:: Conductus

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.


Juno, new writing & releases

Thursday, February 11th, 2016

Apologies to those looking for the gig list (there’s a provisional one below).  I’m taking three months off to finish a book. I’ve promised myself a first draft by Easter so work starts again in April (writing, being pure self-indulgence and hardly profitable, doesn’t count as work). It’s going quite well so far – that early rush where you get everything down in a very raw form before you realise it probably has to be a bit more tactful (and possibly better researched).  Later in the year three other odd bits of writing will finally appear: ‘Voice, Genre, Species? How the tenor voice has been defined since the first recordings’ will be published by Schott Mainz in Der Tenor: Mythos, Geschichte und Gegenwart (in my original English after all rather than a German translation); my piece on Pier Francesco Tosi for the Max Planck Institute’s music aesthetics encyclopedia project will be published (in German) by Bärenreiter, and the long delayed Cambridge History of  Medieval Music for which I contributed on modern performance of medieval music is now with CUP.

Responsio nominated for a Juno

album cover

In the meantime… our recording of Peter-Anthony Togni’s Responsio (with Jeff Reilly, bass clarinet) has been nominated for a JUNO award (the Canadian equivalent of the Grammies). The list also includes Adele and Justin Bieber (though they needn’t worry about the competition as they’re in different categories). We’ll be performing the piece in Montreal and Halifax in April. There’s a great review of the recording here.

Conductus 3 released February 26

Details in my two previous posts., together with info on concerts & workshops in the UK and Spain later this year. There will be a review in the April Gramophone. 

Amores Pasados reviews, future plans

Two interesting reviews from critics who really understand what we’re all about: the autumn issue of the Journal of the Lute Society of America has just reached us, and Nick Lea writes for Jazz Views here. There’s also a long interview on the Jazz Views site with info about the genesis of the Dowland Project, Conductus, Being Dufay,  Amores Pasados and much more.  Gramophone decided not to review the album, incidentally  – the first ECM release of mine that they’ve ignored. I guess they just don’t like rock musicians. Our next one’s going to be even worse…

The Amores Pasados season kicks off in Seville at the Teatro Centrale in April – details to follow. Gigs in the UK and Germany later in the year and a possible South American tour in 2017. New recording some time after the summer – be prepared for some unique engagements with Shakespeare from some very distinguished rock musicians.


The provisional gig list for the spring and early summer looks like this:

April 2/3

Helsinki Sibelius Academy

April 6

Amores Pasados, Teatro Centrale, Sevilla

April 16

Responsio Halifax (Canada)

April 17

Responsio (Montreal)

May 3

Gavin Bryars Laude dance project, Winchester Cathedral

May 14

Conductus Cambridge Festival of the Voice

June 9

Amores Pasados National Centre for Early Music, York (Festival of Ideas)

(the next Amores Pasados gigs will be in Germany in September & October)

July 16-18

Conductus Besalu (International Course on Medieval Music Performance)

July 26

Conductus Gloucester (Three Choirs Festival)

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.


PAPH2803 crop

photos: Paul Arthur

Radio bla bla

Friday, December 18th, 2015

Sasha Johnson Manning and I were guests on The Choir a couple of weeks ago. The programme went out on Sunday January 3 as part of Radio 3’s contemporary music week. We arrived at Broadcasting House at the same time as a Head of Better look-alike complete with fold-up Moulton. Very hard not to give him a commiseratory smile.  Sara Mohr-Pietsch told me they’re all like that and that she had one too. They really do live the W1A life. The day had begun well with a 6.30 cheese and Marmite butty on York station followed by a magnificent sunrise on the train. As well as Sasha’s music the play list included  Berio, Meredith Monk, Will Todd, Tormis and Kerry Andrew, and we had a wide-ranging discussion about the state of contemporary choral music. I love live radio, and Sara M-P is a terrifically articulate and knowledgeable interviewer (The Choir is recorded ‘as live’ so you get the thrill of the moment with the comforting thought that your worst bloomers will be edited out – though listening back there’s always something you regret you said or wished you’d thought of). It’s available on the BBC iPlayer for the next few weeks or so (with shorter musical examples I think), and if you check out the list of previous programmes you’ll see a fascinating list of guests and topics. It’s great radio.

Amores Pasados

Ariel Abramovich’s interview on Radio Catalunya (in Spanish) is still available here (starts about 37.50) and Fiona Talkington gave over the whole of her December Early Music Show to a conversation with Anna Maria Friman (it’s still available on iPlayer here); the intriguing Nordic-orientated playlist ended up with our So Ell Encina. If you want to hear the whole album at 30,000 feet BA are offering it in their classical selection on transatlantic flights, I was somewhat bemused to discover thanks to a friend spending Christmas in Mexico. What with that and topping the Amazon Classical Song chart it’s been quite a year.

We’re trying to find possible dates for our next ECM recording and we’re hoping the whole process can be turned round before the end of the 2016 Shakespeare anniversary. Jacob Heringman has produced exquisite versions of songs by Warlock, Vaughan-Williams, C W Orr and many others, including Shakespeare settings by Quilter, Moeran and Gavin Bryars.  Reclaiming early twentieth century English song has become a fascinating part of our agenda. One or more of our rock stars may also have some Shakespearean surprises for us. At the moment we have touring periods in April (Spain), May (UK) and September/October (Germany) and gigs are coming in all the time so we’re looking forward to lots of performances over the year.

Conductus 3

The third and final Hyperion Conductus album will be released on February 26 (though rumour has it that it can already be had in Poland if you’re desperate to get your hands on it).  Hyperion have the details on their site here. In this last official year of the current version of the project we have several events lined up and I’ll be doing a post about them early in the new year. We’ll also be developing new repertoire, informed as now by the very latest musicology from Southampton.


It’s been an amazing year for Amores Pasados and Conductus. Thanks to all who have helped bring these projects to so many places in Europe, and for all the great feedback we’ve had. Most of all, thanks to my wonderful wonderful musical collaborators, Anna, Ariel, Jake, Chris and Rogers – Merry Christmas all!



Amores Pasados, Conductus updates

Tuesday, September 8th, 2015



Our Spanish season came to a climax in Estella in the perfect acoustic of the Iglesia de San Miguel at the Semana de Musica Antigua. It was almost a year to the day since our first ever concert in Avila, when we did a revolutionary programme of Josquin and Victoria. All our concerts since then have been with the Amores Pasados programme (and all in churches), and next week in Bratislava and Gliwice we’ll be introducing a new version of the programme with songs by Gavin Byars, Finzi and Warlock (both concerts in theatres). It’s been a quite extraordinary musical journey, and in Estella after the concert we tried to pin down why it all meant so much to us. Each concert has had a mysterious magic, and each one even more so than the last. It’s partly the repertoire – the stunning pieces by John Paul Jones, Tony Banks and Sting, and Jacob Heringman’s revelatory transcriptions of early 20th century English songs (an entirely new lutesong repertoire), and the connections we find between them all. But there’s something fundamentally liberating about the way we make music together – we all feel free to be ourselves. No genre, no rules.

Reviews continue to be very positive. Here are some from Germany, France and the USA (the German ones are radio with audio):











This week we had the penultimate Conductus concert of the year. This has been another great project, and Chris O’Gorman, Rogers Covey-Crump and I have developed an understanding that can take ensembles years to acquire. This time we were in Zornheim near Mainz, as guests of our old friend Werner Schüßler. We had another fascinating workshop, followed by a concert in which we tried two new substantial three-voice pieces (including Perotin’s Salvatoris Hodie). We then spent an exhilarating day exploring new material for our post-Conductus incarnation next year, superbly looked after by Werner. Not that we’ll be leaving Conductus behind – we have some positively Mahlerian pieces to try in future concerts. We’ll also be looking at Perotin and his contemporaries. The enormous number of three-voice organa are often overlooked in favour of the tiny number of famous four-voice pieces. That’s something we hope to change – the three-voice Graduals and Alleluias are intricate and virtuosic, and often take bizarre and wonderful twist and turns.  We’re in Brighton on the 19th and then we have a break till next year, when there will be Conductus events in Cambridge and Besalu which will bring the AHRC programme to a conclusion, after which we’ll be into new medieval territory.



…still misprinting after all these years…

Conductus, Amores Pasados update

Friday, August 7th, 2015


We had a fantastic time in Radovljica with the Conductus programme. For the first time we projected the film simultaneously with translations (into Slovenian – thanks to ever-resourceful festival director Domen Marincic). The audience really appreciated the direct connection with the texts (and we sold all the CDs that we’d brought, so they must have enjoyed the music). The next day we ran a three hour workshop with around 20 very talented students – most of whom were exploring conductus for the first time. It was the third time I’ve been invited to Domen Marincic’s festival, and every visit has been a joy – great music making and fabulous hospitality – and this time with temperatures up to 35 degrees. There are more festival pics here.

We have two more Conductus events this year – in Nieder Olm with our old friend Werner Schüßler on September 11th, and at the Brighton Early Music Festival on September 19th. I have a pretty hair-raising schedule that weekend, with Amores Pasados at the Improvisations Festival in Gliwice on the 17th and again at the Convergencies Festival in Bratislava on the 20th. Before that the Amores Pasados quartet returns to Spain for the Estella Festival on September 5th. October will be taken up with a visit to Havana with Ariel Abramovich for Leo Brouwer’s Voices festival and finishing a chapter on Pier-Francesco Tosi for the Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics. More on all the above in a bit.

The diary for the next couple of months looks like this:

August 13: Conductus ensemble Radovljica Festival (Slovenia)

August 14: Conductus workshop Radovljica Festival

September 5: Amores Pasados Estella Festival (Spain)

September 11: Conductus ensemble concert + workshop: Nieder Olm (Germany)

September 17: Amores Pasados  Convergencies Festival Bratislava (Slovakia)

September 18: Amores Pasados workshop Bratislava

September 19: Conductus Ensemble + workshop Brighton Early Music Festival (UK)

September 20: Amores Pasados Improvisations Festival Gliwice (Poland)

October 5-12: Lute songs with Ariel Abramovich Festival Les Voix Humaines Havana (Cuba)

Engagements and new projects for next year are continuing to come in at a gratifying rate. There will be many more Conductus and Amores Pasados events (even the odd one in the UK). The recording of Peter-Anthony Togni’s Machaut-inspired Responsio will be released on ATMA Classique this November, and we’ll be performing Responsio in Canada and the USA and (hopefully) Russia. The third Conductus album is now ready to go and will see the light of day sometime after February. In the spring I’ll be meeting up again with the St Bridget arm of Daniel Stighäll’s Serikon (you can hear something of what we do here).

As I write, Amores Pasados is still going up and down the UK classical charts and we’re accumulating some wonderful new material that we hope to record in due course.

Amores Pasados updates

Monday, April 20th, 2015

Avila selfie


Amores Pasados – dates so far

Dates are coming in at quite a rate for the Amores Pasados quartet (Anna Maria Friman, Ariel Abramovich, Jacob Heringman and me). ECM are on track for a June release and we will launch the album at the Festival Música Antigua Aranjuez on June 13. We’ll be in Santiago de Compostela on July 2nd for the Festival Via Stellae and on September 5th we’re in Estella for the 46 Semana de Música Antigua de Estella and in Gliwice (Poland) on September 20. We’ll be touring Germany in the first half of November, and travelling to the Triskell Arts Centre in Cork on November 27. The main feature of the programme is the new music by Sting and Tony Banks and the new arrangements of John Paul Jones’ Amores Pasados which will be receiving their first performances. The live programme will consist of all the music from album plus new transcriptions of 20th century English songs for voice and two lutes by Warlock, Dunhill, C W Orr, Quilter and Vaughan Williams. There will of course also be some Dowland and a couple of insane lute duets.

We’re very excited about this – it’s ground-breaking stuff – and we’re bringing new music on stream all the time (both lutesongs by rock musicians and transcriptions of early 20th century English songs – two brand new repertoires for voices and lutes).

Ariel Abramovich and I will also be doing the Sting and Tony Banks songs in Havana on October 10th at Leo Brouwer’s Festival of the Human Voice.




University of Gothenburg conference

In the meantime I’m off to Gothenburg for a very unusual conference. It brings together a number of specialist performers and academics to debate the future of performance in higher education. Its full title is ORNAMENTING (force) an ECOLOGY of TRUST (form): Exploring Force and Form through Performance /Performativity and it’s organised by the Swedish polymath performer Elisabeth Belgrano (whose presentation at the  NEMA conference in York caused quite a stir). If you’re in Gothenburg this week come and hear/see/experience some challenging events:

The aim of this entangled encounter (an alternative way of meeting) is to turning the forces and forms of academic traditions slightly upside-­‐down/inside-­‐out, somehow mirroring ‘the uneasiness’ sensed around us in our global society. Our common task will be to create an environment where boundaries between subjects and objects at first remain undefined and uncertain in order to intra-­‐actively articulating new knowledge while ORNAMENTING (force) an ECOLOGY of TRUST (form).

Trollhättan Early Music Days

Coincidentally, I’m in Sweden a couple of weeks later for the Trollhättans tidig musik dagar, singing a concert of music for St Brigit of Sweden with Anna Maria Friman and Daniel Stighäll.

 3 Medieval Tenors

Then it’s the start of the Conductus season at the Beverley Early Music Festival. More on this and the complete list of upcoming gigs through to 2016 in a bit.



Upcoming concerts

Tuesday, February 24th, 2015


This week I’m off to the Adelaide Festival where Gavin Bryars is composer in residence. I’ve been several times to the East and West coasts of Australia but this will be my first visit to the south. I’m hoping to see Gavin’s Marilyn Munroe opera soon after we arrive, then we have a GBE gig at which Peyee Chen and I will sing his (Blake) Morrison Songbook and a selection of Irish Madrigals and Laude. Then we have the wonderful Shakespeare sonnet cycle Nothing Like the Sun, with the magical spoken voice of Gavin Friday. It’ll be a pretty intense few days – super-charged essence of Bryars. And the sun should be shining…

3 Medieval Tenors


Not long after arriving home I’ll be heading for Bratislava for a Three Medieval Tenors concert in the cathedral on March 16th. I love Bratislava – it’s not only very beautiful but it has a proper cultural community that’s up for anything – and the cathedral is a wonderful building (I’ve performed there with the Dowland Project); it’s the perfect acoustic for the Conductus programme.

The next Three Med Tens concert is on May 21st in Beverly Minster (seating is limited and tickets are selling fast, so don’t miss it if you’re in Yorkshire). Our next visit to the north is Durham on June 9 or 10, then we have the Med Ren conference in Brussels July 6th, Radovljica on August 13th, Nieder Olm the week of September 10-17, and Brighton on September 19th. All of these have AHRC workshops where you can sign up (for free) to learn about the history of Conductus and how to perform this extraordinary musical/poetic hybrid music. They’re open to all, and there will be something for everyone whatever their previous musical experience.

Amores Pasados

ECM have confirmed that the album will be released in May/June, and we’ll be having a Spanish launch at the Aranjuez Festival (near Madrid) on June 13th with further concerts in Spain, Germany and Ireland later in the year. The programme will include all the music from the album, plus more of each of the three genres represented (new songs by rock musicians, early 20th century English song transcriptions, and 17th century lutesongs).


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


ECM 169 - B&W Amores Pasados project  WEB

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).


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.