:: Cantum pulcriorum invenire

Conductus complete

Wednesday, July 20th, 2016

nb: new Conductus webpage here

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The performance element of the Conductus project reached its climax at the 5th annual course on medieval music inBesalú  at the weekend.


Concert pic


Funded by the AHRC, led by Mark Everist at the University of Southampton, and known officially as Cantum pulcriorum invenire (‘Finding a finer song’), the project has involved Christopher O’Gorman, Roger Covey-Crump and me in more than a dozen concerts and workshops in five different countries as well as three CDs. Our repertoire consists of some fifty pieces and is continuing to expand.  A big thankyou from the three of us to the AHRC, all the Southampton team, our manager Robert White and those workshop organisers who did such a great job. We’re looking forward to future collaboration (and, of course, the book). For those interested in the complete story – the venues, the repertoire, the name changes… there are more than 30 posts on this site charting our progress over the last few years.

We had a terrific time in Besalú – a great bunch of students from all over the planet (Mexico, the USA, Japan, Canada, France, not to mention Catalunya…) and a relaxed, friendly,  efficiently organised course.


Workshop pic


Mauricio Molina‘s vision will surely carry his project forward to great things in the future.  Part of our concert was featured on the local tv station (the final shot, somewhat embarrassingly, featuring an edition that was more Australian than Southampton…). We ended our last workshop with an open rehearsal of Exiit sermo, a virtuosic three voice organum which we’re performing in Gloucester next week.


Cantum image

One of the conditions of the AHRC grant was that we should reach beyond the higher education community, and we tapped into the wider audience this implied by engaging with festivals and concert series, some of which had never had a medieval experience before. Now that the research project is complete we’re able to take a sideways step into academia, so if there are universities out there interested in our post-Conductus projects do please get in touch…

Conductus: workshops & reviews

Friday, March 25th, 2016

Our final Conductus season is now under way with the release of the third and last eponymous Hyperion album. The deadline for applications for our next workshop (part of the  Cambridge Festival of the Voice) is fast approaching. You need to apply by April 11 and you can find details of how to register here. It takes place at Little St Mary’s 10.30 – 12.30 on Saturday May 14 before our concert in the afternoon. It’s the last AHRC-funded workshop we have planned in the UK. The next one is at the Medieval Performance Course  in Besalu July 16-17, after which we have a concert (but no workshop) at the Three Choirs Festival in Gloucester July 26. If you’re not familiar with this extraordinary and long-forgotten music you’ll find several posts below and a page of background info (with some sound clips) here.

Press has been good so far for Conductus 3. On the coals to Newcastle front Diapason gave us four stars (and tactfully avoided mentioning our French); Musicweb considered it ‘a small but bright jewel’  and our singing to be ‘fragrant’ (a first for all of us, I think); the Sunday Times was impressed with the ‘refinement and intimacy’ and several enjoyed the NCEM acoustic. The excellent  Hyperion page has longer extracts from the major reviews, and there’s a similar page for Conductus 1 and Conductus 2.

Rogers, Chris and I are greatly looking forward to meeting old friends and making new ones on our latest Conductus adventure, and to new trio projects next year.


Conductus 3 released!

Friday, January 29th, 2016

C3 cover

Le Conductus nouveau est arrivé! …At least it has in East Parade. Though I don’t know anyone who listens to their own records more than once. You put them on when the freebies arrive and then put them on a shelf. Three things happen every time: firstly, relief that it’s not as bad as you thought; secondly, yes it is; thirdly, it’s nothing like you do it now.


I actually enjoyed this one much more than I feared I might. It has a very cool feel to it compared with the stile saggitari (Mark Everist’s joke, not mine…) that usually afflicts performances of this repertoire. There are lots of pieces that we don’t programme live because they’re too long, but which work well in the context of the album. It’s also pretty obvious in the polyphony that we really can sing together without the tyranny of rhythm, and the hybrid musical-poetic form that is conductus reveals itself to be at least very different from previous ideas of how the music should go.

The thing that’s most striking is that none of it is anything like we do it now: it really shows how un-definitive recordings are – and in our case how our performances have continued to evolve almost out of sight of our first efforts. We always say that albums are just documents, of course.  Recording is nothing like the unrealistic scramble for perfection that it used to be – you do long takes and minimal editing – but you can’t get away from a certain carefulness and attention to specific parameters (with all three Conductus albums, for example, we took a lot of care over pronunciation; we worry a lot less about being fake Frenchmen when we do it live). You do take risks but they are of a different order from those you might take in live performance. One of the most elemental and exciting things about music is that it’s over the instant it’s uttered so you give your all to each of those moments. In a recording you can never quite forget that not only is it not over, but it might come back to haunt you.

I hope people interested in the period will enjoy it – it’s been huge fun to do and the whole project continues to energise the way we do this music.  It’s been quite a journey, and each of the albums represents a fascinating stop along the way. A big thankyou to Mark Everist and the Southampton team, and to Hyperion, Jeremy Summerly and Jules Millard.




The recording project is complete but Conductus live lives on! We’re greatly looking forward to the new Conductus season – it’s not too late to register for our workshops in Cambridge and Besalu. Oh, and you can buy the album direct from Hyperion here, or from Amazon. There are also some short promo clips from Vol 3 on YouTube here, and from Vol 2 here  and there are more thoughts in my previous post below.





Conductus in 2016

Friday, January 8th, 2016


It went a little quiet on the Conductus front towards the end of last year, but the third phase of the Cantum pulcriorum invenire project is now under way. Hyperion will release the third album on February 26, and later in the year we have concerts and workshops in Cambridge and Besalu. These will probably be the last opportunities to hear the three of us doing a dedicated Conductus programme as we’re beginning to branch out into other repertories.


Conductus 3 is, shall we say, more hard core than the two previous CDs.  It’s a research project after all, and this not the album that we singers would have made had we been dependent on anyone actually buying it. Because our recorded repertoire is a research ‘output’  we can only do what the Southampton musicologists ask us to do, and rather than climax in a blaze of three-voice glory the final recording reverts to Conductorial purity with Rogers, Chris and me doing a lot of solos and comparatively little polyphony. This doesn’t mean we’ve stopped exploring the 3 tenor material (or that it’s not a great record…) – we have some positively symphonic 3 voice pieces in our current programme – but that’s just how the research schedule panned out.


Fittingly perhaps, since we now know a great deal more about how to perform this music, the very last AHRC event takes place over three days. We’ve been invited to the International Course of Medieval Music Performance at Besalú .  The course runs July 8-23 and is probably the most comprehensive medieval music course currently on offer anywhere. There are five other strands in addition to ours, with specialist tutors in the Carmina Burana, Pythagorean tuning, liturgical Easter dramas, medieval Latin and the aesthetics of medieval song. We’ll also be supervising a concert by our workshop participants, which will be a new departure for us.   Besalú is one of the most beautiful medieval villages in Spain so the whole event promises to be a real treat.   You can register here and we hope to see some old friends as well as make many new ones.




Saturday May 14th  we’ll be doing a concert and workshop in Cambridge.  Anyone who came to our concert in April 2013 will understand something of the journey we’ve made since then. Rogers hadn’t yet joined us, and Chris and I were focusing on the 2-voice repertoire (with Mick Lynch’s film to distract from the fact that that it was just the two of us for a whole evening). It was a very intense programme, preceded by a talk with an extraordinarily engaged audience. If you were there, come along and see where we’ve got to. The workshop is 10.30 – 12.30 in Little St Mary’s and you can register here. Our concert (also in Little St Mary’s) will feature at least one piece that probably hasn’t been performed for 800 years, and it’s likely to be the last all-Conductus programme in the UK before we introduce our new programme at the Three Choirs Festival in July.

We’re still debating the name question. ‘Conductus’ has been the title of the albums, not the name of our ensemble. As the original project neared its end  we began to explore other repertoires and we flirted with the idea of calling ourselves Three Medieval Tenors, so that people wouldn’t think we did just the one genre. But then we began to be called THE Three Medieval Tenors which we thought was rather over the top, so we’ve abandoned that. I’m not sure we need an ensemble name, but if we have one it’s likely to be…Conductus.

Post Conductus and pre-history

Our new programmes will apply the same rhetorical principles to parallel and later repertoires, especially the works of Leonin and Perotin. Mark Everist edited the music for the three Red Byrd CDs of Leonin and his anonymous contemporaries, and was an advisor for the live Hilliard album of Perotin and the Ars Antiqua (and the iconic Hilliard ECM Perotin album is one of the best-selling early music records ever), so between us we have a lot of medieval history. Rogers and I go back even further, having sung on the David Munrow recordings of this music. It’s quite something to have lived with this music for so long and to be still discovering its essential newness.


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photos: Paul Arthur

Hilliard Ensemble on Radio 3

Monday, May 12th, 2014


In case you missed the Hilliards on The Early Music Show you can catch it here. Lucy Skeaping knew exactly what questions to ask (she’s a fine singer herself – you can hear the two of us with the Broadside Band on Songs of England (or if you prefer a different cover English National Songs)... which, incidentally, has the first recording of the National Anthem and ‘Rule Britannia’ by a marxist (as I then was…).

It was an entertaining and only slightly inaccurate trip down memory lane. Before the group met Arvo Pärt I’d already done the first broadcast performance of his Arbos (directing from the drum…) and was as enthusiastic as Paul Hillier. Curiously, in that same broadcast concert I did Roger Marsh’s DUM – and it’s Roger’s Il Cor Tristo that’s the key work on the Hilliards’ latest ECM album. As well as for Arvo Pärt, Jan Garbarek and Manfred Eicher I have to thank the Hilliard Ensemble for introducing me to renaissance polyphony. I’d barely heard of Josquin or Ockeghem before I joined and hardly knew any Gesualdo. Hearing the excerpt from the Responsoria brought back horrendous memories of negotiating the awful edition we used. To save space the editor didn’t write out any of the repeated sections and the  geography is very complicated. On one occasion I went back to the beginning instead of half way and (unusually for me) ploughed on, insisting I was right, until the others realised where I was and joined me. It did feel a bit of long evening but I didn’t know till afterwards that I’d actually lengthened it by quite a bit.

The Hilliards’ former record companies (or rather the companies to whom the rights have been sold on) also re-release old stuff from time to time. The latest of these is called The Hilliard Sound. It’s a 3-CD set of ‘Renaissance Masterpieces’ – Josquin (from before I joined), Ockeghem and Lassus (with the Kees Boeke Consort). Lucy Skeaping played Josquin’s ‘Mille regretz’ on the show – and it showed how little the Hilliard sound has changed over the years. I was quite sure I could hear myself. The liner notes are notable for bizarre Beatles-type photos and the equally odd promotion of Paul Hillier to tenor.

It was an understated retrospective – perhaps inevitably as it’s an early music show so only showed one side of the group’s repertoire. but there’s no denying that the ensemble has an extraordinarily accomplished body of work to look back on. Recalling the moment Jan Garbarek first took out his saxophone and joined in ‘Parce mihi’ still makes my hair stand on end. Interesting thoughts at the end on what the current members (as Lucy Skeaping kept calling them) are going to do next. Rogers tactfully didn’t mention that he and I will be hooking up for the Three Medieval Tenors Conductus Project next year. We won’t actually be singing Perotin, but it will be music from exactly that period, newly researched by the Southampton Cantum pulcriorum invenire team.  We were half the Hilliard Ensemble for 18 years, so it’ll be great to go on the road again once Rogers has put his feet up for a bit.



Sunday, May 12th, 2013


House-moving 1 complete! Looking forward to Tampere and Mauerbach, and especially this:

Jessen flyer


Dowland Project

The Night Sessions is about to see the light of day. I’ve seen the booklet…and you can even pre0rder it on Amazon for June 24.

Conductus in York, Southampton and Otterberg

On July 10th Chris O’Gorman and I will sing six pieces (by candle light) from the forthcoming Conductus 2 album at the Merchant Adventurer’s Hall as part of the PMMS study day in York.

We’ll be joined by Rogers Covey-Crump for concerts in Southamton and Otterberg in September.  There’s preliminary  info about the Southampton Cantum Pulcriorum invenire conference here, and you can see details of our German debut  here (in  German).


Peter Togni’s Responsio project

Advance notice for friends in Canada: we’ll be touring Peter Togni’s  re-envisioning of the Machaut Mass (with Jeff Reilly, bass clarinet). The score is finished and on it way. The schedule is still evolving but at the moment includes Lunenburg (August 22nd),  Wolfville (23rd),  Halifax (24th),  St Bernard (25th) after which we hope to record the piece.







Sunday, March 24th, 2013



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The next performance is on April 13th at the Cambridge Festival of the Voice in the Emmanuel United Reform Church. Fond memories of Hilliard Summer School concerts there.  We have a Hyperion  reception at Heffer’s Sound at 6.00, and I’ll be doing a short pre-concert talk at 6.45. The programme (with Mick Lynch’s film) will incorporate some of the new pieces we recorded for the most recent CD.

We have another duo appearance in the York Early Music Festival on July 10th . This will be a late night half-hour recital for the Plainsong & Medieval Music Society conference. The programme (without film) will consist of material from the new album.



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The Three Medieval Tenors version of the programme gets going in September, with performances at the Cantum conference in Southampton on September 9th (with film) and on September 22nd in the huge and wonderful church of Otterberg as part of the Kultursommer’s Eurovisionen series. We’re looking forward to many more duo and trio performances in 2014.

We had a great photo session in Birmingham with Paul Arthur.  I guess this one won’t appeal to most promoters but I can’t resist posting it here:




 photos: Paul Arthur

I’m finally on Twitter: @johnpottermusic

June concerts, worshops, recordings

Tuesday, April 24th, 2012

[updated 11 July]


June 3 BBC Radio 3 (17.00): The Choir (discussing chant with Aled Jones)

The interview took place down the line from Radio York, with me sweltering in the tiny studio having run most of the way there. But great as always to talk to Aled Jones – and he’ll play tracks from Red Byrd and the Hilliard Ensemble among others.

June 4 Bratislava: Dowland Project at St Martin’s Cathedral (Convergence Festiva)

These two Slovakian gigs will feature our first forays into Schubert Lieder, following the experimental performance on BBC3’s Schubert Remix.  John Surman, Milos Valent and I are doing an interview at 11.00 at the Artforum bookshop if you want to come along and chat.

June 5 Kosice: Dowland Project at Premonštrátsky kostol (Convergence Festival)

DP Convergience

Is it possible to get closer to musical heaven than being on stage with Milos Valent, Jake Heringman and John Surman roaring away at full throttle? It’s like falling off a precipice and discovering you can fly. These were great gigs – and a big thankyou to Josef Luptak and his team for giving us the opportunity. The Schubert worked really well, and we’re going to try some more in Slovenia.  There’s some video of the Bratislava concert here, and an intervew (in Slovak) with Milos). There’s also a video and a bit of an interview with me (in English!) from our Prague concert last year (courtesy of The Times of India). Latest hint from ECM suggests the Night Sessions album will appear early next year…

June 7-11 Rhineland ensemble coaching sessions

This was a magical time too:  I had a wonderful time with Werner Schüssler’s two ensembles.  The youthful Vocal T and the multi-instrumental Four Reasons were a delight: creative and intelligent musicians who really understood how to collaborate.

June 14 Goldmark Gallery Uppingham: Gavin Bryars Ensemble

Programme to include Laude, Irish Madrigals and extracts from the Morrison Songbook.

This was very atmospheric – very intimate space and very high-powered audience. Lovely people – it makes such a difference when everyone appreciates that this is something more than just a job for us.

June 15 York: Workshop with Ensemble Norma (York)

Norma were really fired up after their success in the Leipzig competition. It was great to work with them (I still feel guilty about their not making the final at Tampere last time). They’re hugely versatile, and we had a very creative time. Keep an ear out – they write or arrange all their own stuff (some of which you can hear here).

June 17 : Alcalá de Henares  (Clásicos en Alcalá) : Dowland recital with Ariel Abramovich (lute)

Alcalá is the birthplace of Cervantes. As a coda to our Dowland recital we’ll perform Robert Johnson’s ‘Woods and Rocks and Mountains’ (thanks to  a bit of detective work by Robert White).  Thomas Shelton’s translation of Don Quixote was published in 1612, as was the play Cardenio which drew on it (and which may have been co-authored  by Shakespeare). The Johnson song is believed to have been composed for this production.

Ariel Abramovich and I have done a lot of Dowland over the last four years or so, but this must have been the most appropriate venue ever: the Corral de Comedias is an exquisite 17th century theatre, perfect for our Pilgrim’s Solace programme.  And it was great to do the Johnson ‘Don Quixote’ piece just yards from where Cervantes was born.

June 20-25 Vienna: Sound & Fury recordings

This will be an Ockeghemfest…, with multiple versions of the Missa Cuius Vis Toni.

Our last Ockeghem effort was greatly appreciated by Todd McComb. He seems particularly gratified by our musica ficta – for wich we have to thank Jaap van Bentham. The Cuius Vis Toni will be a field day for ficta...

See the next post above…

July 10 Harewood House:  Conductus Project concert and CD launch

A late night event in the medieval church in the grounds of Harewood House as part of the York Early Music Festival, this will be the first live concert following the research and recording sessions for Southampton University’s Cantum Pulcriorum Invenire project. It will be by candle light, and feature the first showing of a specially commissioned film by Michael Lynch.

We enjoyed this a lot, especially the gasps from the audience when Mick Lynch’s horses seemed to go for Chris O’Gorman’s head… Another very atmospheric gig (very efficiently organised by the York Early Music Festival team. For details of the CD see the Hyperion website.



Friday, January 13th, 2012



I’ve replaced the rather rambling Ensemble, Being Dufay and Lutesongs pages with a much simpler Programmes page, which gives basic details of my main performing projects for this year and next, which are (in alphabetical order): Being Dufay (and its successor), the Conductus Project,  the Dowland Project, and lute songs. The Red Byrd discography has been updated to include the two latest releases. RB isn’t offering specific programmes but we have a number of special requests in the pipeline and are working on these. The Dowland Project also has concerts later in the year, and we’re still waiting for a definite release date from ECM which we hope will generate some more.  The album will be the group’s most radical (and possibly its last), focusing on medieval music and improvisation. There are  also  more succinct Biography and Coaching pages and a slightly edited entry page.

There are Amazon Stores for both the Dowland Project and Red Byrd, with a complete discography and biography on each. I also have a writer’s page, though you may get a primary school teacher of the same name or the magical Harry (the CD page is pretty basic at the moment, but will eventually have a representative selection).


A History of Singing

The book is due any day now, and the dedicated page here is intended to link bits of it with recordings and concerts. The book doesn’t have a formal discography (redundant in the age of Google) so I  thought I’d take the opportunity to track down various YouTube examples of my own stuff and match them up with references in the book. It does this by means of  a Prezi presentation which I hope will be a bit more fun than just a list of stuff. If this works I may expand the concept to include other bits of writing (such as my chapters in the two forthcoming Cambridge Histories).

Conductus CD & Singing History updates

Monday, December 5th, 2011

[updated 12.1.12]

Hyperion Conductus project


Cantum image

The first edit is done, so we’re on track to release the first album at the next York Early Music Festival. Mick Lynch has made a short video for  YouTube which can be seen here. It has shots from the recording sessions  and gives an idea of what his accompanying films will look like (it’s not an actual album track…). We’ve already had enquiries about future concerts, and if you would like information about the live version  please contact Robert White (rwhiteam@aol.com). There was  considerable debate about the titles of the CD series; we finally agreed on Conductus l, ll and lll, with subtitles for each one. The concerts are intended to be experimental – trying things out for future recordings but also using ideas that may only work live and not bear the inevitable repetition of a recording.

The next recording period will be in November, and the intention is to launch Conductus ll in the 2013 York Early Music Festival, at a Plainsong & Medieval Music Society event in the Chapter House of York Minster. There is a dedicateed page on this site; you can also see more details on Christopher O’Gorman’s site.  Southampton University’s Cantum Pulcriorem Invenire site has detailed informatio about the whole project, including its academic profile.


Dowland Project

DP Milan


ECM are now planning a spring release of the ‘Night Sessions’ album. Concerts are planned for late spring.


History of Singing


Potter & Sorrell  will be launched at an informal event in the CUP shop in King’s Parade, probably in March. There will be contributions from a section of the CUP choir and (hopefully) some ethnic singing introduced by Neil Sorrell. On February 4th I’ll be doing a recital of English and Italian music with Yair Avidor (lute) at Fitzwilliam College in the evening.

I’m working on a Prezi presentation for a History of Singing page which will link aspects of the book to some of my performing and recording activities.

More soon.