the last word really has to go to the present membership though…and personally I’d opt for the sax version – after all that’s really what defined the project from the beginning. Also, I think I might be too emotionally charged to sing it!

  5. Gail says:

    You are right about the sax version. Whatever happens on the night it will be fantastic.

  6. Im glad the Ely gig went well and that you enjoyed it. All the best for Cambridge! I like your misty shots of the cathedral -we were there just before Saulheim; it’s a favourite cathedral of ours! Unfortunately I can’t go to the Hilliards gig at Douai as I am doing another concert that night.

  7. John Potter says:

    Thanks Jeremy! It’s a magical place. I might add another pic or two – I’ve got some of the lantern at night.

  8. kim nguyen says:

    john, I has the chance to hear jan&the Group in
    berlin some weeks ago, it was a good way
    of saying good bye…
    I still remember the first performance in
    the magnificient sorroundings of Kings
    Chapel, it was an honour to be there and
    an honour to be part of the Summer School
    which formed much of what I am now
    in my musical spare time, many thanks
    for this! I would love to be in Kings!! enjoy your
    time there. All the best, Kim

  9. John Potter says:

    Kim! How wonderful to hear from you! The summer schools were amazing – and we have so many friends from those times. Very sad that Selene Mills won’t be there to hear the final performance in King’s.

  10. Kim Nguyen says:

    John, its true, Early Music in Cambridge is not the same without her…

  11. John Potter says:

    There will be a memorial concert in Cambridge next year, and I hope many old summer school friends will be there.

  12. asoio says:

    Someone has put this amazing video on youtube recently:

  13. John Potter says:

    Wow – time travel…!

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