:: Ambrose Field


ECM from the Hilliard Ensemble to Alternative History

Wednesday, March 25th, 2020



If you were hoping to get to one of our Corona-cancelled Alternative History gigs and haven’t got one of our albums, Amores Pasados has several pieces that are still in our repertoire, and the Josquin and Victoria on Secret History is the tip of an iceberg of similar material that we would be doing live. The ensemble name post-dates the albums so you’ll find them under our individual names – and do check out the discographies of  my fellow band members Anna Maria Friman, Ariel Abramovich and Jacob Heringman. Anna’s most recent Trio Mediaeval recording is Rimur (with her husband, trumpeter and extraordinary vocalist Arve Henriksen); you can hear Jake and Ariel playing vihuela duets on Cifras Imaginarias, and Jake and I also put in a brief appearance on Ariel’s latest album Imaginario with Maria Christina Kehr. It was a winter’s day and close to zero when I recorded my bit of Josquin and it has had unusually mixed reviews ranging from the mythical to the mediocre, but don’t let that stop you listening to the magnificent Maria Christina and Ariel. Jake has a huge discography, and if you want to wallow in a Brexit metaphor, Guy Carpenter videoed the two of us in a post-Brexit (post-Coronavirus?) landscape for In Darkness Let me Dwell.

ECM…

Three of these five albums are on ECM, Manfred Eicher’s iconic label that has so successfully captured the musical Zeitgeist either side of the millennium. My connection goes back to the first meeting between the Hilliards, Manfred and Arvo Pärt in the back of a BBC van in the mid-1980s. When I left the Hilliards about fifteen years later I was incredibly touched to be asked to suggest new recording projects and the Dowland Project was born (as much the creation of Manfred Eicher as we musicians).  I don’t listen to my own stuff obviously (there’s a full discography here) but if I did here are some of the earlier ECM tracks I might summon up…

The Hilliard Ensemble

The Hilliard Ensemble’s Officium produced lots of fantastic music but many people didn’t get beyond the first album. Mnemosyne, the second recording, is a double CD and we were a lot better at negotiating with the saxophone by then. Two of my favourite tracks are Quechua Song, put together from fragments of South American folksongs, and the Brumel Agnus Dei. The Brumel has that wonderful sequence and we reordered it so that it would keep on coming. We used to do it live as the final piece, leaving the stage while still singing with Jan Garbarek soaring away above us. Of the other Hilliard albums from my time, A Hilliard Songbook is a double album of the the group’s greatest 20th century hits including not only works by Arvo Pärt and Veljo Tormis  but also wonderful pieces by James MacMillan, Barry Guy, Paul Robinson, Elizabeth Liddle, Joanne Metcalf, John Casken, Piers Hellawell and Ivan Moody.  The Arvo Pärt Passio and Miserere albums continue to resonate decades after we made them. I also love the gloriously bonkers When Sara was Ninety Years old (also on Miserere), where Rogers Covey-Crump and duet over Pierre Favre’s shamanic drum for the ninety year gestation period until the moment Sara (in the form of Sarah Leonard assisted by Christopher Bowers Broadbent) is miraculously delivered of  Isaac. We hardly ever did it live as it’s almost impossible to programme, but long after I’d left the Hilliards I was doing a gig in Sofia and found myself sharing a taxi with the distinguished percussionist and we bonded once more over the six words that we had in common.

Being Dufay

The Bulgarian gig was a new work by Ambrose Field for me and amplified string quartet, the second piece he’d written for me. Ambrose was a colleague at York and one day asked me to find him some fragments of Dufay, which we recorded in the Music Department studio. I was totally gobsmacked when about a year later he produced the extraordinary electronic tour de force which is Being Dufay. We played a bit to Manfred when he came to the university to deliver the PRS Lecture and he remixed and remastered it for ECM. There are proper prog moments when (as one reviewer put it) ‘the full digital Potter is unleashed’ but I really like the final track, La Dolce Vista. It’s a delicate love song,  one line of a three-voice ballade which I sing over an electronic drone. Ambrose used to re-mix it when we did it live, and I still do it with the Dowland Project, with Jacob Heringman providing the drone and John Surman and Milos Valent alternately inventing additional parts.

The Dowland Project

It’s impossible to pick a favourite Dowland Project track as they’re mostly single takes and you enjoy each one as though it’s the last you’ll ever do, so each one has everything you’ve got.  The most serendipitous album is Night Sessions, half of which was done after midnight and a lot of alcohol, having completed the previous recording (Romaria). With no music left but a feeling that the night was still young we went back into the monastery church and busked away with a book of medieval poems that I happened to have with me. We didn’t really know what we’d done until the next morning. The track about medieval gardening is excruciating, but Corpus Christi and I sing of a Maiden hit the spot. You’d have no idea we were making it up and that these were the only takes. With Night Sessions I think the process that began with Officium reached a kind of point of no return (and I’m sure my ex-Hilliard colleagues are very relieved that I left before I could drag them in that direction). Strangely enough Theoleptus 22 was originally intended for the Hilliards and Jan. It’s an ancient Byzantine chant (with 22 notes, I seem to remember) and obviously got very different treatment in the hands of messrs Guy, Stubbs, Homburger and Surman. Thankyou Manfred for half a century of fantastic music making.

Amores Pasados, 3 Med Tens…

Monday, February 2nd, 2015

I’ve at last done some updates. The site now has new versions of the Programmes, Lute song and Conductus pages, and a new page for Amores Pasados.

 3 Medieval Tenors – Conductus

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2015 is going to be very busy. We already have dates in Belgium, Germany, Slovenia, Slovakia and Spain as well as the UK. Many of these will have AHRC-funded workshops which are open to all (we can even cope if you don’t read music) so keep an eye on this News page for details as we go through the year.  If you were saddened by the retirement of the Hilliard Ensemble, come and hear the Three Medieval Tenors, two of whom spent a great proportion of their careers in the group, and sign up for the workshops which might revolutionise your ideas of how medieval music should go.  Our next performance – Conductus: the Forgotten Song of the Middle Ages is in Bratislava on March 16th, and the third Conductus CD will be released in June.

 Amores Pasados

 

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I’m also very excited about Amores Pasados. The recording back in November was an extraordinarily intense experience for all of us. Our earlier recording (release now postponed till the autumn) wasn’t easy, so we were very surprised at how well things turned out in Oslo. We wanted to show that a song is a song, and that rock musicians such as Sting, John Paul Jones and Tony Banks could write lute songs that would stand comparison with their predecessors Dowland and Campion. We also found ourselves looking at those English composers of the early 20th century who would have written lute songs had there been any lutes or lute players around, and included songs by Warlock and E J Moeran arranged for two lutes. ECM are excited too, and will bring the album out in April (something of a record, I think). There is a clip from the first track on the Amores Pasados page (and the site ident music is also from the album).

 Australia

The performing year kicks off for me with the Gavin Bryars Ensemble at the Adelaide Festival. We’ll be packing a lot into a very short residency, including Gavin’s great Shakespeare cycle Nothing Like the Sun, as well as his (Blake) Morrison Songbook, Irish Madrigals and Laude (all with Peyee Chen).   The last time I was in Australia was with Ambrose Field and Being Dufay, and I hope to be performing Ambrose’ Transmission Cycle (with string quartet) later in the year.

 

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Hilliard dates, Field in Bucharest, Conductus 3

Monday, March 24th, 2014

This is an update of my previous post to test the new subscription facility. I’m afraid existing subscribers will have to re-subscribe to continue getting updates…

 

Hilliard Ensemble in Leeds & Seville

These two gigs were my last ever with the group  unless Rogers or Steven sing themselves out before the frantic final year is finished. It was a return to old stamping grounds –  the Leeds venue (former porn cinema attached to the Opera House…) had memories of gigs with Gavin Bryars and Ambrose Field (we did Being Dufay there), and Seville is where Ariel Abramovich lives and we’ve dome several gigs there. The programme started with the Godric hymns (long thought to be the oldest surviving songs in a form of English but now there’s a bit more competition). I’ve recorded these both with the HE and the Dufay Collective.   It was great to re-visit the C15 English pieces – Plummer, Pyamour, Frye, Sheryngham and Cornysh – all composers that rank as high as Purcell in my book. The second half was Notre Dame repertoire – a change of style compared with the Conductus Project versions of similar repertoire – and for the concert in the extraordinary Seville Cathedral quite a change of acoustic. The cathedral square, incidentally, is the background to the photos of Ariel Abramovich and me on the lute songs page on this site. Seville cathedral is absurdly large for four blokes to sing in, but it was a great occasion – the first time the HE had sung there since we did a Morales mass project about 20 years ago. Seville cathedralIt was great to see Ariel and lute maker Ivo Magherini too – and they made sure we had the best tapas around.  Discussed the final HE Wigmore with Gordon Jones, wondering how they would cope with the last gig ever. I’m not even sure I’ll go to it myself – I’d rather remember Seville as my goodbye to all that. The group never did much in England and the Wigmore can’t really compare with Seville Cathedral.

Jazz in Church Festival Bucharest

Ambrose Field and I had a great time in Rumania – very creative festival (defining jazz very loosely indeed), lovely people and very efficiently organised. Ambrose’ Transmission Cycle is very different from Being Dufay – summoning up glimpses of Arvo Pärt and Charles Ives and yet growing in a distinctive Field of its own. The young string quartet was excellent (Ambrose  conducted just to make sure we all got to the end at the same time). Great to catch up with Pierre Favre, who played percussion on Pärt’s When Sarah was Ninety Years Old which Rogers Covey-Crump and I recorded early on in our Hilliard careers.

 

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Recording Conductus 3 at the NCEM

This was the final CD, and should appear in the autumn. It included a couple of contrafactae – one in French and one in Provencal – and another huge piece that begins as a trio and ends as a duet. Rogers Covey-Crump, Chris O’Gorman and I are looking forward to doing plenty of gigs next year (once Rogers has recovered from the HE farewell tour). We’re applying for additional funding from the AHRC to enable us to do concerts and workshops for free beyond the academic environment. Thanks to all those promoters who have supported this – we hope for good news soon.