:: Hilliard Ensemble


Moving on

Friday, September 18th, 2020

The late Ward Swingle would remind us from time to time that he always had a suitcase packed. It wasn’t a threat exactly, but perhaps a more optimistic symptom of a mindset that always allowed for the possibility that change might be inevitable and for the better. After four years with his group it turned out that several of us had suitcases packed and we moved on. I repeated the process several times with other ensembles, and when I joined the Hilliard Ensemble I felt obliged to tell the guys that I had a reputation for leaving things. I stayed for 18 years so that mostly went right. Each of my departures was triggered by musical frustrations, and every time I risked impoverishment as I reverted to surviving on my wits while I searched for the next musical grail. It was never easy but ultimately always exciting. The truism that musicians don’t do it for the money is for most of us absolutely true. Though there are limits. On one occasion the Hilliards were involved in a big recording project in Germany and the producer suddenly announced an additional performance and broadcast with no fee attached. The instrumental band with us readily agreed without telling us and we got a bit exercised and said no.  ‘I guess the Hilliards only do it for the money’ said our collaborators. To which our response was it’s not that we only do it for the money, it’s just that we don’t do it for not the money.

So what are we all to do post-Covid? Well, first of all there may be no post-Covid, so we may have to get used to staring at an empty diary. Those of us who’ve been around for decades may find our musical hearts torn out (or perhaps transplanted) but we will survive because we always have, and if you survive long enough you get a pension. At the other end of the spectrum those starting out may be panicking at the prospect of no career and no income. And then there are those who might or might not have been able to get government assistance.  Those of us lucky enough to be able to should be wary of doing it for not the money: let the work (such as it is) go to those who really need it.

The problem isn’t helped by the fact that universities and conservatoires have successfully oversold a profession to the extent that it was already full to bursting before the pandemic hit. Full, that is, with excellent musicians competing for the same gigs with the same repertoire. Look at the audition requirements for music colleges, and compare them with half a century ago. Look at the categories for musical competitions. There have been amazing exceptions, but ‘classical’ singing mostly remains just that: classical. Which is fine as long as audiences and opportunities increase to match the staggering numbers of fantastic musicians who graduate each year. That hasn’t happened for some time, and is very unlikely to happen in the present circumstances.

A re-think is long overdue. As a university lecturer the one piece of advice I was able to give students based on my own experience as a performer was that their future career might well not have anything to do with what they had studied, and they should be open to anything that came along.  Of course, it’s very easy to be open to anything when there isn’t anything to be open to, but after a bit you have to make serious decisions about what happens next. My guess is that in a severely shrunken profession very few young musicians can expect a full time career. One effect of the over production of singers was the continual undercutting of successful careers by the succeeding generation who would do the same job just as well but for lower fees. This affected many of my contemporaries who followed the traditional route and eventually priced themselves out of the market. So expect to need another source of income, and don’t do the same as everyone else, otherwise you may have a very short career.

Pop musicians have been coping with this problem for years, and are used to turning uncertainty and risk into creative opportunity. Streaming gigs from home via Facebook or Instagram isn’t the recital experience you may be used to, but it gives you a much more intimate connection with your audience (comments instead of clapping). You might discover that your audience, engaged by the new reciprocity, is up for all sorts of challenges, and you should be too.

Having said that, I’m not…or not yet anyway.  But I do have some sort of structure and direction and am no longer in mourning for gigs that I can’t do. Sitting in the garden listening to bird song is actually better than listening to disembodied flight announcements. It’s time to move on (even without a suitcase) and I’ve always eventually managed that successfully in the past. I miss  Alternative History and the Dowland Project, and I miss bringing to life the 16th & 17th century musicians whose future we inhabit. But in the meantime for me it’s reading and writing which I hope will bear metaphorical fruit in the future, and gardening which is bearing actual fruit in the present. You have to think in the longterm…

 

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.

Micro-managing…

Sunday, September 23rd, 2018

The South Bound Blues Train c1963

In my first school band I played guitar, as I was the proud owner of a rather unwieldy but incredibly exciting left-handed Hayman. I had an amplifier (10 watts or thereabouts) built from a kit, housed in a beautiful box made by the carpenter husband of my mum’s hair dresser. We chose the singer partly because he owned a microphone. I got to sing sometimes but I never became the singer because he had the gear.  I got into microphone singing proper when the close-harmony group I sang in at university (the legendary Fab Cab that morphed into the semi-mythical ‘sixties freakbeat’ Gentle Power of Song) got to record pop songs for Polydor. So by the time I joined the Swingles I knew quite a bit about how to do it, and was totally seduced by Ward Swingle’s interest in what he called ‘microphone experiments’,  one of the main reasons he decided to re-found his group with English singers. We all learned a lot from Ward, and I still rate singing the Berio vocal pieces as among the most exciting thing I’ve done. It was so inspiring that some of us eventually left the group in order to start Electric Phoenix, an ensemble dedicated to amplified vocal music.  That was when I wrote my very first published article, a piece for The Composer – about microphonic singing, which I believed to be the future of singing, so liberating compared with what I’d been taught at the Guildhall and and elsewhere by a series of famous teachers. Then the Arts Council gave me a grant to fund what I like to think of as the first vocal synthesiser. Electric Phoenix had used individual custom-made effects boxes but I wanted something more elaborate that would also function as a mixer so I could control the whole shebang. It was very clever, but a nightmare to use. The effects –  harmoniser, ring modulator, filters and so on, were all linked by a 10×10 patchboard, so if I wanted to change anything I had to re-patch into one of a hundred holes, singing the while. It mostly worked, but hitting the wrong hole could produce either silence or the loudest fart you ever heard (both equally frightening).

At around the same time I was lucky enough to do backing vocals for all sorts of pop bands, and it coincided with the start of Electronic Vocal Theatre, my duo with the legendary polymath John Whiting (legendary also for his unique blend of coffee, the smell of which permeated everything in his studio and has forever been associated in my memory with Bose speakers).  John had an octophonic sound system – you could move the sound up and down as well as round and round (those were the days!) – and we had some very labour-intensive sets which eventually proved too much for two blokes to put up and take down either side of quite complex performances.    Then I joined the Hilliard Ensemble and forgot about all things tech for a couple of decades.

The Hilliards never used amplification, and more often than not sang in wonderfully resonant churches – very large ones when we started to work with Jan Garbarek. Negotiating with the acoustic was very much what the group up was all about (and I’m sure our ability to engage with the acoustic environment was a key ingredient in our relationship with ECM’s Manfred Eicher). The singing itself wasn’t really of any consequence – it was what came back to you from the building that enabled you to micro-manage the sound and create the performance. In retrospect all those years of singing with a mic seemed rather crude and analogue compared with the organic process of using the building itself as your amplifier.

I still feel that, and at its best I think that amplification basically reproduces the perfection of a CD rather than the uniqueness of the building. But increasingly I find myself at venues where amplification is the norm and I’m expected to provide a technical rider. It reminds me a bit of touring the USA with the Hilliards, arriving at the venue and being asked where we’d like the mics (and worse still, the piano…).  I can remember how to do it, but it seems incredibly unsubtle compared with responding to a building that’s been made for sound.  And yet…as I discovered in Cork last week, with the right sound man and the right repertoire it can work. Once you take away the need to project, much of your classical technique is redundant. It means you can sing more like your speech (something I banged on about a lot in my first book Vocal Authority). You can be far more nuanced, conversational even. Best of all, it meant we could do Finisterre without me sounding like some  cross-over cretin.  My project for early next year when I have a bit of free time, is going to be to develop a repertoire specifically to be done with a sound system.  In the meantime, if you’d like to hear Finisterre, come to Murnau next month and see what John Surman, Milos Valent and Jacob Heringman make of it.

Anglo-German Adventures

Sunday, May 20th, 2018

 

I first visited Germany on my way to Istanbul, hitch-hiking between school and university. My friend Nick, who was bolder than I, blagged us a lift from the car deck on the ferry and we were dropped somewhere in Germany. Off the Autobahn we found ourselves apparently lost in the countryside, but were soon picked up by a lorry from a nearby brewery. The driver was politely amused by our schoolboy German (I’d just scraped an O level) and reached behind to pass us a bottle each. The three of us happily slurped away until he dropped us off at an inn for lunch. That’s the kind of welcome a teenager doesn’t forget. A few weeks later we were in what was then Yugoslavia and were picked up by German shirt smuggler (if I understood him correctly) and he took us most of the way to Turkey, stopping near the border at a mountain spring where he treated us to fresh yogurt and gherkins. I’d never had either before and can still taste them.

I’ve been enjoying German hospitality ever since, one way or another. I got to know towns I’d never heard of through concerts with the Hilliard Ensemble. The group could have survived handsomely just on the German gigs alone (and, of course, we had a famous German record company). The hypothecated church tax meant that most churches had more money than they knew what to do with, and concert promotion was a great way to spend it.  The group’s success meant that when we started our summer school series we had many applications from some amazing German singers. Singer Pur and Amarcord, for example, went on to become world famous; some students returned each year with different ensembles and are still firm friends. The person we most have to thank is Werner Schüßler, who not only introduced us to scores of wonderful German musicians but rescued the summer school and was responsible for bringing it to Schloss Engers on the Rhine.   Werner is an educator extraordinaire (as his recently published book on singing comprehensively demonstrates) and has coached hundreds of young singers over the years (and I’ve been delighted to join him on numerous occasions). He has a particular affinity with Northern England (he speaks fluent Geordie) and is a frequent visitor to this part of the world. At 3.30 on Tuesday 29th May he will be presenting two of his student ensembles in York Minster’s Chapter House. If you can get there, come and support these young singers (I’ve coached them myself too, and can guarantee you’ll have a great time). It’s a wonderful programme including music by Hildegard von Bingen, Mendelssohn, Rheinberger and Whitacre among others, which should sound stunning in the Chapter House acoustic.   If you miss them, on the 31st they can be heard in a lunchtime concert at St Andrew’s Corbridge (12.30) followed by evensong at Hexham Abbey at 6.30.

 

English Music Festival

The previous weekend (Saturday 26th at 2.15) Jacob Heringman and I will be opening the latest edition of our Book of Lost Lute Songs at Sutton Courtenay church (where George Orwell is buried).  The first half of the programme is a sort of Paston tribute, with movements from all three Byrd masses and motets (sung and played) by Tallis, Byrd, Dowland and Anon. The second half is an all-Heringman intabulationfest of music by Warlock, Butterworth, Moeran, Stephen Wilkinson, Peter Pope and Tony Banks. Quite a lot of this we’ll be doing in versions we haven’t tried before; it will be our third recital in England this year – a record for me. Jacob can also be heard with Ariel Abramovich in the Swaledale Festival on June 7th (sold out but you might get returns). The three of us will be joining Anna Maria Friman for Alternative History gigs in Poland, Ireland, Spain, Sweden, the UK and the Canary Islands later in the year.

 

 

 

S(no)w business like…

Thursday, March 1st, 2018

 

STOP PRESS! Triskel concert re-scheduled for Sept 21!

 

Triskel travel terminated…

We tried very hard to get to Cork for the Alternative History concert in Triskel’s 40th birthday series but the weather gods eventually won.  Jacob Heringman got as far as Holyhead before turning back after my flight was cancelled. After all Tony Sheehan’s hard work to get us there I just wanted to cry, but we’ll have another go later in the year. If you’re sitting in Cork airport with a cancelled flight, the album is on Spotify… or you can catch us soon in Poland, Spain, the UK or the Canary Islands.

Islas Canarias

So I now have a few days off before going to the Canary Islands with Ariel Abramovich for the Sacred Music Festival. Our programme there is a new one and is the first in our 10th anniversary season. The title In This Trembling Shadow comes from the eponymous song in Dowland’s  Pilgrim’s Solace. We’ll also be doing the famous Thou Mighty God trilogy from the same book, Campion’s Author of  Light and motets by Victoria. In between there will be movements from Byrd’s 3 voice mass.

The first recital is at the Iglesia de Santa Brigida in Gran Canaria on March 16th. We then go to Tenerife and the Iglesia de Las Clarisas in  La Laguna on March 17th, and finally to the Iglesia San Francisco in Sta.Cruz de La Palma. Three evenings of intensive music making in amazing churches (and much as love snow it’ll be relief do go somewhere where there isn’t any).

Tristram Shandy

I come back to England for the Tristram Shandy celebration on March 22nd before re-joining Ariel in Madrid the next day on our way to Ecuador.  For the concert at St George’s Hanover Square I’ll be getting together briefly with my old Hilliard Ensemble colleagues for a performance of Roger Marsh’s Poor Yorick. This promises to be a hugely entertaining evening with readings and music on the 250th anniversary of Sterne’s funeral in the same building.

Festival Internacional de Música Sacra Quito

This will be my first visit to Ecuador, and Ariel and I will be opening the sacred music festival with In This Trembling Shadow, and once again we’ll perform in extraordinarily beautiful churches. The schedule looks like this:

  • Sunday, March 25 Church of El Carmen Alto. 18.00
  • Monday, March 26 Variety Theater Ernesto Albán. 11.00 Master class.
  • Monday, March 26 Church of the company. 7:30 PM

Flammarion Correspondences

I get a week off at Easter (unlike  most of my fellow tenors who are frantically Bach-ing away with the seasonal passions), then at the beginning of April I’ll be spending a week at Trinity Laban working on Edward Jessen’s Flammarion Correspondences. This is a preliminary exploration with a production company intended to produce promotional material which will appeal to theatrical promoters in the UK and Europe. We’re aiming at a work-in-progress preview on Friday April 13th.

 

Life after Josquin

Jacob Heringman and I had the first outing of our Josquin programme at Newcastle University last week. We were asked not to cross the picket line and to cancel the concert, but I came to an amicable understanding with the union having gently I pointed out that they were expecting us to give up our meagre fee so that they could have a better pension and I couldn’t recall any of my old academic colleagues volunteering a pay cut so freelance musicians could be paid more. I was all prepared to thank a tiny audience for crossing the line and announce that we nevertheless supported the strike, but was completely wrong-footed when we went on stage to one of the biggest audiences for a lute song recital that I’ve seen for a while.

Our next performance, probably of this programme or something very like it, will be one of the smallest at a house concert in York.  We’ll be doing two performances (with tea and biscuits!): 2.30 for 3.00 or around 4.30 for 5.00 on April 22nd.  Unlike our previous one in the hugely resonant King’s Hall this will be very intimate, and perhaps not unlike listeners in the early 17th century might have experienced it (I don’t think I’ve ever performed in such a minimal acoustic, and I hope it doesn’t sound like my front room).  You can book a seat here but be quick as it’s likely to be full.

In May we’ll be back to a more resonant acoustic in the 12th century church of All Saints Sutton Courtenay. We’ll be doing parts of all three Byrd masses as well as Jake’s transcriptions of Warlock, Moeran, Peter Pope and Stephen Wilkinson at the English Music Festival.

 

There’s a longer list of ECM-related gigs on the ECM site.

 

 

 

More Spring updates

Thursday, February 8th, 2018

Since the last update more details have come in about Roger Marsh’s Poor Yorick at the Laurence Sterne celebrations with my former Hilliard Ensemble colleagues on March 22, after which I leave for Ecuador for concerts and a masterclass in Quito with Ariel Abramovich.  I’ll post further details about all these shortly, and concerts in April with Edward Jessen and Jacob Heringman.

La dársena

Ariel Abramovich has just given a long interview about Secret History (in Spanish)  for RTVE’s  La dársena music magazine programme. You can catch it here (starts at 1.25.19):  http://www.rtve.es/alacarta/audios/la-darsena/darsena-ariel-abramovich-04-02-18/4459498/

Tony Banks 5

Tony Banks’ new orchestral album 5 has had a rapturous reception in the prog press, and Tony has spoken about the songs he’s composed  for me on the Genesis-News Website as well as in the current Record Collector (no relation to The Record Collector I mentioned in a recent post):

 

I went several times to the Marquee in 1967 though I didn’t see the Nice. I did hear the Yardbirds (with Eric Clapton), John Mayall,  Sonny Boy Williamson, Long John Baldry  and a very young and delicate Rod (‘the Mod’, as he then was) Stewart. The  Swingles stayed at the same hotel as Rod in Perth about ten years later, and we all stood and gawped as he processed through the foyer with his entourage.  I once heard a journalist ask Ward Swingle what he thought of progressive bands like Genesis, Pink Floyd, Nice, Yes? To which he replied ‘Very…’.

The diary for the next couple of months looks like this at the moment (recent updates in blue):

February 22

Life after Josquin                           Newcastle University (13.10)

(with Jacob Heringman lute)

 

March 2

Alternative History                        Triskel Arts Centre Cork

 

March 16

In this trembling shadow

Iglesia de Santa Brígida, Sta. Brígida, GRAN CANARIA. (20:00)

(with Ariel Abramovich (lute)

 

March 17

In this trembling shadow

Iglesia de Las Clarisas, La Laguna, TENERIFE (20:30)

(with Ariel Abramovich lute)

 

March 18

In this trembling shadow

Iglesia San Francisco, Sta.Cruz de La Palma, LA PALMA (12:30)

(with Ariel Abramovich lute)

 

March 22

Laurence Sterne celebrations       St George’s Hanover Square, London

(Roger Marsh: Poor Yorick with former members of the Hilliard Ensemble)

 

March 24

Master class                                  

Festival Internacional de Música Sacra, Quito, Ecuador

(with Ariel Abramovich lute)

 

March 26

In this Trembling shadow           

Festival Internacional de Música Sacra, Quito, Ecuador

(with Ariel Abramovich lute)

 

March 27

In this Trembling shadow           

Festival Internacional de Música Sacra, Quito, Ecuador

(with Ariel Abramovich lute)

 

April 13

Flammarion Correspondences   Bonnie Bird Theatre, London

(Edward Jessen preview)

 

April 22

Life after Josquin                           York (house concert 3.00)

(with Jacob Heringman lute)

 

May 26

Book of Lost Lute Songs               EMF Sutton Courtenay (2.15)

(with Jacob Heringman lute)

Discography

I’ve at last got around to updating the discography page. It’s still not complete but at least the press quotes are now pasted beside the relevant albums (thanks Inigo).

 

Anon at the BBC

Wednesday, August 2nd, 2017

If you’ve been listening to Radio 3’s Composer of the Week – The Birth of Polyphony – you may be interested to know who was doing the singing (Donald Macleod being rather reluctant to identify who’s who). In the second programme I sang for the best part of an hour without once being credited. The opening piece, Leonin’s Goria Redemptori meo (around six minutes) was me and Rogers Covey-Crump, in case you were wondering, and it’s from a live concert recording at one of our Hilliard Cambridge Summer Schools.  The programme featured Perotin’s two big four voice pieces Viderunt and Sederunt at the other end of the programme, and in between a huge hunk of Leonin sung by Richard Wistreich and me (from what we think of as our Hyperion Lenin phase). The third programme began with the anonymous Fas et Nefas conductus, sang anonymously by yours truly with Rogers Covey-Crump and Christopher O’Gorman (also available on Hyperion). Well, I guess it’s good for us egomaniacs.

I’ll be listening in to the interval chat during Sunday’s prom. At least we all get a credit in the blurb:

8.10pm INTERVAL: Throwing a Wobbly
Louise Fryer uncovers the ups and downs of vocal vibrato. How and why do singers use it? With guests sopranos Janis Kelly and Peyee Chen, tenor John Potter, scientist Helena Daffern and early music researcher Richard Bethell. 

While I’m on the subject of the BBC…the Dowland Project gets an honorary mention in Andrea Valentino’s piece for BBC Global News. Along with Sting of course, and Ed Sheeran (the Dowland de nos jours). Thanks to Jake Heringman for sending the link.

FEMAP

 

A huge thankyou to Josep Maria Dutrèn and the FEMAP team. Ariel and I had a fabulous time in Catalunya – and special thanks to those who followed us all the way up the mountain.

 

Roaming with Fauvel

Tuesday, January 31st, 2017

When the French poet Gervais de Bus wrote his epic satire featuring a corrupt egomaniac  sociopathic horse he probably wasn’t thinking that the wheel of Fortune (which also features in the plot) would come round again almost exactly 700 years later. My first engagement of the year took in both manifestations in rapid succession, with a performance of Presidentes in Thronis with Serikon in Sweden after which I was back in time for the anti-Trump demo in York (and we went straight on to La La Land to complete one of the most surreal 24 hour periods I can remember).  Musicians out there: if you want to protest, Fauvel is the perfect programming opportunity (it even has leaders adrift without a moral compass who can’t wait to curry favour with the beast).

I’ll be returning to Sweden with Serikon several times later in the year, and hopefully Fauvel will rear his ugly head at least one more.

 

It’s going to be another busy year. There will be a brief reunion with my old Hilliard Ensemble mates as we join Singer Pur for their twenty-fifth anniversary celebration at the Prinzregententheater in Munich on March 9. This collaboration was born at the Tampere Vocal Festival in the late nineties, after Singer Pur had won one of the major prizes. Klaus Wenk and I sat down to breakfast one morning and chewed over the idea of our two ensembles getting together at some point in the future. The project got off the ground with a commission from Joanne Metcalf, who’d been a winner in the Hilliards’ 1994 composition competition (and who wrote Doom-Begotten Music for me in 2003) and the two groups went on to do many concerts and a CD together after I left. Joanne will there for the concert, as will Gavin Bryars who is also a longstanding friend of the ensemble.

March 21 Ariel Abramovich and I will give a recital for the Wunderkammer in Trieste (there’s a Facebook page about it if you’re signed up). I haven’t been there since 1965 when hitch hiking through Europe after school. I went swimming with a Carabiniere who insisted on diving for oysters. I don’t think I even knew what an oyster was and having tried one I certainly wasn’t going to eat any more, so each time he brought one up I threw it back as soon as he submerged (possibly to bring up the same one over and over again). I’ll be trying a bit harder this time. Ariel and I will be doing our Dowland to Sting programme, which we’re also doing in July for a series of recitals in Catalunya in the FEMAP festival.

In May I’ll be returning to Sweden to rehearse the Musik i Syd project with Serikon and Ensemble Mare Balticum and then going on to Helsinki for some more PhD examining at the Sibelius Academy (and possibly some ensemble coaching if I can fit it in). Then the Amores Pasados season starts with a concert in the Swaledale Festival on June 4th. It’s possible that ECM will have released Secret History by then, and we’re still holding dates to record some of our new repertoire (including more fantastic pieces from John Paul Jones and Tony Banks).  In the middle of June I’ll be coaching in Germany, and at the end of the month Gavin Bryars’ new piece for the Hull City of Culture will have its first performance in Winestead church, followed by outings in Hull itself and the Royal Festival Hall. This project will renew Gavin’s association with Opera North, which began with the co-production with the RSC of  Nothing Like the Sun for the Shakespeare anniversary of 2006. One of the sonnets from Nothing Like the Sun is now in the Amores Pasados programme in Jacob Heringman’s arrangement for Anna Maria Friman, Ariel Abramovich, himself and me, and this will be on our new ECM recording. I’ll be working with Gavin again in the autumn with performances of Nothing Like the Sun  in Leeds and Prague, and there will be a new commission with his band for the 40th anniversary of the Triskel Arts Centre in Cork next year.

 

More details on all of the above in  due course.

 

 

 

Encounters with Veljo Tormis

Monday, January 23rd, 2017

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Veljo Tormis 1930-2017

The York connection…

I first met Veljo Tormis in the mid 1980s, when Estonia was still part of the Soviet Union.  It was, I think, the Hilliard Ensemble’s first visit to Finland, and I was only dimly aware of the extraordinary, symbiotic relationship between Finland and Estonia. Two black-clad figures came up to us after the concert and thrust LPs into our hands. ‘I am Tormis’, said one – the only English he knew back then. His companion was the conductor Tõnu Kaljuste, and the records were of the recently formed Kammerkoor Ellerhein, later to be re-invented as the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir. Both men were on a semi-legal visit to Helsinki from Tallinn. I went home and put the LPs on a shelf.

I was getting used to being given stuff after concerts, and I didn’t think about them until several months later when I pulled them out and had a listen. I was immediately hooked. I didn’t know what the words meant, but I could certainly recognise a good tune when I heard one, and here were scores of wonderful melodies, sung in that vibrant non-western way that was the hallmark of the old Estonian Chamber Choir. Time passed; I made many visits to Finland and Estonia. I finally met the great man again when the Hilliard Ensemble commissioned Tormis to write ‘Kullervo’s Message’ (he didn’t much care for our interpretation of it…too English!)…but we recorded it for ECM, and stole one of his Estonian Lullabies for Jan Gabarek to improvise over.

Then in 2006 I taught a project at York called Estonian Icons: the Music of Arvo Pärt and Veljo Tormis. It was an exuberant experience: Tormis himself visited the Department and we serenaded him in the staff kitchen; one of the students went on to win  the BBC writer of the year with an article on the composer.  The Department serendipitously came in for some rare extra cash and we bought the entire Tormis catalogue for the university library.

Veljo Tormis (4th from left) in the Music Department kitchen

It was one of my last and most exciting undergraduate projects at York and I’m so glad to have done it. We performed most of the Forgotten Peoples cycle in one memorable concert with The 24. It was a timely reminder that in the far corners of northern Europe there is extraordinary music that is fun to sing and moving to listen to, and that Veljo Tormis was a crucial part of the nexus between folk and art music (along with Bartok, Kodaly,  Vaughan Williams and other composers who have kept alive oral musics that would otherwise have been lost). It’s a cliché to say that a country’s musical soul resides in a particular composer, but if it’s true of anyone it’s true of Tormis. He dedicated his life to the recovery and dissemination of the music of the Baltic peoples. Estonia, that most musical of nations, will never forget him, and nor will we musicians the world over who were privileged to know him and to know his music.

Buenos Aires to Blackburn

Friday, September 30th, 2016

he-flyer

Ex-Hilliard Ensemble

October’s concerts start with a trip down memory lane with my old Hilliard Ensemble colleagues. On Wednesday  5th we’re taking part in a charity concert in St Paul’s Covent Garden. The plan is to sell off the group’s remaining stock of albums in aid of  Music For Open Ears which supports classical music in primary schools. We’ll be singing Tallis, Brumel, Dufay and Leonin among other composers. So come along and see if we can still cut it! If we’re still alive and kicking we’ll all be at the Singer Pur 25th anniversary concert at the Prinzregententheater in Munich on March 8th next year.

The Hilliards’ recording of Roger Marsh’s Poor Yorick, commissioned for the anniversary tour with us ex-members,  is hot off the press and available from the Lawrence Sterne Trust.

'Alas Poor Yorick' CD by Roger Marsh

and Miserere and Officium are now available on Vinyl! Though the picture accompanying the Officium catalogue entry is a little misleading…

Goodly Ayres in Buenos Aires and Tenerife

 

Palacio correos BA 2015.jpg

 

At the crack of dawn the next day I set off for Argentina, and a recital with Ariel Abramovich in the fabulous CCK hall in Buenos Aires on the 8th. It’s a programme of Dowland and Campion with one or two surprises thrown in (and will be my first visit there). I then have a week off before meeting up with Ariel again in Tenerife on the 21st (my first visit to the Canaries since playing in a lava tube in Lanzarote with the Dowland Project a while ago). This time we’ll be featuring Johnson’s Shakespeare settings alongside Danyel, Campion, Dowland and Tony Banks at the Festival de Música Antigua La Laguna .

Amores Pasados news

 

 

Then it’s swiftly to Germany via Madrid for Amores Pasados in Murnau at the Grenzenlos world music festival on the 23rd  and  Enjoy Jazz in Heidelberg’s Heiliggeistkirche (above) the following day. We’ll be adding Jacob Heringman’s new transcriptions of Butterworth and the elusive Peter Pope, and having a first rehearsal of John Paul Jones’ Blake Lullaby which he’s just finished for us and which we’ll probably unleash in Madrid or Trieste in March (it’s going to be a busy month). We’ve just agreed to do the Swaledale Festival next June and hope to slot in more UK dates before recording the next album.

Northern Song

I’ll be making my way to Blackburn on the 30th to join my ex-Swingle colleagues Linda Hirst and Catherine Bott on the panel for the Kathleen Ferrier Junior Bursary. I was unable to make the recent Swingle reunions (one of them coincided with the Hilliard reunion gig) and I don’t think the three of us have sat down together in the same room for decades so we’ll have a lot to catch up on as well as listening to some of the brightest young singers of the year. Very appropriate, having started the month raising money for primary school music, to end it hearing what talented first year conservatoire students can do.