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Alternative History in Spain

Next year will see the 10th anniversary of the Alternative History quartet (as we eventually became).  Ariel Abramovich and I had been working together for a couple of years and were beginning to explore the ‘intabulation’ repertoire where 16th and 17th century musicians made their own versions of earlier a capella  polyphony. We hatched a plan to record Josquin with two lutes and two voices; this was a great advenure for me as it meant I could continue performing the renaissance polyphony I’d done with the Hilliards but in a radically new way. Anna Maria Friman was the obvious choice for the top line as she and I had worked together for many years (most recently with the Gavin Bryars Ensemble) and Ariel invited Lee Santana to join him on lute.  We then remembered that the big Victoria anniversary was coming up, and we thought we could also slot in a celebratory Victoria mass album with just me and two lutes.  Lee couldn’t make the Victoria sessions so we invited Jacob Heringman, who’d already made his landmark Josquin recording but who’d never worked with Ariel before.

It didn’t work out quite as we’d imagined: the Josquin proved disappointingly problematic and we ran out of time. Anna was able to stay on for a couple of Victoria pieces and we ended up with a single album of both composers.  It makes a kind of musical and historical sense but it wasn’t the result I’d hoped for (needless to say, we didn’t make the Victoria anniversary). It’s the only time I’ve done a purely ‘early music’ record for ECM and it was a bit of a miscalculation on my part (all the more poignant for being in St Gerold, the Austrian monastery where I’d had such extraordinary times with Jan Garbarek and the Hilliards and subsequently with the Dowland Project). But during those fraught sessions a unique musical partnership was formed. Anna and I had been vocal and musical soul mates for many years, but the real surprise was the instinctive rapport between Ariel and Jake, two very different musicians who were playing together for the first time. From the very first note the four of us were all on the same musical wavelength.

A selfie from 2014…the earliest I can find

We were determined to do more together.  Another repertoire which I had lost through lack of opportunity to perform it was 20th century English song, and if we could apply 16th century performance practice to Josquin, what about trying it with, for example, Peter Warlock who would surely have written for lute had there been any lutenists around in the 1920s? And while we were at it why not get some living song writers to compose for us? Amores Pasados coalesced into an album featuring not only 17th century songs but Jake’s Warlock and Moeran transcriptions, a new version of John Paul Jones’ eponymous suite, and new songs given to us by Tony Banks and Sting. It was quite a journey and recording it at Rainbow Studios in Oslo with Manfred Eicher and the late Erik Kongshaug was a joy, so much so that ECM released it unusually swiftly (and before the original Josquin/Victoria which came out as Secret History in 2017).

rehearsing at the Swaledale festival with John Paul Jones (mandoline) and Malcolm Creese (bass)

Both albums had great press and led to lots of gigs all over Europe (and even once or twice in the UK). Many of our concerts have been in Spain thanks to Ariel’s energy and vision, and we started this year at the amazing Teatro Circo in Albacete on January 24, and the local press put us in a gilded frame…

There’s a short interview – in Spanish – with Ariel here.  On April 17 we’ll  be back in Madrid at the National Concert Hall where we’ll be giving the first performance of Sonnet 2 by ex-Weather Report drummer and composer Peter Erskine. In the previous week we’ll be recording much of our current repertoire (including Peter’s poignant Ash & Snow that we wrote for us last year). We’ve continued to expand all of our repertoires and now have programmes with  Victoria,  Josquin and Morales transcriptions (including his De Falla arrangements), more new works from our rock musician friends John Paul Jones, Tony Banks and Sting, and a host of what we call Jake’s English cowpat transcriptions (which now extend to Charles Wood as you’ve never heard him before, English choral tradition fans might like to know).  2020 promises to be another exciting year, and I’d like to pay tribute in advance to my amazing musical partners: Anna, whose singing and violin playing are a constant inspiration,  Jake, whose unfeasibly long train journeys enable him not only to save the planet but produce stunning arrangements for us, and Ariel whose creative energies know no bounds. Muchas gracias amigos – I’ve never had so much fun!

 

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