:: Gavin Bryars Ensemble

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Thursday, March 3rd, 2011

February was a great month, though CUP called our bluff with the singing history book and want it by about now, so I’ve been too busy to update the diary and have been frantically writing between gigs. I did a lovely concert in Orleans with Gavin Bryars, with Anna Friman doing her first gig with the group since giving birth to Max and Filip (and getting her doctorate). Ambrose Field and I had a terrific time in Rome, and even managed an improvised encore which the audience insisted on when we came out to take down the gear after the show had finished. There are reviews from Online Jazz and Giornale della Musica here and  here. Ambrose has some sound clips on his blog, in front of the mother ship(including our encore) and the pic shows us standing in front of the mother ship before it left for Mars. I also recorded Josquin and Victoria at St Gerold for ECM with my lovely vihuela players. Fabulous musicans. There was no snow, but it was great to see the horses enjoying the sun.

Liz Haddon and I have finished our IMP chapter. Or rather Liz has. My contribution didn’t extend to much more than writing my name. And I had a lovely time coaching Enkelit. No English singers ever sounded more like Finns.  There was a strange historical conjunction when the Hilliard Ensemble did a concert in the York university concert series. Two slices of history that I’ve left behind. And FabCab had another purely social reunion in Bewdley. More history. Now back to the book – the next post will triumphantly  announce its completion…


Saturday, October 23rd, 2010

November 3

Dowland Project (Prague) with John Surman (sax/bass clarinet), Milos Valent (viola/violin) & Steve Stubbs (lutes)

Strings of Autumn Festival

extrapolations & improvisations on  Monteverdi, Merula, Sances, Purcell, Busatti, der Kanzler & anon

Tyn ChurchThis was our only European performance this year, so it was a very special occasion (Steve Stubbs flew from Seattle just for the gig). The Strings of Autumn Festival is magic – very efficient and friendly staff, great audience and the Tyn church is spectacular. Czech TV took part of the concert and even asked sensible quesitions afterwards.  It took a while to sort the sound out (the church is almost higher than it is long) but we had a great time.  For an encore we did La Dolce Vista. I didn’t tell the guys what it was, just ‘drone in D…’, and it worked surpisingly well in a slightly swung triple time…

My suite in the Intercontinental Hotel even had a pillow menu, pilow menuwhich coming soon after the monkish pseudo pillow of Mauerbach was a blessed relief.

November 6

Gavin Bryars Ensemble (London)

London International Festival of Exploratory Music at King’s Place

programme  includes Laude, Singe/Petrarch sonnets & new versions of English Madrigals by Gavin Bryars to poems by Blake Morrison for tenor, electric guitar, viola, cello & bass

Only UK performance this year.

What a wonderful concert hall King’s Place is. Crisp, bright acoustic – lovely to sing in, helpful backstage staff – perfect. It was a pretty hectic day as Gavin Bryars was held up in motorway traffic so we didn’t start the rehearsal till very late. But the new Morrison Songbook seemed to go very well – Blake’s words combine a strong sense of narrative with a linguistic sensuality that singers live for and Gavin is perfect at capturing – and Penny was very touched by Gavin’s dedication of the work to her. Great to see so many friends in the audience too. The Euston Ibis was a bit of a contrast to the Prague Intercontinental – no airconditioning so windows open to the roar of London traffic...

Next performance: Université d’Orléans (France), January 28

November 11

A Musicall Banquet (Birmingham) with Ariel Abramovich

Birmingham Early Music Festival

songs by Dowland, Holborne, Martin, Hales, Batchelor, Tessier, Guedron, Caccini & Megli from Robert Dowland’s 1610 book

November 12

lutsesong workshop with Ariel Abramovich

Learning Centre, Birmingham University 10.30 – 1.00

The Birmingham Early Music Festival’s theme of The Poet Sings was perfect for our Musical Banquet performance. The Birmingham & Midland Institute was a gem of a venue (and apparently features acoustic tiling based on the Fibonacci series) and we had a wonderfully attentive audience who’d braved the atrocious weather.  It’s a great festival – well worth checking out the other concerts. Our workshope was also terrific – what a great bunch of students – and how lucky they are to have Mary O’Neill to look after them!

November 18

Being Dufay (1st London performance)

Lewisham Sampler Festival at The Albany Deptford

I don’t do many gigs in the UK, and they’re sometimes distinctly odd. I looked up during the second number, to see someone apparently doing gymnastics swinging from the balcony ironwork. I hope it was out of excitement rather than boredom. The bar was in the auditorium (something I’d advocated at the York Music Department, but which – predictably – found no support) and it was great to see people sitting at tables rather than strung out like washing. Even so, Ambrose had to leap into the audience before we started to tell them to slurp their beer rather more loudly than they had during the recorder playing that preceded us. The day didn’t start well: I forgot the laptop that plays the video programme, so Ambrose and the Albany techies had to spend hours trying to re-construct it – which they did with seconds to spare. We always travel with plenty of backup, but it’s the sort of thing you only want to do once. I don’t think Ambrose enjoyed himself much, but I thought the show went quite well.

next performance: Parco della Musica Auditorium (Rome) February 26

We’ve just got this short video interview with excerpts from our Dancity Festival performance in Foligno earlier this year:

November 24

Roger Marsh 60th birthday concert (York)

Not a Soul but Ourselves sung by Anna Myatt, Linda Hirst, John Potter & Bill Brooks

excerpts from his Albert Giraud’s Pierrot Lunaire &  new works for tenor, cello (Charlotte Bishop) and tape by Ed Jessen and for tenor & marimba (Damien Harron) by Morag Galloway

Marsh posterThis was a grand occasion and a lot of fun: a tribute to Roger Marsh masterminded by William Brooks –   two of the brightest stars of their generation. I first met Bill and Roger when Electric Phoenix took on their Madrigals (Brooks) and Not a Soul but Ourselves (Marsh) in 1978/9  (both pieces written the year before for the seminal Extended Vocal Techniques Ensemble of San Diego). They became the Phoenix signature pieces (and daft as it may seem, one of the reasons that I left EP having put a huge amount of effort into getting it going was that the success of those two pieces completely undermined the group’s commitment to permanent revolution (alas, I wasn’t to discover Gramsci for another seven years…).Brooks poster They’re still among my very favourite 20th century vocal pieces – and they more than stand comparison with those of their slightly older more famous contemporaries Berio, Stockhausen et al. Roger subsequently re-wrote Bits and Scraps for me, and I toured with his wonderfully mad solo piece DUM (which I once performed in a field full of cows – absent in these pics as they were busy licking the camera).Dum scan

If someone had said back in the seventies that Roger, Bill and I would end up in the same university at the same time,  I would have thought, blimey – that would be quite some music department…

Anna Myatt, Linda Hirst, Bill Brooks and I just about survived Not a Soul (which Linda and I last did in Finland about 10 years ago), and there some lovely excerpts from Roger’s Pierrot Lunaire sung by The 24, Juice and the assembled company. I survived garrotting by Richard Wistreich once again. The cycle of mostly acappella pieces was originally commissioned by the Hilliard Ensemble in 2000 for one of their last German summer schools and completed a couple of years later as a Music Department Practical Project which Roger and I directed (and is one of my fondest memories of the Department).  It was later recorded for NMC (the booklet includes an article by yours truly on working with Roger). Pierrot coverThere were also new pieces for me to sing by Ed Jessen and Morag Galloway (both of whom had studied with Roger). Ed’s, for tenor, Charlotte Bishop on cello and tape,  was a typical Jessen oeuvre, the musical realisation of a fascinating wider intellectual process which in this case began 35,000 years ago. Morag’s was a duet for me and Damien Harron on marimba – an evocative setting of D H Lawrence’s The Healing. Composers and players were a joy to work with. But the best thing of the evening was a pop sog composed and sung by the student Marsh, accompanying himself on guitar,  back in 1972.  We were stunned – he was a fully formed blues singer…

This was my Music Department swan song, and there was a rather nice symmetry about it: it was Roger Marsh who was responsible for my coming to York 12 years ago, and the first York student I met was the newly graduated Morag Galloway. So Roger, if you see this,  a belated happy birthday –  I owe you a large one…

November 25

Launch of UYMP Songbook (compiled by John Potter & David Blake)

Birmingham Conservatoire

It was great to hear most of the songs from the volume, sung with great assurance by the Conservatoire students. There was some excellent cello, clarinet and marimba playing too. David Blake and I (especially David) spent a lot of time choosing which numbers to include, and the singers were coached (very sensitively, I thought) by Mary Wiegold. It was a very nice occasion – hosted with great charm by Julian Pike (a demon with one figure at the keyboard). I do hope university and conservatory students pick up on it – there are some fine pieces, and it’s a long way from the traditional voice & piano stuff.


I’m taking December off for book finishing!


Tuesday, September 21st, 2010

This is my first autumn back in the real world…and November has an unprecedented 5 gigs in England, including new works by Gavin Bryars at King’s Place and the first London performance of Being Dufay…

October 3

Robert Kirby memorial event

Cecil Sharp House, London

October 15

Sound & Fury live broadcast from Mauerbach ORF 22.00

October 15- 19

Kloster pic
Sound & Fury recordings (Vienna)

Josquin Desprez: Missa Gaudeamus & Missa Sine Nomine

Marbrianus De Orto: Missa Mi mi & Missa L’homme armé

November 3

Dowland Project (Prague)

Strings of Autumn Festival

November 6

Gavin Bryars Ensemble

King’s Place (London)

to include new versions of Madrigals by Gavin Bryars to poems by

Blake Morrison

November 11

A Musicall Banquet (Birmingham) with Ariel Abramovich

Birmingham Early Music Festival

November 18

Being Dufay

The Albany, Lewisham

part of the Sampler Festival

November 24

Roger Marsh 60th birthday concert (York)

to include new works by Ed Jessen and Morag Galloway

November 25

Launch of UYMP Songbook (compiled by John Potter & David Blake)

Birmingham Conservatoire

April-May: Gavin Bryars, Being Dufay & Josquin Desprez

Saturday, April 3rd, 2010

Gavin Bryars Punkt album

This was recorded at the 2008 Punkt festival in Kristiansand. Live recording is exhilarating, and most musicians today try to make even a studio recording as ‘live’ as possible – long takes, minimal editing and lots of risk taking. But usually you know in advance that you’re actually recording something.  Gavin often records his gigs as a matter of record, and certainly the Punkt Festival set-up was perfect for this, but none of us expected to see it end up as a CD. It’s a reminder that every second counts and you never know what might come back to haunt you (YouTube, for all its wonders, is also the graveyard of clips that can’t decay fast enough). But I love this CD. It’s vintage Gavin – exquisite playing from his players Morgan Goff, Nick Cooper and James Woodrow, with the man himself on bass (and occasional piano). What an amazing  quartet they are – sitting on stage listening to them playing the two instrumental Laude is just one of the best things there is. And, of course, nothing beats singing with Anna Maria Friman (who’s just agreed to join me for the Josquin project).  Gavin’s band is a bit like a family – we’ve all been with him for a long time – and it was typical of him to invite Arve Henriksen, in town for Punkt and the future Mr Friman-Henriksen, to join us for a couple of numbers. Lauda 37 ‘Ciascun ke fede sente’ is one of two tracks featuring Arve, and it’s absolutely unique in Gavin’s oeuvre (his pieces with trumpet are very few and far between). We only saw it for the first time that day, and the trumpet is improvising; it doesn’t get much live-er than that. The last piece is the beautiful  ‘Amore dolce senza pare’. I nearly lost it at the end, but Morgan’s fabulous portamento is what you’ll remember.

Performances aren’t complete until they’re absorbed by the listener. Gavin provides no texts or translations, so the final element in the process is the audience members creating their own meanings inside their own heads. That’s just as it should be.

Being Dufay

Potter & Field

We’re hoping to have a film of the complete Perth Festival performance, but at the moment we have a YouTube clip of live audio with a video montage to give an idea of what Mick Lynch’s films look like. Lisbon was another wonderful gig, very efficiently organised by Pedro Santos.   There’s an interview with Nuno Galopim and a review by him in DN Artes.  I also heard some interesting singers at the workshop organised by Paulo Lourenco at the Escola Superior de Música de Lisboa in their stunning new building.

The Sound and the Fury

Sound & Fury

…have a review in Gramophone for our ‘intimate and uncomfortable portrait’ of Gombert!

The next S&F event will be a recording session in Kloster Mauerbach followed by a concert in the church on July 9th. We hope to record Caron clemens et bengigna, jesus autem transiens, and sanguis sanctorum masses and the Ockeghem Missae mi mi and ecce ancilla domini

Josquin Desprez: Transfer in Mysteria

This new project, to be recorded by ECM later this year, has now expanded to 2 singers and 2 vihuelas. I’m hoping it will encourage promoters and audiences to think more creatively about 15th and 16th century polyphony: it wasn’t all a cappella – and our version is one of the many alternative ways that this music might have been performed. The line-up is Anna Maria Friman & me (singers) with Ariel Abramovich and Lee Santana (vihuelas). This should be a great combination of voices & instruments to explore the further reaches of renaissance sacred music in due course.

Forsaking Authenticity…

Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim’s Wall Street Journal article was based in part on an interview with me during which I touched on Duke Ellington, sheet music and the dodginess of written sources.


APRIL 20 Being Dufay Chicago Early Music Festival

next performance at the Dancity Festival Foligno (Italy) June 26

APRIL 27 – MAY 21   19th Century Italian Opera Project (University of York)

MAY 5 L’Auditori (Barcelona): Musical Banquet (with Ariel Abramovich lute)

MAY 7 Castellón: Musical Banquet (with Ariel Abramovich lute)

MAY 6-9 Castellón: lute song workshops (with Ariel Abramovich lute)

MAY 27 Words & Music: Gavin Bryars & Blake Morrison (Howard Assembly Room, Leeds)

THE RESPONSES to the tenor book will continue next time. Happy Easter all.


Thursday, March 18th, 2010

The  Diary section tells you what I’m up to for the next  month or so and flags up similar future gigs.  Below that there’s news of current projects, and a blog post about Robert Fripp and Bill Bruford (who’ve both given talks at York). You’re welcome to leave comments or ask questions (click the Comments link at the bottom) and you can sign up for regular updates by clicking on Subscribe.


MARCH 13 A Musical Banquet with Ariel Abramovich lute FEMAS Festival, Seville

next performance Barcelona May 4-9 with workshops in Castellon 

MARCH 19  Duparc ‘work in progress’ with Liz Haddon piano postponed due to disappearance of piano!

next performances June 7 & 22 Lyons Concert Hall York: Schumann & Webern with surround sound electronic piano

MARCH 30  Lisbon  workshop at Escola Superior de Música de Lisboa 3.00

(Contact Paulo Lourenco( lourenpf@gmail.com) for further details)

MARCH 31 Being Dufay Teatro Maria Matos, Lisbon

APRIL 20 Being Dufay Chicago Early Music Festival

next performance in Foligno (Italy) June 26


Gavin Bryars Ensemble: the new Live at Punkt album (BCGBCD15) is now out. This is a recording of a concert in the Punkt Festival, Kristiansand in 2008, and features Arve Henriksen on trumpet playing with the band for the first time.

Ambrose Field has been invited to do a presentation about the new piece at IRCAM

The Bruford/Fripp experience

Some years ago, not long after I started the day job, I had a call from Robert Fripp, who wanted to tell me he’d enjoyed Vocal Authority. Having picked myself up off the floor I persuaded him to come and give talk at the Music Department. It was a memorable occasion, not least because someone pinched the wheels off his car while he was holding forth in the Lyons.  Then a few months ago I had an email out of the blue from erstwhile King Crimson drummer Bill Bruford offering us a talk (based on his recent autobiography) about his experience as a creative musician in the commercial world (thanks Syd Smith for giving Bill my address). So my York job has been nicely book-ended by two of the great figures from prog rock.

Fripp’s topic was ‘discipline’, delivered to a packed concert hall (I’d emailed the entire campus by mistake, not knowing how to work the software, as usual). He began by coming onto the stage and sitting in silence for a full five minutes before opening his mouth. It was a stunningly theatrical move – we don’t have nearly enough silence in the music department, and it did require considerable discipline as he waited for total silence to descend. Then someone’s mobile went off… and I’m sure the poor guy has never forgotten RF’s response. He almost hypnotised us with his low-key, densely formulated delivery., and we felt we were in the presence of a seriously intellectual rock musician with a very clear sense of his role in maintaining rock music as a progressive and creative art form that would have meaning for classical music students as much as anyone else. Even if we sometimes found it hard to figure out exactly what that meaning was.

There is much wry comment in Bill Bruford’s book about his relationship with Robert Fripp (and some of it’s hysterically funny). BB is an engaging and articulate speaker (and writer), and comes across as a most unlikely rock god. A student of mine told me he’d been standing in a queue at a Bruford drum clinic and got talking to the guy behind him while waiting to be let in. They chatted amiable drummery for ten minutes and when they were finally let in, his companion went straight to the stage and carried on talking. Bill, for it was he, had been queuing for his own clinic. It was typical of the man, modest and unassuming, and always interested in what the other person has to say.  He talked for nearly two hours, played some wonderful Genesis, Yes, and King Crimson archive footage, and was strangely unforthcoming about his jazz achievements with Earthworks. It was compelling stuff, utterly truthful and realistic and hugely appreciated by the largely student audience. Robert Fripp gave us some much needed discipline and silence, and Bill Bruford brought humanity and common sense; both hugely creative in very different ways. What a band King Crimson must have been.

next posting will be about responses to my Tenor: History of a Voice, which has now been out for a year.