:: John Potter & Ariel Abramovich


Friday, October 2nd, 2015

Ariel Abramovich and I are off to Havana on Monday to take part in Leo Brouwer’s Festival Les Voix Humaines. We’re one of two lute song recitals (the other being Andreas Scholl and Edin Karamazov). Our concert is at the recently restored Teatro Marti (one of the most beautiful theatres in Latin America) next Wednesday. The programme is mainly Dowland and Campion, but will also include versions of songs by Tony Banks and Sting from our Amores Pasados album. I’m intrigued to see that  on Saturday the Cuban group Camerata Vocale Sine Nomine will be celebrating both the 80th birthday of Arvo Pärt and 40 years of the Hilliard Ensemble with a programme that I think will include Morales’ Parce Mihi Domine  with a trumpet soloist.

The festival is a glorious gathering of musicians and artists, dedicated to peace and the care of the environment. Most of the contributors are Cuban, but there are also notable acts from Europe and South America, the music ranging from griots to baroque opera, flamenco to fusion. Unfortunately I’m going miss the legendary Cuban folksinger Silvio Rodríguez, as well as the acappella competition and Vocal Sampling (listen to this at about  5.20 when the guitar duo starts – it’s a certain sort of acappella at its most exhilarating  and the audience just can’t contain themselves either).

It’s hurricane  season, but the forecast is for the current hot and thundery weather to move away, leaving bright sunshine and 32 degrees for most of the week.  I hope to write a bog post or two while I’m there. Whenever I mention that I’m going to Cuba almost everyone has said ‘just in time…’.



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…



Tony Banks and lute songs

Sunday, September 14th, 2014

As some readers of this blog will know, I’ve been a fan of Genesis since the seventies, when I was introduced to their music by my Swingle & Electric Phoenix mate Simon Grant. We had a Phoenix expedition to one of their first post-Gabriel gigs at Earl’s Court and I was totally hooked. The two albums from this period, Wind and Wuthering and Trick of the Tail, opened my eyes to the extraordinary musicianship of Tony Banks who was then becoming the compositional engine room of the band.


In the 1980s Richard Wistreich and I had the idea that there might be rock musicians who could write for our fledgling ensemble Red Byrd, and we asked some ridiculously famous ones including Tony Banks and the Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones (who was an admirer of Arvo Pärt and had already written classical pieces). John Paul wrote his wonderful Amores Pasados set (it’s on the Red Byrd Factory album Songs of Love & Death); Genesis were by then the most successful band on earth and we drew a blank there, but a couple of years ago Ariel Abramovich and I decided to try again, and to our great delight Tony Banks agreed. John Paul couldn’t write anything new as he was busy with his opera, but he was happy for us to create a new version of Amores Pasados for Anna Maria Friman, Ariel Abramovich, Jacob Heringman and me. Sting, with his unique take on 17th century lutesong, also contributed a song originally intended for the movie Robin Hood, and it was then a case of arranging recording dates with ECM. We’ll record them all in November together with some Dowland, Campion, Schubert and Schumann, and the album – now called Amores Pasados, lost love being the theme of most of the songs – should be released in October 2015.


I’d thought a lot about how a ‘trained singer’ sings a song written by pop musician without sounding naff (think of all those dire operatic ‘crossover’ albums). The difficulty is partly to do with singing vernacular texts as opposed to the formal poetic language and structure usually found in artsong: ‘formal’ vocal technique goes with formal verse. That’s why it wouldn’t work just to arrange existing pop songs. If we were going to perform the new songs in programmes of 17th century lute song it seemed like a good idea to ask the rock musicians to set some 17th century poetry. So – with some trepidation – I sent Tony Banks Campion’s poem Follow thy fair sun, with links to Campion’s complete verse in case he didn’t like it. I deliberately didn’t point him in the direction of Campion’s songs, and I had no idea how he would respond – would he prefer to write his own lyrics as he would normally do? Would he send a score (as John Paul Jones had done with Amores Pasados)? Some weeks later Tony was back in touch with what he modestly described as a first attempt. I played the soundfiles – and by the end I could hardly breathe: I’d waited for this moment for more than twenty years and there it finally was – an exquisite piece with all the melodic contour and colour of his best Genesis songs. Two more songs followed, both to Campion poems: The Cypress Curtain of the Night and Rose cheeked Laura (one that Campion didn’t actually set to music). They’re fabulous pieces. Ariel and I will be giving the first performance of Follow thy Fair Sun in Almada (near Lisbon) on October 4th. It’ll be the last song in a programme of Dowland and Campion, and if you’re a Tony Banks fan it’ll be well worth waiting for.



Before that I’m off to Germany to coach ensembles with my great friend Werner Schüßler. We had a fantastic time last time we worked together in Schloss Engers, and the upcoming sessions in Saulheim should be huge fun.


photos of Tony Banks by Coastered and Hubertus from Wikipedia Creative Commons

Avila (Abvlensis 2014): Victoria en Cifras

Sunday, August 31st, 2014



We had a wonderful time in Avila. It was a real milestone – Ariel Abramovich and I had talked for ages about exploring the intabulation repertoire and then a couple of years ago we got together with Anna Maria Friman and Jacob Heringman to record the Secret History album for ECM (due early next year); now we’ve finally made our live debut.


Avila selfie


The centre-piece of the album is Victoria’s Surge propera mass (in our own version for two voices and two vihuelas) and we couldn’t have had a more appropriate occasion to do the first live performance than Abvlensis 2014, the third Victoria festival in the composer’s birthplace. Coincidentally, the Hilliard Ensemble were in residence and performed their In Paradisum programme (devised by Gordon Jones when I was still in the group), so the audience would first get to hear the ‘pure’ acappella way of doing renaissance polyphony and then our more secularised historical version with voices and instruments.


Ariel at night

Although history tells us that in the renaissance our way of doing things was as common (if not more so) as unaccompanied choral performance, very few modern performers attempt it. The gap between (quiet) reconstructed instruments and (relatively loud) modern singing is just too great for an intimate performance where voices and lutes are supposed to be equally audible. Most of us can just about cope with, say, Monteverdi’s Vespers, as there can be plenty of instrumental support and however loud the singers are they’re less frightening than they were back in the 1970s. But who has ever heard a lutesong recital where voice and instrument balance as well as voice and piano in a Lieder recital? In renaissance ‘vocal’ polyphony where all the lines are of equal importance, trying to blend modern voices and old instruments is a very tricky task indeed.


Jake & Ariel

So the concert wasn’t going to be easy, and if we didn’t get it right the audience would have found it impossible to listen to. It was actually one of the most frightening I’ve done for a long time. We were all incredibly nervous – the church had a crystal clear acoustic – perfect for this music but giving you no place to hide. It was our very first live performance and we have big plans for the future, so a lot was at stake. Crucially it was the first real test of whether Anna and I could balance to the vihuelas, Anna singing very low in her register and me trying out the much lighter technique needed for the ridiculous virtuosity of Bovicelli’s version of Victoria’s Vadam et Circuibo . The last thing we wanted was the typical lutesong scenario where you can’t hear the pluckers, and we needed to convince the audience that they weren’t getting a raw deal by hearing Victoria’s exquisite polyphony plundered by a bunch of early music avant-weirdos…

The result was almost all we could have wished for: the concept that we’d had in our heads for so long finally materialised. This was what it must have been like when musicians got together at the beginning of the 17th century to explore the very latest music in whatever way they could. It didn’t have the 21st century renaissance polyphony ‘purity’ – but you could hear (and almost feel) the clarity of the writing, and that mysterious partnership between dead composer and living performers. We loved it, and from the first nervous note we knew it would work; the very attentive audience did too, fortunately.


Avila review

…and there’s another excellent review here.


Avila bow


A big thankyou to the festival team for giving us this opportunity – and for great hospitality. The festival is a major cultural event now in its third year and already raising the profile of one of Spain’s greatest composers (still unfortunately overshadowed in his home town by his more famous near-contemporary St Theresa). May it go from strength to strength.

Avila 1

Our next meeting as a quartet in in November, when we go to Rainbow Studios in Oslo to record Amores Pasados. This will be a yet another new adventure (you can find more details on the lutesongs page).




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!

Unobtainable Recordings…

Sunday, November 25th, 2012


Red Byrd

Every so often I get an enquiry about how to get hold of Red Byrd’s Songs of Love and Death album, usually after there’s been a broadcast of either the John Paul Jones Amores Pasados (which there was last week) or the Monteverdi duets with electric instruments (often when Claudio is composer of the week and they get a bit desperate playing the same old stuff). More recently the Sound & Fury Charon box set has generated a number of emails from frustrated potential buyers who want the physical product rather than the download.

The Red Byrd album is sometimes to be found on eBay. The details are on the Factory history site here. We’ve tried hard over the years to get hold of the rights so that we can get it re-released, but have now given up the struggle. But the good news is that the John Paul Jones pieces will get a new lease of life (with the composer’s blessing) in versions for Anna Maria Friman and me, with Ariel Abramovich and Jacob Heringman on lutes. Anna will also play the lirone part on her hardanger fiddle. They’ll be in our Amores Pasados programme available next year, and we hope to record them on the same album as the new material we have by Sting and Tony Banks.  If you’re desperate for a copy of the RB album and all else fails, get in touch and I’ll think of something.

Sound & Fury

The latest news from producer Bernhard Trebuch is that the Fra Bernardo albums (of which the Charon is one) will be distributed by Note 1 and their partners from January. Until then you have to email  office@frabernardo.com. The earlier S&F recordings are still available from the ORF online store (typing Sound & Fury in the Suchbegriff eingeben box will bring up at least 10 of them) but for the Charon box set you need Fra Bernardo. It does exist – I had a copy until very recently…

Jesus Blood

didn’t fail me in Vilnius. It was one of the most memorable concerts I’ve ever taken part in. Since my time in teenage bands I’d only played keyboards in public twice: one accompanying Linda Hirst in Cage’s Forever and Sun Smell (for closed keyboard) and once accompanying Nicky Losseff in Neil Sorrell’s ironic role reversal piece (where I just made it up). So this third time was pretty nerve wracking even though I’ve got Grade III (which is about the level of the Jesus Blood organ part). A friend of mine once was so moved during a performance of some Shropshire Lad songs that he was quite overcome. Trouble was, it was his own performance and he had to leave the stage to recover. I was worried not only about the concentration needed for the dozens of repetitions but also whether I could get through it without weeping, making it impossible to see the dots. Fortunately we did a complete run in the afternoon so I could get all the emotional stuff dealt with in advance, and the performance was just plain magical. Sadly, sound man Chris Ekers (he of Olympic Games fame) didn’t record it (though he did explain the Paul McCartney doppelganger effect during the closing ceremony).

Not crossing over

Monday, September 17th, 2012

The voice of the music

Many of the singers I know don’t listen for pleasure to the same sort of music as they perform. It would be a bit like a plumber coming home from a hard day’s piping and setting about his own sink for fun. And no one listens to their own albums, of course. My tastes include Puccini and Mahler, neither of which anyone would ever ask me to sing, but most of all I listen to various sorts of pop music, jazz and world music, also closed books for a classical singer. All trained singers are inevitably constrained by their technique – there are certain things you just can’t do without compromising your identity as a certain sort of performer – and I really envy singers who can do whatever it takes to get the music across rather than have to express it within the parameters of a generic voice.  I’ve most recently heard a fantastic gig here in York by Everything Everything, whose lead singer Jonathan Higgs can do literally everything a singer could possibly want to do. Of course there are classical sub-genres which have a wider definition of what singing is – the Roy Hart Theatre or the extended vocal techniques of the old avant-garde – and some opera singers can’t resist having a go at pop music – but you immediately risk your credibility and integrity the moment you step into someone else’s music. The late Henry Pleasants captured the problem precisely in the preface to his Classical Music and all that Jazz: ‘I too would like to fly, but my wings were clipped long ago by a conventional musical pedagogy, concentrating vocally on the German Lied…’.

So, much as I’d like to be able to sing the kinds of stuff I used to do as a teenager, or depart very far from my conventional technique, it’s just not an option. In fact, singing pop songs is out of the question on linguistic grounds alone – you can’t sing vernacular texts using the Received Pronunciation that goes with trained singing: it just sounds daft. What you hear is pronunciation rather than poetry, just as you do when singers of renaissance music attempt to recreate old pronunciation. To get straight to the nexus of poetry and text you have to be able to articulate the words so that listeners don’t hear them as pronunciation (a means to an end) but as musical meaning (the point of the whole process).

Not performing Genesis or Led Zeppelin

But…I do see many parallels between 17th century song composers and contemporary song writers, Lute songs have an obvious connection: composed at the instrument just as a modern songwriter will pick up a keyboard or a guitar. And musicians like Tom Waits, Paul McCartney, Leonard Cohen and countless others surely stand comparison with Dowland and his contemporaries. Dowland would have sung his songs with his own regional accent, and they would have been appreciated as much by the man in the street (should he have heard them) as his courtly employers. For a long time I’ve been interested in getting songwriters from popular music to write pieces I could sing, and Ariel Abramovich and I, with our expanded line-up including Anna Maria Friman and Jacob Heringman, are about to take a step in that direction.

John Paul Jones

For our new programme Amores Pasados we will perform the  eponymous John Paul Jones pieces and a new setting of Thomas Campion by Tony Banks. These two musicians were not just members of two of the greatest rock bands the world has ever seen but they both have a history that includes encounters with ‘classical’ music of various sorts, so they understand the potential pitfalls. The Led Zeppelin bassist wrote the original set of three Spanish songs for Red Byrd  back in 1987, and with John Paul’s blessing we’re creating a version for two voices and two vihuelas (with Anna Maria Friman doubling on Hardanger fiddle ).   These are exquisitely lyrical pieces and don’t sound remotely like Zeppelin numbers (to the bewilderment of some JPP fans who turned up to the first performance in Bremen).


Tony Banks

As some readers of this blog will know, there are two Genesis albums in my collection that will be rescued first if all my CDs are washed away when the sea claims North Yorkshire. Even  before Mahler and Puccini.  The core of the band’s wonderfully lyrical music was the songwriting of Tony Banks, either on his own or in collaboration with other band members. He composed an orchestral suite Seven which is available on Naxos, but his real genius is as a songwriter. John Paul Jones solved the vernacular/RP problem by writing in Spanish; I suggested to Tony that he might like to set some 17th century poetry and he’s currently working on a setting of Thomas Campion’s ‘Follow thy fair sun’, which I hope will be the first of several settings of 17th century poems.

The Amores Pasados programme will consist of an English half, setting Tony Banks alongside Dowland and Campion, and a Spanish half with villancicos providing a context for John Paul Jones’ pieces, all on the subject of lost love. The old and the new will come together in the  two voice/2 vihuela lineup, an ensemble that would have been heard frequently in the 17th century but not often since. There’s dedicated page here, and I’ll expand this as the project develops.


Faugues cover

Sound & Fury news…

The Faugues album (Missae L’Homme armé & Vinus vina vinum) is now out, and there’s a preview of all three new releases on German iTunes here.


HE album cover

Hilliard Ensemble news

Virgin have re-released a box set of 8 CDS recorded 1983-1990 on the old EMI Reflexe label. This is the music that made the group’s reputation, Franco-Flemish polyphony, pre-Arvo Pärt, pre-Officium (before we moved to ECM).  Many are with the legendary one-armed German producer Gerd Berg, and they often feature an expanded group. The tenor lines are manned in the earliest recordings by the original pair of Paul Elliott and Leigh Nixon, morphing into me and Rogers Covey-Crump (with visits from Charles Daniels and Mark Padmore on the way). Interesting to compare these with the current S&F versions of similar repertoire.

With other former members, I’ll be joining the group for its farewell concerts in London and Cologne in December next year. There’ll be a new commission for the massed members and former members. More details anon.










Singing in the Rhine

Thursday, August 23rd, 2012

Schloss Engers

…or rather, very close to it. August ended with a fabulous coaching week at Schloss Engers (not far from Koblenz). Werner Schüßler and I were asked to work with four ensembles as part of the Vokal Stern events organised by the Kultursommer Rheinland-Pfalz. The plan (devised by Jens Kaiser) was to invite four of the most exciting young ensembles from Germany and Italy for an intensive week of concerts and workshops. Brilliantly organised by Willi Becker, assisted by the incredibly efficient Jens and Angelika Müller, it was one of the most impressive summer schools I’ve ever worked at. The music making was first class – if you haven’t heard of Sjaella, Nobiles, Schwesterhochfünf and Eos, you will one day. There was also wonderful hospitality at all the glorious churches we sang in – a very big thankyou to all involved. We’re planning to repeat it in July 2014, possibly inviting an English group or two. So if you think you might like to attend drop me a line via the message box on the Contact page.

Which reminds me:  it’s not too early to think about applying for the Tampere contest for vocal ensembles  –  June 5-9 next year. It’ll be another highlight in the acappella calendar.

Jana Jocif Dowland Project

The previous week the Dowland Project had a great gig in Radovljica (photo above courtesy of Jana Jocif) – despite the fact that I managed to miss the plane (wrong passport…) and had an attack of vertigo when I eventually got there. Huge thanks to Domen Marincic for his hospitality (it’s a wonderfully creative festival) and also to Janez Mavec for a great time at Lake Bled and for taking care of doctor appointments (and to the doctors station in Radovljica, whose staff were fantastic).  I gather I’ve been very lucky – some people are completely incapacitated for months on end, but I’m pretty well back to normal.

We’re working on a US West Coast DP tour in August next year, which could dovetail with a Canadian tour I’ve been asked to do with the Responsio Project (a new work by Peter Togni based on the Machaut Mass).

Voices & Vihuelas

Ariel Abramovich and I are working on a number of expanded projects that will involve Anna Maria Friman and Jacob Heringman. There are two basic programmes: a sacred one featuring a mass and motets by Morales, and a secular English and Spanish programme. The latter is called Amores Pasados, taking its title from the set of three pieces composed by Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones for Red Byrd in 1987, rearranged for 2 vihuelas and Hardanger fiddle.  We’re delighted that Genesis keyboard player Tony Banks will also be setting some 16th century poetry for us, and both 20th/21st century composers wil be presented in the context of  16th century villancicos and lutesongs.



The first album is  now out (full details on the Hyperion site here or you can get it on Amazon here). The next recording is in January, and we will be introducing new music in our concerts in York (in July) and Southampton (September), ahead of the third recording session in the autumn.


S&F Caron

Sound & Fury

Several people have been in touch asking where they can get hold of physical copies of the Caron set (as opposed to downloads). These albums are on Bernhard Trebuch’s new label (not ORF) and distribution is still being organised. There’s a website under construction (http://www.frabernardo.com/) but in the meantime you can order copies (30 euros for the 3 CD set which includes digital copies of the music) at  office@frabernardo.com.

I’m now taking some time off, after a pretty frantic summer.

Biographical List of Tenors: the Update!

Tuesday, July 31st, 2012


It’s up and running at last. There are links from the Yale site to both the original Pdf and the Supplement here, and the two lists are themselves now linked. Thanks to Jamie Forrest at Yale for sorting it out. You can get straight there from here.

Inevitably, the Supplement is out of date, and there are bound to be omissions of people’s favourite tenors. At the moment I can’t see myself doing another update (this one took for ever, and I’m embarking on a new writing project over the winter) but I’ll keep any complaints/suggestions on file just in case I do return to it in the future. As always, many thanks to all those who contributed suggestions to both lists. If I’ve missed you off my acknowledgements lists, do let me know and please accept my apologies. It’s been a wonderful experience engaging with everybody (even those who got quite cross when they discovered I’d overlooked their main man).  The earliest work on the original ‘tenorography’ was done by my son Ned, then my unpaid research assistant at the University of York. In the meantime he’s produced his own book, so now we’re a two-author family.


August dates:

Dowland Project

The Dowland Project will be doing the final concert the Radovljica Festival on August 19th.  The concert will be taken by Radio Slovenia and we hope this may form the basis of a BBC programme about the group. The Radovljica programme will be a variation of those we did in Slovakia last month and there will be more Schubert…

Latest news on the next album from ECM is early 2013…


After that I’m doing a week’s coaching at Schloss Engers (Neuwied)  with some fantastic groups from Germany and Italy. There will be three concerts in the Rheinland-Pfalz area (it’s part of the Kutursommer) – details to follow.

Lute songs old and new…

Plans for next year are developing fast. There will be a Morales programme with Anna Maria Friman (soprano), Ariel Abramovich and Jacob  Heringman (vihuelas). This line-up will also be doing new pieces composed for us by living singer-songwriters and rock musicians, in the context of 16th entury music. Ariel and I will also be including prog-orientated pieces in our lutesong programmes – looking for parallels between Dowland and his contemporaries and modern singer-songwriters. More soon.

June concerts, worshops, recordings

Tuesday, April 24th, 2012

[updated 11 July]


June 3 BBC Radio 3 (17.00): The Choir (discussing chant with Aled Jones)

The interview took place down the line from Radio York, with me sweltering in the tiny studio having run most of the way there. But great as always to talk to Aled Jones – and he’ll play tracks from Red Byrd and the Hilliard Ensemble among others.

June 4 Bratislava: Dowland Project at St Martin’s Cathedral (Convergence Festiva)

These two Slovakian gigs will feature our first forays into Schubert Lieder, following the experimental performance on BBC3’s Schubert Remix.  John Surman, Milos Valent and I are doing an interview at 11.00 at the Artforum bookshop if you want to come along and chat.

June 5 Kosice: Dowland Project at Premonštrátsky kostol (Convergence Festival)

DP Convergience

Is it possible to get closer to musical heaven than being on stage with Milos Valent, Jake Heringman and John Surman roaring away at full throttle? It’s like falling off a precipice and discovering you can fly. These were great gigs – and a big thankyou to Josef Luptak and his team for giving us the opportunity. The Schubert worked really well, and we’re going to try some more in Slovenia.  There’s some video of the Bratislava concert here, and an intervew (in Slovak) with Milos). There’s also a video and a bit of an interview with me (in English!) from our Prague concert last year (courtesy of The Times of India). Latest hint from ECM suggests the Night Sessions album will appear early next year…

June 7-11 Rhineland ensemble coaching sessions

This was a magical time too:  I had a wonderful time with Werner Schüssler’s two ensembles.  The youthful Vocal T and the multi-instrumental Four Reasons were a delight: creative and intelligent musicians who really understood how to collaborate.

June 14 Goldmark Gallery Uppingham: Gavin Bryars Ensemble

Programme to include Laude, Irish Madrigals and extracts from the Morrison Songbook.

This was very atmospheric – very intimate space and very high-powered audience. Lovely people – it makes such a difference when everyone appreciates that this is something more than just a job for us.

June 15 York: Workshop with Ensemble Norma (York)

Norma were really fired up after their success in the Leipzig competition. It was great to work with them (I still feel guilty about their not making the final at Tampere last time). They’re hugely versatile, and we had a very creative time. Keep an ear out – they write or arrange all their own stuff (some of which you can hear here).

June 17 : Alcalá de Henares  (Clásicos en Alcalá) : Dowland recital with Ariel Abramovich (lute)

Alcalá is the birthplace of Cervantes. As a coda to our Dowland recital we’ll perform Robert Johnson’s ‘Woods and Rocks and Mountains’ (thanks to  a bit of detective work by Robert White).  Thomas Shelton’s translation of Don Quixote was published in 1612, as was the play Cardenio which drew on it (and which may have been co-authored  by Shakespeare). The Johnson song is believed to have been composed for this production.

Ariel Abramovich and I have done a lot of Dowland over the last four years or so, but this must have been the most appropriate venue ever: the Corral de Comedias is an exquisite 17th century theatre, perfect for our Pilgrim’s Solace programme.  And it was great to do the Johnson ‘Don Quixote’ piece just yards from where Cervantes was born.

June 20-25 Vienna: Sound & Fury recordings

This will be an Ockeghemfest…, with multiple versions of the Missa Cuius Vis Toni.

Our last Ockeghem effort was greatly appreciated by Todd McComb. He seems particularly gratified by our musica ficta – for wich we have to thank Jaap van Bentham. The Cuius Vis Toni will be a field day for ficta...

See the next post above…

July 10 Harewood House:  Conductus Project concert and CD launch

A late night event in the medieval church in the grounds of Harewood House as part of the York Early Music Festival, this will be the first live concert following the research and recording sessions for Southampton University’s Cantum Pulcriorum Invenire project. It will be by candle light, and feature the first showing of a specially commissioned film by Michael Lynch.

We enjoyed this a lot, especially the gasps from the audience when Mick Lynch’s horses seemed to go for Chris O’Gorman’s head… Another very atmospheric gig (very efficiently organised by the York Early Music Festival team. For details of the CD see the Hyperion website.