:: Hilliard Ensemble

Happy Days to Enjoy Jazz

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014


Gavin Bryars Ensemble in Enniskillen

Lovely time at the Happy Days Festival in Enniskillen last week. Peyee Chen and I sang the rarely-heard Irish Madrigals – Gavin’s setting of J M Synge’s translations of Petrarch – as a prelude to the legendary Iarla ó Lionáird singing both Gavin’s music and Sean Nos songs. We also got to play in Jesus Blood. This is a bit like suddenly finding yourself on stage with a rock star hero of your youth – something you never imagined could happen. I’m no keyboard player (as generations of students will confirm) but I couldn’t say no to Gavin’s invitation to join in in Vilnius last year. Needless to say, I made sure the volume was turned down so low that no one could hear my potentially performance-wrecking efforts, but this time I was a bit more confident and could actually hear myself. It’s an extraordinary experience – the Vilnius and Enniskillen performances were among the most moving musical experiences I’ve ever had. I’m always banging on about performers not experiencing real emotion on stage – that way madness lies – but with so many and simple repetitions you somehow get hypnotized into the real thing. Then there’s that stunned silence at the end as the audience realises it won’t actually last for ever, as the tramp finally leaves the building accompanied by Tom Waites.

I see the Hilliards are there this week doing their amazing Heiner Goebbels theatre piece – one of the last opportunities to catch this if you haven’t seen it.

Secret History

There’s no sign of a release date from ECM, but we’re very excited about our first live concert at the Victoria festival in Avila on August 29th. The Hilliard Ensemble will be there too as artists in residence, so you’ll be able to compare an ‘a cappella’ way of doing things with our voices + instruments realisations. One obvious difference is that the four of us (Anna Maria Friman, Ariel Abramovich, Jacob Heringman and me) will be doing music in five or six parts.

We’ll also be rehearsing our new pieces by Sting, John Paul Jones and Tony Banks for the recording in Oslo later in the autumn.  Ariel and I hope to do the first performances of the Banks pieces in Portugal in October.

Coaching in Germany

I’m delighted to be coaching again with my old friend Werner Schussler in September at the Sing Akademie Saulheim. Ensembles on the course include the wonderful Nobiles from Leipzig, whom we coached in Engers two years ago.

Lutesongs in Portugal

In October Ariel Abramovich and I will spend some time in Seville recording a video before driving to Almada in Portugal for a recital of lutesongs. This may be an opportunity to try out one or two of the new settings of Campion written for us by Genesis keyboardist Tony Banks.

Potter & Abramovich

Dowland Project in Heidelberg

Shortly after this I’ll be in Heidelberg with the Dowland Project for the Enjoy Jazz Festival. The programme will have music from all our albums including the Night Sessions, and will also be a chance to hear our latest foray into Schubert. We’re not intending to do any more recording, so if you want to hear our latest material you’ll have to come to a gig.

Dowland Project

Hilliard Ensemble & Jan Garbarek

The Hilliards are in Heidelberg with Jan Garbarek the previous week. Strange how we seem to be following each other around in this their final year. They’ve just asked me to join them for the very last concert with Jan in King’s Chapel on December 6th – back to where it all began twenty-odd years ago. I hope we won’t be too tearful to sing. The very last concert will be at the Wigmore on December 23rd. Not sure how they’ll be able to get through that one, but I’ll be there cheering them on.

Hilliard Ensemble on Radio 3

Monday, May 12th, 2014


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

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

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

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



Hilliard dates, Field in Bucharest, Conductus 3

Monday, March 24th, 2014

This is an update of my previous post to test the new subscription facility. I’m afraid existing subscribers will have to re-subscribe to continue getting updates…


Hilliard Ensemble in Leeds & Seville

These two gigs were my last ever with the group  unless Rogers or Steven sing themselves out before the frantic final year is finished. It was a return to old stamping grounds –  the Leeds venue (former porn cinema attached to the Opera House…) had memories of gigs with Gavin Bryars and Ambrose Field (we did Being Dufay there), and Seville is where Ariel Abramovich lives and we’ve dome several gigs there. The programme started with the Godric hymns (long thought to be the oldest surviving songs in a form of English but now there’s a bit more competition). I’ve recorded these both with the HE and the Dufay Collective.   It was great to re-visit the C15 English pieces – Plummer, Pyamour, Frye, Sheryngham and Cornysh – all composers that rank as high as Purcell in my book. The second half was Notre Dame repertoire – a change of style compared with the Conductus Project versions of similar repertoire – and for the concert in the extraordinary Seville Cathedral quite a change of acoustic. The cathedral square, incidentally, is the background to the photos of Ariel Abramovich and me on the lute songs page on this site. Seville cathedral is absurdly large for four blokes to sing in, but it was a great occasion – the first time the HE had sung there since we did a Morales mass project about 20 years ago. Seville cathedralIt was great to see Ariel and lute maker Ivo Magherini too – and they made sure we had the best tapas around.  Discussed the final HE Wigmore with Gordon Jones, wondering how they would cope with the last gig ever. I’m not even sure I’ll go to it myself – I’d rather remember Seville as my goodbye to all that. The group never did much in England and the Wigmore can’t really compare with Seville Cathedral.

Jazz in Church Festival Bucharest

Ambrose Field and I had a great time in Rumania – very creative festival (defining jazz very loosely indeed), lovely people and very efficiently organised. Ambrose’ Transmission Cycle is very different from Being Dufay – summoning up glimpses of Arvo Pärt and Charles Ives and yet growing in a distinctive Field of its own. The young string quartet was excellent (Ambrose  conducted just to make sure we all got to the end at the same time). Great to catch up with Pierre Favre, who played percussion on Pärt’s When Sarah was Ninety Years Old which Rogers Covey-Crump and I recorded early on in our Hilliard careers.




Recording Conductus 3 at the NCEM

This was the final CD, and should appear in the autumn. It included a couple of contrafactae – one in French and one in Provencal – and another huge piece that begins as a trio and ends as a duet. Rogers Covey-Crump, Chris O’Gorman and I are looking forward to doing plenty of gigs next year (once Rogers has recovered from the HE farewell tour). We’re applying for additional funding from the AHRC to enable us to do concerts and workshops for free beyond the academic environment. Thanks to all those promoters who have supported this – we hope for good news soon.




History of Singing

Thursday, December 19th, 2013


History of Singing paperback

book cover

I know we’re not supposed to support Amazon because of the tax business, but I have to congratulate them on the Potter & Sorrell paperback. I always pre-order a copy of my own albums and publications on Amazon as it’s a good way to know if they’re really out. This time my Amazon copy reached me three days before an email from CUP telling me it would be published on February 13th. CUP helpfully included a link to the book’s CUP page but this turns out to be the one for the American hardback copy (125 US dollars, in case you’re interested).

Victoria in Avila

Anna Maria Friman, Ariel Abramovich, Jacob Heringman and I have our first live performance since the ECM recording a while ago, in Victoria’s home town in August. We hope this will really kick start our alternative history of renaissance sacred vocal music as dynamic accompanied song rather than the usual bland a cappella polyphony.  We’re negotiating for more concerts in Spain around the same time; more details soon. There’s no news of the recording we did for ECM a couple of years ago yet, sadly.

Dowland Project Night Sessions Press

Night Sessions cover

It’s been good to see the reception for the final Dowland Project album. This ensemble was very much an ECM creation and couldn’t have happened on any other label. When the Night Sessions first came out there was a flurry of (mostly quite perceptive) press on the web but the UK print media were much slower to take it up. I recently caught up with the monthlies and was quite touched by reviewers who really seemed to get it. We have no plans for more albums, and it feels good to complete the set with a radical retrospective.  I gather that the University of York Music Department has the DP as one of its Impact case studies to be submitted to the government’s so-called Research Excellence Framework;  very gratifying, though somewhat ironic since we’ve never had any truck with ‘Excellence’ as the government understands the term.

International Record Review had it as one of five Outstanding recordings of the month. Ivan Moody even forgave my ‘extra-terrestrial’ Portuguese pronunciation, and I’m deeply flattered by the references to jazz and smokey night clubs.He concludes:

Barry Witherden enjoyed it in BBC Music Magazine too:

Dominic Clements in Music Web International had some reservations, but sort of got it:

You can find additional reviews, mostly online, in my previous post on the subject, and here’s a sample of thoughts from the blogosphere:





Hilliards at 40…

If you scroll down or go to here you can read my blog, written as the mini tour went along. I’ll be doing gigs with the group in Leeds (Howard Assembly Rooms) and Seville Cathedral in April. Details soon.








Reflections on the Hilliard 40th birthday concerts

Monday, December 16th, 2013

Day 1: rehearsal…

This was an interesting experience. My memory of HE rehearsals is that no one said much (it’s basically where I Iearned that there’s almost always too much talk in rehearsals). But my esteemed fellow former-members had left the group long before we evolved the intuitive process that was at once so simple and so sophisticated, and they asked a lot of questions. I was, as usual, mostly silent. It all more or less worked, though Roger Marsh’s new piece gave us a few tuning and rhythmic problems which we hadn’t quite cured by the time we did it live on Radio 3’s In Tune in the evening. It’s a weird experience, being back. On the one hand, it’s as though I’d never left, and on the other (especially being airbrushed out of the potted HE history on Music Matters at the weekend) it’s as though I’d never been there.

Day 2: concert at Shoreditch

It was a great occasion – wonderfully enthusiastic audience and so many old friends I hadn’t seen for ages (decades in some cases). A lot of the music worked really well, and we got away with Roger Marsh’s piece until the very last page… Al Hume was a friendly and pertinent inquisitor at the pre-concert talk and managed to avoid anything embarrassing, cleverly focusing on what it was like to join the group rather than why people left it. I made the point that the HE had only 9 members in total, whereas the Swingles (celebrating their 50th across town this very night) counted over 100 – and I tactfully didn’t mention the Kings Singers franchise who are well into double figures. Very late dinner in the heart of Hoxton. Hipsters make a lot of noise so it was almost impossible to hear what anyone said, but a great time was had by all. Eurostar to Paris tomorrow and we’re staying very close to the Brasserie du Nord where the eating should be quieter and more French.

Day 3: concert in Paris

Brasserie du Nord turned out to be rather disappointing – we should probably have gone for the big meat or fish stuff rather than the Menu. The church was impressive but felt a bit impersonal. No applause between pieces though they were enthusiastic enough at the end. Made it almost to the end of the Marsh without mishap– just a few bars to perfect in tomorrow’s final performance. The middle section, just for the current members and acting out the death of Yorick was absolutely beautiful. Good press for last night from the Evening Standard (bizarre pic…), The Guardian and Early Music Today. One other less good, apparently written by someone who’d failed a Hilliard audition in the past.

The most French bit of the trip was trying to buy Metro tickets after the gig. The woman in the ticket office refused to sell us any, pointing to the two adjacent machines. These turned out not to work, but in best Gallic fashion we just got a shrug from the ticket office and no tickets. More people should be paid to shrug in ticket offices rather than the boring business of selling tickets I reckon. We then hailed a taxi which slewed across the traffic and reversed into the car behind it, so it took a while to get back to base.

Day 4: concert in Munich



The security people at the Gare du Nord should be paid to catch thieves rather than sit around drinking coffee. Penny’s purse was stolen as we got on the Metro to the airport. It’s the second time we’ve encountered pick pocketing at the Gare du Nord. Then the Metro drivers were having ‘social movements’ (ie were half-heartedly on strike) so we had to change trains amid much confusion. Then horrendous queues at check-in. Very glad to arrive in Munich at the wonderful Hotel Palace.

The concert was the real deal. Munich is pretty much the capital city of Hilliard-dom and the huge church was packed to the rafters. There were fans and friends from all over Germany (many former summer school students) and three members of the Poor Knights came down from Helsinki just for the concert. Roger Marsh’s Poor Yoric was heard with all the right notes and rhythms for the first time and made a great impression. We encored the final section and it got even better.

The 40th  birthday was a great idea – and thanks to David James for getting it all together. It was a brave and generous thing to do, especially given that only one of the five who left really did so voluntarily. The rest of us all found ourselves in positions where for one reason or another we just couldn’t continue. Our Finnish friends came because they thought they’d never get to hear this particular line-up ever again. I think they’re right, and it was great while it lasted.

Conductus II and Singing History Paperback…

Friday, November 15th, 2013

Conductus 2

Conductus 2 cover

…was released by Hyperion on 25th November. It’s Christmas-free (though with the usual quotient of Virginbirth-related stuff). Perfect for those who are already bored by the seasonal offerings from the usual suspects, and who like a challenge. Prepare to be berated about corruption in the Catholic church, the joys of marriage and the wonders of the book, in music that was heard all over Europe 800 years ago and still resonates today.

Here’s the link to pre-order it on iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/gb/album/conductus-music-poetry-from/id714759316?ign-mpt=uo%3D4

Or on Hyperion http://www.hyperion-records.co.uk/dc.asp?dc=D_CDA67998&vw=dc

We’ll be recording the third and final album in April but it doesn’t stop there – we’re looking forward to developing the three medieval tenor repertoire over the next couple of years, still with the aid of cutting edge musicology from Southampton. If you haven’t got Conductus 1 yet, you can find it here together with a selection of press quotes. I’ve updated the Conductus – Three Medieval Tenors page on this site and you can hear sound clips there from both albums.

A History of Singing – the paperback…


Book cover


If you have any change…the paperback of the phenomenally expensive Potter & Sorrell History of Singing will be published late December by Cambridge University Press. It’ll probably be too late for Christmas, but the price is likely to be under £18 – a snip compared with £75 or so for the hardback. There’s a comprehensive review (of the hardback) in Singing, the AOTOS journal, at the end of which Karen Sell nicely draws attention to the price and the possibility of an affordable paperback. The issue also has a review of the summer conference (complete with a rare pic of me propping up the bar).   

Hilliard Ensemble 40th birthday concerts

Here are details of the three 40th birthday concerts. All feature Roger Marsh’s new work Yorick as well as some Byrd and Shepherd sung by the massed voices of the ensemble and four of its five previous members:

London 11th December:

Spitalfields Winter Festival, St Leonard’s Church, Shoreditch High St, London E1 6JN

[sold out]

 Paris 12th December:

Oratoire du Louvre, 1 rue de l’Oratoire et 145 rue Saint Honoré, 75001 Paris



Munich 13th December:

Michaelskirche, Neuhauserstraße 52, 80331 München

(in the pedestrian zone between Karlsplatz/Stachus and Marienplatz)

tickets: https://www.bellarte-muenchen.de/programm.php?id=ddbe8bd8c7325a09cc3b3f91d65c8491&action=bestellen

or by phone: 0049 89 54 818181

Swingle Singers at 50…

By a weird coincidence the Swingle Singers will be celebrating their 50th anniversary at the Albert Hall’s Elgar Room on the same evening. I won’t be able to make that, though since there are now apparently over 100 ex-Swingle Singers I probably won’t be missed.

 Gavin Bryars Ensemble in Italy

But before that, Anna Friman and I will be singing with the Gavin Bryars Ensemble at the All Frontiers Festival in Gradisca d’Isonzo near the Italian-Slovenian border on December 1st.  The programme will feature new versions of music from The Morrison Songbook.

Sound & Fury, Hilliard Ensemble 40th birthday

Monday, October 7th, 2013


Conductus Vol 2 is due in December – the perfect antidote to Christmas!




The Forum podcast (on the subject of Breath, plus my 60 Second rant) is available for downloading here for the next three weeks or so.  I have to confess that my proposal to abandon music storage and reproduction wasn’t entirely serious. We’re two thirds of the way through a six months stay in an apartment with no music playing facilities and I thought it would be refreshing to experience only live music, making a virtue of necessity. And it was to start with, but now I really miss it. I’ve had to do the odd bit of clandestine listening in the car, but I’ve resisted the temptation to download stuff I already have.  And of course, you can’t really go even a day without hearing background music of one sort or another.


This is what the diary looks like till the end of the year. I’m taking November off in the hope that we can get our new house finished, decorated and moved into before Christmas. I know everyone says they’ll be in for Christmas…At the moment the back garden looks like this:




October 10 – 13 Sound & Fury at Kloster Mauerbach, Vienna

We’ll be recording Ockeghem’s L’homme arme mass and the Requiem (a tribute to Fra Bernardo’s Bernhard Drobig who sadly died early this year) and the  Missa Ista est speciosa & Missa Pascale of Pierre de la Rue. There’s been something of a revolution in S&F distribution – the most recent recordings are on Fra Bernardo and these are available worldwide. A website is under construction and it should be much easier to get hold of the recordings in future. More soon.

October 25 – 27

Weekend course for ensembles in Helsinki

This is a course celebrating the 175th anniversary of the Akademiska Sångföreningen (the male voice choir of Helsinki), whose conductor Kari Turunen will be known to ensemble singers as the director of Lumen Valo.  Ex-Kings Singer Philip Lawson and I will be coaching vocal groups including ensemble Norma who made such an impression in Leipzig and Tampere this year.


December 1

Gavin Bryars Ensemble in Monfalcone

Programme to include pieces from the Morrison Songbook plus Ramble on Cortona (my favourite piano piece of Gavin’s).

December 11

Hilliard Ensemble 40th birthday party Spitalfields

This is the first of three anniversary concerts which will bring together the current line-up with four former members: Paul Eliott, John (Lee) Nixon, Errol Girdlestone and me. Roger Marsh has written Poor Yorick for us all to sing. It’s in three sections: one for the existing group, one for the former members and one for all of us together. I hope we old lags will be able to hold our own against the regulars.

December 12

Hilliard Ensemble 40th birthday concert Paris

December 13

Hilliard Ensemble 40th birthday concert Munich


Missing info on venues etc for the above coming soon.


Conductus in the Colosseum

Thursday, September 19th, 2013




I left Helsinki before dawn to get to Rome in time to rehearse with my old Hilliard mates for our gig in the Colosseum. It rained in Rome for the first time since June… This meant we couldn’t use the centre of the arena but had to sing under the arches.  The occasion was a conference coinciding with the  Constantine exhibition celebrating the Edict of Milan in 313. Looking at the humungous building in the dark and driving rain you couldn’t help feeling that Constantine should have had more talks with St Helena before agreeing to let any old religion loose on the place. The papal plaques on the outside looked like cheap propaganda compared with the grandeur of the building itself.

Apart from the amazing venue, the event was particularly interesting for me as the programme was Perotin and and anon Conducti, and it came between the Southampton Conductus concert last week and the Otterberg outing this weekend. For ages I used to worry that musicology should relate more to performance reality, but I now tend to think of the two as completely different worlds that only occasionally coincide.  At the conference, Chris O’Gorman, Rogers Covey-Crump and I tried out some of the latest thinking on performance practice, much of it on a similar track to what we’ve been working on for the last few years. It’s always difficult to ‘perform’ musicology as you don’t want to think aboutt the nuts and bolts while you’re emoting away, and our conference renderings were very different from what we did in the evening concert. The concert material is now part of our evolving performance tradition which is grounded in the musicology but will eventually leave it behind as we personalise the process more and more. Something similar must have happened in the 12th century to account for the differences in the sources,  and it’s exactly what happened with the Hilliard Ars Antiqua programmes: we went through a phase of acknowledging the changing musicology and then left it behind as we found our own way  of doing it.  All of these stages are valid  – it was interesting to sample the latest musicology in Southampton, great to slot in to the Hilliards well-honed way of doing things, and I’m looking forward to further stages in the evolution of the Conductus project.

THE NIGHT SESSIONS – nearly there…

Sunday, June 16th, 2013


Night Sessions cover

It’s very nearly here. If you have Twitter you may have come across the first German review (‘erstaunlich…) and I’m eagerly awaiting my Amazon pre-order (I always do this – it’s the only way I can be sure it’s for real). I’m working on a dedicated reflective blog post, partly to give some background to the sessions and partly to try and explain it to myself. I can’t help wondering how the band might have developed had this album come out, say, five years ago. Anyway, there it is. We have no plans to promote it; it’s just a record of a couple days from earlier in the century. We do still do gigs, but we’re into Schubert now.

Terje Rypdal

I see the Hilliards have their Terje Rypdal piece out on disc at last. When I was putting our stuff into store a few weeks ago I came across Terje’s reply to my sounding him out about a joint project. I should have checked the date – it must have been a couple of years after the group began working with Jan Garbarek and I was thinking about other possible collaborations. So the genesis of that goes back even longer than the Night Sessions (which happened after I’d left the group).


I had a lot of fun doing Ed Jessen’s Minghella-inspired theatre piece at Rich Mix last week. This has also been germinating for almost as long as the Night Sessions (well, not quite) and it was great to see it finally flowering.  It was like an opera in miniature – with three intensive days instead of three weeks to put it on. Couldn’t have been a nicer or more creative team to work with: Ed himself, Dominic Murcott and Hannah Bruce, and of course Peyee Chen and Consortium 5. Great troupers and lovely people all. Good to see lots of old friends at the performances too. We hope there will be more performances in the future.


Before that I was in Tampere. Wonderful experience as always. Also as always, we were asked why there are almost no classical groups these days. In the nineties we tried out separate categories for classical and pop, amplified and acoustic and so on. This year there were only two acoustic groups in the final. What’s changed? Well, the brutal truth is that the rock and jazz-orientated groups have become seriously creative, constantly producing new material of their own and exploring innovative ways to perform it.  That’s something that doesn’t happen with the old sit-up-and-beg renaissance masses and madrigals, a more or less fixed repertoire which always seemed to look backwards or to some other abstract point of reference (such as the early music movement).  It’s hardly surprising that the old stuff is withering away. It’s hanging on in England though; Twitterland seems to be populated by journalists and broadcasters naively  enthusing about music they must have heard countless times before. How much longer will they be able to keep it up, I wonder?

Sound and Fury

Maybe the answer to the classical music problem is the Sound and Fury solution: just record, don’t perform (or if you do, do it on the radio). The recordings are ‘live’ (sort of) so they have many of the characteristics of a performance and you can enjoy them on your own sofa without sitting in a draughty church. How post-modern is that? We meet in Mauerbach for Pipelare later this week and I’m really looking forward to it.

Wistreich and Potter

Richard and I have often said we’d like to write something together but we’ve never managed to get it together…until we crafted this conversation for Early Music. It’s about singing, the early music movement and higher education…

A little jaundiced, some may feel (and I had to change the last line when reminded by the editor that it’s supposed to be a celebratory issue), though I’m not half as exercised by early music as I am by Orange, who still haven’t reconnected my broadband. The call centre people are unfailingly polite (unlike the last time I moved house when an Orange operative called me a racist), but always begin by asking if you’ve plugged it in etc, and then refer you to someone else who asks exactly the same questions and gives you the same answer. In my case this is variations on it’s not our fault, but BT (or whoever) will fix it within 24 hours and then to save you waiting the usual ten days as a special favour you’ll have expedited broadband only a day later.  Someone will ring again tomorrow to confirm this. And they do – so every two days I’m told it will only be two more days. My file is now so big it takes at least six people up to an hour to repeat this mantra, and between each one I get the waiting music. I know it all off by heart now and have started to sing along. If you sing loud enough you can’t actually hear it, though you do risk giving the Orange man a bit of shock if he interrupts you mid-shout.

So this comes to you from my office in a York branch of Costa, if I’ve managed to get there.

Ring in the Old!

Friday, December 28th, 2012


Am I alone in thinking English cathedral and college choirs all sound the same? The three I came across over the Christmas break –  King’s Cambridge, York Minster and Westminster Abbey -seemed pretty well identical.  All terrifically good (to the  point of being almost clinically professional). Is it because trebles have singing lessons these days and are already generic pros in the making?  Sad if they all go down that route – just think of the difference between the choirs of, say,  George Malcolm and David Willcocks half a century ago. I hope we’re not witnessing the triumph of excellence over innocence.  BUT…my new year’s resolution is to whinge a bit less, so sing on choristers, and here’s a few words about what I’m up to …


The Early Music Show Saturday 5th January Radio 3           (or on BBC iPlayer till January 12th)

My year kicks off without my actually doing anything, except listen to myself and James Gilchrist giggling our way through an Early Music Show refereed by Catherine Bott.  The programme’s called i Tenori (or at least it was when we recorded it just before Christmas) and takes a fairly informal (not to say slightly incoherent) look at the history of the tenor voice in early music.

Once the three of us got going there was no stopping us, and producer Lindsay Kemp had to cut a couple of pieces to accommodate all our witterings. Kate Bott and I sang in the Swingles together in the seventies (seems eons ago) and then in the New London Consort for a few years after that. Just about the only time I’ve seen her since was when we did a similar broadcast (Sprit of the Age, I think) about ten years ago. I’d never really met James properly – I think the only repertoire we share is a lute song or two and some songs by Gavin Bryars – and it was a good opportunity to apologise for a mobile phone incident in one of his recitals at York (fortunately in the same key as the piece he was singing). We happily crashed our way through several hundred years of history, and I managed to get in Kozlovsky’s 3 octave Rossini cadenza as well as Slezak singing Boieldieu and Blanche Marchesi doing Bis du bei Mir. I suspect diehard listeners to the show might want to put the kettle on during those bits. If anyone wants to know more about tenor history – have a look at my Tenor: History of a Voice which Kate mentioned at the top of the programme. Make sure you get the paperback  – it’s cheaper and a couple of howlers have been corrected. I didn’t play Conductus 1 on the programme, but if you want the latest in earliest tenors, give it a listen (there’s more info on this site here). There’s also more tenor history in A History of Singing, but it’s ridiculously expensive so wait for the paperback…


…trips off the tongue nicely, and is the new name for the combined Sibelius Academy, Theatre Academy and the Academy of Fine Arts in Helsinki. The Sibelius Academy used to be conveniently shortened to SIBA.  Ken Dodd, where are you now?  Anyway, I’ll be going there this month, the first of several Finnish trips this year for examining, coaching, concerts and lecturing, and of course the Tampere Vocal Festival in July (where I’ll once more chair the ensemble jury). I’ll also be celebrating the 175th anniversary of the Akademiska Sångföreningen in October, with workshops and concerts. The depth of Finnish musical culture never ceases to astonish me.

Conductus II

Also this month is the next Conductus recording. Chris ‘Glorious’ O’Gorman and I are a bit more confident this time round, and should even begin the sessions knowing what we’re doing. The press for the first CD was gratifyingly good (David Fallows’ description of Chris’ voice above being one of many kind things). Especially, as Simon Perry almost put it, for a record that no one would want to listen to. The new album will have more Rogers Covey-Crump and more solo pieces, and we’re now thinking in terms of a three tenor live programme for 2014, by which time we’ll have finished recording all three albums and will have a vast repertoire to choose from. In the meantime, you can catch up with Chris and me (and Mick Lynch’s film) at the Cambridge Festival of the Voice in April. I’ll also be in Cambridge in March for the Verse Anthems conference, coaching with Bill Hunt and trying to apply the rhetorical methods of Divinity to 16th/17th century music by Morley, Gibbons, Tomkins et al.

Songs for Dowland

Rather than inflict yet more HIP Dowland on the record-buying public in this anniversary year, I’m going to be recording an album of John Paul Jones, Tony Banks and Sting, who have all provided me with new lutesongs to go alongside Dowland and Campion. Ariel Abramovich and I will be joined by Anna Maria Friman and Jacob Heringman for this, and we have a live version of the programme which works with just about any permutation of singers and players. The first live outing will be in Spain in the autumn. The recording will be done in a studio in Oslo or Lugano rather than my usual stamping ground of St Gerold, as Manfred Eicher envisages the soundscape as being more like that of a jazz album.

Sound and Fury

S&F will re-convene in Mauerbach in June to record masses by Pipelare, and it’s rumoured that we may do a rare performance of Gombert in Venice around the same time.

arrivals/ departures

In the summer I’m scheduled to do a Canadian tour with fellow tenor Charles Daniels and soprano (and more recently film star) Suzie LeBlanc – a new work by Peter Togni based on the Machaut mass. I caught up with Suzie last year when she passed through York on her way to a writers’ retreat in Scotland. Some weeks after her visit I had an email from her friend David McGuinness asking me to join him and his Concerto Caledonia for a concert in Aldeburgh at the end of March. Not quite sure what we’re doing yet, but the band are sh*t hot improvisers so I’m really looking forward to it.

In June Edward Jessen’s Minghella Dialogues will finally happen at the Spitalfields Festival. This is another intriguing venture which has been a long time in the making. To put it rather simply, it’s a staged realisation of dialogues extrapolated from Anthony Minghella’s films The English Patient, The Talented Mr Ripley and Cold Mountain. Peyee Chen and I will have the conversations accompanied by Consortium 5.  Ed Jessen describes Minghella’s adapted creations as ‘a blueprint from which an interpretative filmmaker might distil views and motivations within the aesthetic world of another artist.’  Ed’s music theatre piece is, in  effect, a further distillation of this process.


Two sentimental gatherings later in the year: the Gentle Power of Song will get together for a week of informal gigs in London in November, and in December the Hilliard Ensemble will give 40th anniversary concerts in London and Germany. Hard to imagine the Hilliards will actually stop for good in 2014, but I’m told that’s the plan. The anniversary  gigs will feature former members and include a new piece for the assembled company by Roger Marsh.

Social Media

My son Ned, fresh from his triumphant authorial debut as a social media guru, has told me it’s time I got a grip on such things, so the next iteration of this site will (for which read ‘might…’) feature a YouTube channel and possibly a Twitter presence. I put off getting a fax machine, email, mobile phone and iPad for far too long, so I hope I haven’t left it too late this time.

So…news of what I’ve had for breakfast,  when I’m going to Sainsbury’s and other updates coming soon.

Happy New Year all!