:: Jan Garbarek

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.