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A gig!

I can hardly believe it, but a change in my mental wellbeing (an uptick, I think they call it) confirms that it’s true – I did a gig, the first in 18 months. Many musicians are still standing by the phone (and post-Covid and post- Brexit it may not ring) so it’s been amazing to come out of hibernation. Huge thanks to Malcolm Creese and the Swaledale Festival – it was the perfect way to re-engage with what used to be real life.

The programme was devised by Jacob Heringman (with a couple of suggestions from Malcolm and me) originally for Clare Wilkinson, Susanna Pell and the two of us. Clare was unable to leave Belgium because of Covid restrictions so we were very fortunate that the wonderful Peyee Chen was able to step in instead. We did two performances, the audiences socially distanced and masked. Being confronted with a room full (half-full, that is) of very polite and enthusiastic bank robbers was every bit as bizarre as it sounds, though by the end of the second outing it seemed almost normal as we were carried along by the audience’s energy and generosity. The new pieces by Sting and John Paul Jones were terrific (great to have Malcolm joining us on stage for Sting’s piece – he played with Sting and Stan Tracey at the 1993 Mercury Awards). John Paul was sadly unable to join us, stuck in Spain with a broken shoulder, but we did a a Zoom session with him so he could hear what we were up to. For everything else  we applied our usual renaissance practice of doing whatever we fancied with whatever was to hand. This time it was the turn of Stephen Wilkinson (Clare’s father, still composing at the age of 102), Schubert, Vaughan Williams and Peter Warlock (with added Creese) in between Dowland and Josquin.  It was a wonderfully heart-warming occasion with great playing from Jacob Heringman and Susanna Pell.

Future projects are still up in the air, of course. The Marvao performance of Arvo Pärt’s Stabat Mater with former Hilliard colleagues next month has sadly just been cancelled since Portugal’s return to the amber list. But enquiries are starting to appear for next year and beyond – for all sorts of things from PhD examining to summer schools as well as performances, which is a bit like the sun coming out after a long dark winter.

Meanwhile, the garden and greenhouse are burgeoning and writing is getting done. I’ve recently completed liner notes for Trio Mediaeval and amazing pianist Fred Thomas, and a book chapter on Gavin Bryars’ vocal music. At the moment I’m immersed in Hildegard von Bingen and her contemporaries as part of the research for my new history of song for Yale University Press. It’s great to be busy with these projects, but joining old friends for real concerts (while I can still do it!) has been total magic.

Peyee Chen, Malcolm Creese, Jacob Heringman, Susanna Pell, JP

There’s also a timely Early Music insert in the current issue of Soanyway magazine, which features an interview with Jake and Zan, and a short piece from me on the Dowland Project’s early music and jazz.

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