:: Hilliard Ensemble

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


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.




Autumn gigs

Saturday, August 27th, 2016

It’s going to be an interesting autumn with the first Amores Pasados concerts in Germany, and recitals in Argentina and the Canary Islands with Ariel Abramovich. I’ll also be getting together with my old Hilliard Ensemble colleagues for a grand charity concert at St Paul’s Covent Garden, and Jacob Heringman and I will be doing a lutesong course at Benslow (the first time I’ve been there since the days of Tragicomedia and the Hilliard Festival of Voices eons ago). We hope to encourage participants to think beyond the 30 year window that is English lute song.

Here’s what I’ll be up to in the next two months:

September 10 Blaibach  Kulturwald Festival Amores Pasados

September 19 Benslow Music Hitchin Secret Lute Songs recital with Jacob Heringman

September 20-22 Benslow Music Hitchin lutesong workshop with Jacob Heringman

October 5 London  St Paul’s Covent Garden ex-Hilliard Ensemble charity concert

October 8 CCK Buenos Aires lutesong recital with Ariel Abramovich

October 21 La Laguna (Tenerife) lutesong recital with Ariel Abramovich

October 23 Murnau World Music Festival Amores Pasados

October 24 Heidelberg Enjoy Jazz  Amore Pasados


There are no Conductus dates in the diary at the moment, but we have a newly revamped webpage here.

The Hilliard Ensemble and the Art of Tidying

Tuesday, July 12th, 2016


David James   | Rogers Covey-Crump | Steven Harrold |

 Gordon Jones | John Potter

LONDON: St Paul’s Church Covent Garden

Wednesday 5th October at 7:00pm


To quote Mirjam James…

‘After retiring at the end of 2014, the former members of The Hilliard Ensemble (one of the world’s foremost male a cappella ensembles) have had time to tidy up their shelves, lofts and drawers and discovered a number of unsold cd-treasures. Realising that they don’t really need to keep multiple copies of their own cds and not wanting just to sell them they have kindly offered to donate their hidden stocks as part of a fundraising concert to support the charity ‘Music for Open Ears’. Music for Open Ears gives children of primary school age the opportunity to develop their active listening skills and fosters a love for classical music. Supporting the spirit behind Music for Open Ears – that the most exciting music is performed live – five members, David James, John Potter, Rogers Covey-Crump, Steven Harrold and Gordon Jones, will perform a selection of pieces from the cds to be sold at the concert. The one hour concert will include works such as Viderunt omnes by Perotin and the first part of Tallis’ Lamentations and will be followed by a reception and the opportunity to purchase cds. ‘

This should be a terrific occasion – not just the five of us resurrecting ourselves which should be entertaining in itself, but a chance to meet lots of old friends and make some money for Open Ears, a wonderful charity that supports music in schools. Oddly enough, before Steven Harrold took over from me permanently we had a brief incarnation as an occasional five-voice group (and we three tenors even joined Trio Mediaeval for a Scandinavian tour with Gavin  Bryars’ Second Book of Madrigals which he wrote for the six of us). The last time I appeared in the Covent Garden piazza Sean Williams and I were  busking John Edmonds’ and Nigel Osborne’s Paganini. Ned was about five and has never quite recovered from seeing me leap out of a coffin brandishing a cardboard violin.

In the meantime Rogers, Chris O’Gorman and I are off to Besalu for the final AHRC Conductus event. When we get back we begin charting a slightly new path, still exploring the conductus but branching out into organum at the Three Choirs Festival in Gloucester. Coincidentally, this programme will also have a Hilliard connection as Rogers and I will be doing Perotin’s Dum Sigillum which, like Viderunt Omnes, can be found on the Hilliards’ famous Perotin album.

More info on the reunion concert from Mirjam James musicforopenears@gmail.com or 0759 0657 025.

Hilliard Havana tribute

Sunday, October 11th, 2015


The Hilliard tribute concert by the Cuban Sine Nomine ensemble was amazing. They are a phenomenally gifted group – not remotely like the Hilliards (think more Latin American King’s Singers, if that’s not an oxymoron), but all the more impressive for that. It was very touching that the festival was celebrating both the HE’s 40 years and Arvo Part’s 80th birthday. As I was going to be there anyway, they’d got in touch a few months ago to ask for advice on what pieces to do, and whether it would be OK to do the Morales with trumpet. My only suggestion was not to try and imitate the model but do something that just acknowledged it. The Morales worked well (it’s just a chord sequence so perfect for improvising over) and there was no attempt imitate Jan Garbarek. They also used the trumpet in a Hassler piece that the Hilliards didn’t do but was the kind of piece we might have done.  It worked spectacularly well. The young trumpeter, Yasek Manzano really came into his own in the encore, a fiery version of Joshua fit de battle of Jericho where he could really let rip. It was a wonderful collection of voices – especially the countertenors. Two of them had been winners in the contest earlier in the week, full-on and over the top, and here they were perfect ensemble countertenors. It was an extraordinary transformation and a great tribute to their musicianship and sense of purpose. They’re directed by Maestra Leonor Suarez, who sometimes conducted but mostly left the singers to their own devices. They were usually more than one to a part and were obviously rehearsed to perfection (two of the ways they differed from the Hilliards) but they were perfectly in tune, energetic (they can even dance…), well balanced and blended, and great communicators. It was a privilege to be there, and I’m sure my former colleagues would have loved it too.



Ariel and I spent the afternoon exploring the old city. This was a great adventure. It takes a bit of getting used to as it’s unlike any other city on the planet. There’s no sign of big business, no towering new hotels, no advertisements, no stressed people struggling to get from A to B. It’s the most relaxed and informal city I’ve ever been to. But that doesn’t come close to telling you what it’s actually like. In some ways it’s as though time has stopped since the revolution in the 1950s – many of the grand Spanish baroque buildings are just as they were then or have been left to decay, or patched up to make living quarters or mysterious small enterprises . But just as you think the whole city’s falling apart you come across beautiful restoration. Once you’ve got over the architecture you begin to see the people – the ethnic mix (the whole spectrum from white to black and almost never two of the same shade at the same time – an object lesson in social cohesion), the colourful life of the street. I was very fortunate to have Ariel with me, as whenever anyone approached us he would chat away and they’d end up talking about football or the problems of being an Argentinean (even the drug dealer, a jovial villain who knew he had no hope of a sale but enjoyed a bit of Cuban-Argentinean repartee). I’ve not yet met a Cuban who wasn’t utterly charming. It was very humid, but as the sun went down it cooled a bit and the lights came on. That’s another very distinctive characteristic – minimum lighting creating a sort of gloomy intimacy. It’s often loud, and on the main streets you see those fabulous cars smoking past, but most of the streets in the old city are too narrow for cars. You just have to watch out for bicycle taxis, though even these are very polite in their attempts to avoid you. We forgot to change some local currency, which is what you need to do for the proper Cuban experience (there are two varieties of peso, one convertible and tied to the dollar, the other the one in which Cubans are paid and which you need once you get off the tourist track). That was the only downside (apart from the fume-laden air). We were also approach by people who’d been to our concert – so touching to meet people who had themselves been touched by what we did two nights before.

The Hilliards’ Farewell Concert

Sunday, December 21st, 2014


The end, when it came, was warm, joyous, touching and stylish. The affection of the Wigmore audience filled the hall and everyone positively breathed love at the guys from the first note (Perotin) to the last (Remember me my Dear). The proceedings began with a pre-concert conversation between the group and the legendary Fiona Talkington (one of the most engaging and clued-up broadcasters around). Penny and I missed the start of the talk as we somehow managed to get lost between King’s Cross and Oxford Circus, and creeping in to the hall I gradually became aware that almost everyone I’d worked with over the last four decades was there. Wonderful to see so many old friends – some of whom had travelled thousands of miles for the occasion. Any worries that it was going to be mawkish or sentimental were dispelled right at the start – as soon as they walked on we knew the guys were going to carry it off. Gordon Jones’ links between pieces were perfectly judged and elegantly done – and it was great to hear once more Piers Hellawell and  Roger Marsh, then finally to see the hilarious entr’act from Heiner Goebbels’ I went to the house but did not enter. It was a great way to go.

The next day those of us most closely associated with the group were treated by them to a magnificent celebratory lunch at Caffe Caldesi. Everyone was still reeling from the night before, and it was a sumptuous and incredibly generous goodbye from David, Rogers, Steven and Gordon. Thankyou guys. What a hard and brave decision it must have been to set a date and end it all – but what a fantastically stylish way to leave the scene.

I’m still reeling too. The Twittersphere is awash with tributes, but Erica Jeal’s Guardian piece encapsulates the occasion perfectly.


Happy New Year all!


Hilliard Ensemble & Jan Garbarek: the final concert

Sunday, December 7th, 2014

King's chapel smallRob Cowan plays Hilliard tracks 10.30 – 11.00 on BBC Radio 3 every day this week

The audience were so quiet if we hadn’t been able to see (and even touch them) we wouldn’t have known they were there. After the last chord of Parce Mihi had drifted up into the chapel vaulting and disappeared the silence enveloped us all. Time seemed to stop. Then the audience erupted like a football crowd.




In the afternoon we did the longest sound check ever – nearly an hour. Mostly because the guys were reluctant to decide the actual programme. It was all a bit subdued. I was excited to see a copy of the programme booklet which reminded us of the start of it all twenty years ago. Tickets hadn’t been going well until the BBC played a short clip from the Morales, after which their switchboard was jammed with callers wanting to know what it was. The concert immediately sold out and there was such a scrum for CDs at Heffers Sound afterwards that the police were called. That’s when we knew…


HE prog small


Not much talk in the dressing room in Gibbs Building before the start. It must have been so much harder for David, Rogers, Steven and Gordon than for me, and I was wondering how we’d be able to get through it. It was extraordinary to be back – although until Ely a couple of weeks ago I hadn’t done this programme for 15 years in many respects it was as though I’d never been away.

But then we’re off, and it’s business as usual, dispersing to all parts of the building as the first notes begin to occupy the space. I sat on the organ loft stairs for the pieces I wasn’t involved in, so heard a lot of the concert from the shadows just behind the guys. There were many great moments – and some staggering sax playing of course, with Jan playing the building like a giant amplifier. We all had moments when we nearly lost it – when that part of the brain that deals with real emotion got the better of our professional cool. Finally the last piece in the programme arrived – the Brumel Agnus Dei. I stood up in the shadows waiting to join the guys to process through the choir for the last time. Hearing them singing their hearts out I found myself smiling rather than crying, and filled with a huge sense of relief and of a job well done. I thought back to twenty years before, looking through all the Brumel masses, then trying that particular Agnus on the piano, hearing Jan in my head floating over that amazing descending sequence (so modern!), and there it was, sailing on into the dark twenty years later having touched millions of people across the world along the way. Then it was just Remember me my Dear and Parce mihi to survive, and the final walk down the antechapel and out into the moonlight. We’d done it. The last time I walked down the packed antechapel was a wet Christmas Eve in 1960 on my way to the West door to sing the treble solo in Once in Royal David’s City.


Kings small


Amores Pasados


Avila selfie


There will never be another project like the Hilliards’ partnership with Jan Garbarek but the creative life goes on, and by a serendipitous coincidence the end of one ECM project coincides with the genesis of another. Last week at Rainbow Studios in Oslo Anna Maria Friman, Ariel Abramovich, Jacob Heringman and I recorded Amores Pasados, our album of lute songs by Campion, Sting, Tony Banks and John Paul Jones. It was our attempt to confound the difference between art song and pop song, and was another of those gloriously unforgettable ECM experiences. We’d arranged and rehearsed the pieces so we knew it was going to be something special, but as happened with the Hilliards and the Dowland Project, Manfred Eicher sculpted the music into something that none of us could possibly have imagined. We all feel that something extraordinary happened over those three days (two to record and one to mix). The chemistry between the four of us as people and musicians, the rich and rare texture of two lutes and two voices, the direct emotional appeal of music unconstrained by classical convention: mix together with one of the world’s most creative producers at the height of his powers and you have Amores Pasados. We’re hoping for a spring release while we’re still heady with the Oslo momentum, and I’ll put a dedicated page on this site with new photos by CF Wesenberg and details of upcoming gigs.

Trio Mediaeval – Aquilonis


The mixing day for Amores Pasados coincided with Trio Mediaeval’s launch event for Aquilonis, which we recorded in St Gerold earlier this year (a very quick turn around!). If there’s a successor to the Hilliard Ensemble perhaps the Trio are it. They first appeared at a Hilliard Summer School in Cambridge 16 years ago, and went on to make 5 (and counting) stunning albums for ECM, four of which I’ve had a hand in producing. Like the Hilliard Ensemble, they don’t claim to be a dedicated early music group (despite the name…) but have established a unique persona that transcends conventional categories, a synthesis developed from their backgrounds in early music, folk music and the Scandinavian music education system. Their Oslo concert was exquisite – beautiful singing (and with a surprise appearance of the next generation of wonderful young girl singers). Like the Hilliards at their best, they can transform the simplest chord into something magical.


Three Medieval Tenors – Conductus


Conductus 2 cover

So what is Rogers Covey-Crump going to be doing post-Hilliard Ensemble? Joining Christopher O’Gorman and me for concerts of the colourful 12th century Conductus repertoire. Our third CD will be released by Hyperion in the spring and at the moment we have concerts and workshops booked in the UK, Germany, Slovenia and Spain. This will be the culmination of several years’ research led by Mark Everist at the University of Southampton.  In 2016 we hope to tackle later medieval music as far as Machaut, and maybe commission some new pieces for the three of us.


PAPH2725 smaller yellowphoto: Paul Arthur


The Hilliard Legacy


I hope the Hilliards will find a home for the unique collection of scores that they’ve built up over the years, and perhaps one of the members will create some sort of archive. The records of course speak for themselves, and there will presumably be an album or two still come as a result of their live recordings during this final year. In January, when we’ve got over the trauma of December 20th at the Wigmore, I might put up a couple of chapters from my aborted travel diaries of the nineties featuring our adventures in Russia (the Hermitage concert) and Latvia (mostly plumbing…). At the moment they only exist as paper drafts, so they’ll take a bit of typing.

None of the other ensembles that I’ve mentioned above would exist if I hadn’t joined (and then left) the Hilliard Ensemble. The common factor in all of them is ECM, which took the risk with the Dowland Project, Trio Mediaeval, and now the Amores Pasados quartet. And two of the Three Medieval Tenors were the Hilliard tenor section for 17 years, so life goes on… What a great privilege it is to be associated with such musicians and such a record label.

Hilliard/Garbarek at Ely Cathedral

Monday, November 17th, 2014


Ely rising out of the Fenland mist couldn’t have been a more magical setting for this concert. It was completely sold out – a thousand people or more – and the audience was enchanted by it.  We decided on three of the new pieces I’d brought to try. One worked quite well, another less so, and one we left out by mistake. I also sang in a couple of old  ‘Officium’ pieces that seemed to work just as they had fifteen years ago, and the guys did a mixture of old stuff and more recent material from Officium Novum (including a stunningly beautiful Mother of God, the only piece Arvo Pärt actually wrote for the four of them). And of course Jan Garbarek’s saxophone, funky, lyrical, discreet and brash in turns, rocked the very stones. We didn’t do Parce mihi (maybe in Cambridge…) – which someone once famously said is what Coltrane hears in heaven. That assumes heaven is somewhere in the misty north – the earthy reality of Jan’s playing is more a case of a very personal Nordic modality energised by the ghost of Coltrane’s boundless imagination.


I’d expected to feel sentimental – Penny and Ned were there, just as they’d been at the very first gig in Cambridge twenty years ago, and they were quite touched by the occasion – but it was somehow easy just to slip into business as usual and not think too hard. I did allow myself a nano-second of wondering what it would be like if I hadn’t left the group when I did – and decided that on balance everything was as it should be: the guys had honed an incredibly successful collaboration into something that has made a huge impact all over the world, and having helped to set it going I then had the whole York experience and the adventures of the Dowland Project and countless other schemes over the ensuing decade and a half.  I’m looking forward to the grand finale in Cambridge, and I think it’ll feel right – a proper end to a project that everyone has loved. All in all, we’ve been incredibly fortunate.


Incidentally, the Song School where we assembled before the start was equipped with a dart board and bottles of water that are brought from France each month (as well as a cache of even more interesting lubricants). Cathedral vestries weren’t like that in my day.


0463 Medieval Tenors

Rogers Covey-Crump, Christopher O’Gorman and I currently have around a dozen concerts pencilled for next year in the UK, Germany, Slovenia, Spain and Belgium as the Conductus research project enters its final phase. More details in a week or so. The third Conductus CD will be released by Hyperion in June.


Conductus 2 cover

Hilliards & Jan Garbarek final gigs

Thursday, November 6th, 2014

The Hilliards’ last ever tour is drawing to its end and I’ll be joining them in Ely and Cambridge for two of the last concerts with Jan Garbarek. I still find it hard to believe that they’re really stopping, but everything they’ve said seems to confirm it. On a more positive note, it does mean that Rogers Covey-Crump can join me and Chris O’Gorman next year in our Medieval Tenors Conductus project without having to squeeze us into his Hilliard schedule.


The Ely gig is on November 15th between their two Temple Church concerts. The cathedral is one of the most magnificent medieval buildings in Europe and  whatever we do should sound fantastic in there.  The very last concert with Jan, in King’s Chapel, is sold out, so unless you’re a lucky ticket holder these three events will be the last chance to hear this extraordinary line-up. I know many old friends are coming to Ely, and I just hope I can remember how to do it (having not sung with Jan since 2001). I’ve been asked to find ‘a couple of pieces’ for five voices. This has been a rather poignant task as there was a brief period when Steven Harrold and I overlapped and we considered doing regular five-voice programmes, and while looking for repertoire that might work with saxophone I came across all sorts of stuff that we could have done had history taken a different turn.   I hope some of it will work with sax. I’ve got around half a dozen possibilities and we’ll try them out with the five of us before selecting which ones to sing to Jan, and he’ll  then tell us which ones he thinks will work. In keeping with the group’s time-honoured approach to this project there won’t be any actual rehearsal:  we decide on the piece and where it comes in the programme, and leave the rest to the instant chemistry between voices and the magic instrument. So I’ve gone for a mixture of Latin  renaissance ‘Officium’ type music that I’m pretty sure will work, and more risky material in French and Spanish that might use space and a more contemporary approach. Of course the guys may not like any of it, and even if they do… none of it might work…

Jan Garbarek and David James will be reminiscing about the collaboration on BBC 4’s Front Row on Thursday 14th November at 19.15 (http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer).


Amores Pasados

Between these two gigs I have my latest ECM adventure with Anna Maria Friman, Ariel Abramovich and Jacob Heringman at Rainbow Studios in Oslo.  Jake and Ariel have completed their intabulations of the new pieces by Tony Banks and Sting, and we’ve just been rehearsing the new versions of John  Paul Jones’ Amores Pasados with hardanger fiddle and two lutes.  These are stunning pieces and will sit well beside Dowland and Campion as well as our Schubert and Schumann. We are also going to experiment with some Moeran and Warlock in two-lute transcriptions. It will be an album that brings together many different strands of song and (like the Secret History of Josquin and Victoria) treats them all simply as music. Coincidentally, we’ve now agreed the final track order for the Secret History album and it should be out in time for Holy Week gigs next year.


Dowland as early music and new music

Friday, October 10th, 2014


It’s been a heady two weeks. First Ariel Abramovich and I did a programme of Dowland and Campion (mostly of pieces we hadn’t done before) at the Sounds of Old Almada Festival in Portugal (just across the Tagus from Lisbon).



Then The Dowland Project got together for the Enjoy Jazz Festival at the Old Fire Station in Mannheim.



Both very different, and both exactly what I love to do. The lutesong recital was in an exquisite, tiny chapel – the perfect size and acoustic for voice and lute – so we could really engage the very attentive audience directly with the musical rhetoric. Os Sons de Almada Velha is a new festival (now in its third year), very much community based, and most of the listeners had probably not heard a lute song before. They loved it. Mannheim’s Alte Feuerwache is now a night club and we used a PA to create an acoustic. The audience was a sophisticated cross-section of people who’d learned to trust the eclectic taste of Enjoy Jazz festival director Rainer Kern and are continually exposed to music they haven’t heard before – but in this case to add to the many musics they’re already familiar with.

There was actually an overlap of one piece – Dowland’s Come Again. I loved the cool flexibility we could achieve in the Portuguese church, the intimate dialogue with the lute – it can’t have been that far from the kind of performance Dowland himself might have done, so you feel a real sense of history. But as always I was knocked sideways by the outrageous soprano solos from John Surman in the Fire Station. We tend to do it a bit more rhythmically, with Milos Valent embroidering Jake Heringman‘s lute part, and it’s always a struggle to keep a straight face after one of Surman’s blitzes on the material as the audience is still reeling when I have to start the next verse. The piece survived and was greatly enjoyed by both audiences. The Enjoy Jazz audience demanded a second encore and we’d only prepared one, so I sang One Yeir Begins to the guys (having first owned up to the audience that we’d never done it before) and they joined in and we made a piece. That sort of music making just makes your heart soar. It’s an amazing band to be a part of.


The Hilliard Ensemble and Jan Garbarek

The Hilliards and Jan were at the Enjoy Jazz Festival a little before us. Some reviewers have described DP albums as being a kind of coda to the HE/Garbarek project, and it’s certainly true that the Dowland Project wouldn’t exist without the earlier collaboration. The crucial thing they have in common is using early music as a resource, a point of departure. Although the Hilliard Officium and Mnemosyne albums were highly experimental we took the process much further in live gigs; at its most radical we could go on stage with one line of music that I handed to guys as we walked on, saying this is piece number 6 (or whatever) and we’d create something in the moment. It was absolutely exhilarating, and it was the urge to continue that kind of risk-taking that was one of the factors in my decision to leave the group. When Manfred Eicher suggested what eventually became the Dowland Project I had the means to do it.

To my great surprise – and I was very touched by the invitation – the Hilliards have asked me to join them for two of their last concerts with Jan Garbarek and to bring along some new 5 voice pieces for us to do. I’ll be at the Ely Cathedral gig on November 15th and the very last one in King’s Cambridge on December 6th. The King’s concert is sold out, but there are still tickets for Ely  if you’re quick. At the time of writing we don’t know what the new pieces will be or how they will work with 5 of us. We’ll find out on the night.


Interesting collection of books in the foyer of the Wyndham Hotel Mannheim. I was reading The Rabbit Back Literature Society, and on the table were books on Bacon and veg…