:: Josquin: Transfer in Mysteria


Sunday, October 3rd, 2010

Reflections on theRobert Kirby Memorial Concert


I didn’t know Robert Kirby well (even though we’d sung together as children) but I felt I got to know much more of him in a wonderful afternoon at Cecil Sharp House. It was a wonderfully warm occasion with some inspirational music making from musicians whose lives he had touched, and a tear or two as we remembered him and, for the Gentle Power singers at least, those extraordinary times at the very end of the Sixties. The whole event was held together with cool affection by Harvey Brough, whose own arrangement of Nick Drake’s ‘Fruit Tree’, powerfully delivered by Clara Sanabras was for me the hit of the afternoon. The FabCab experience was quite an emotional one for all of us. Our tuning definitely continued the curve that began in 1967 but you couldn’t fault our commitment, and that window on Robert’s student life clearly touched a chord with the packed hall. We did the first ever live performance of our single (it got to No 74…), Richard Hill’s Constant Penelope, in a new arrangement by Harvey (thanks Harve!). That was quite something… Marcus, Alan, Dave, Martin, Edward, Julian – it was fantastic to see you all and to sing together again.

Fabcab 1967Marcus Bicknell, Hugh Dibley, John Potter, Chris Johns, Dave Sloan, Alan Fairs

Fabcab 2010

JP, Edward Bailey, Julian Bicknell, Dave Sloan, Marcus Bicknell, Martin Nelson, Alan Fairs

No more academia?

I was going to whinge on about why I left academia, but having such a great experience only 3 days after leaving the day job has made me realise that life’s much too short to go back over all that.  So here’s a paragraph or two about my plans for the immediate future…

I won’t actually be losing touch with the academic world completely, and I’ll be doing the occasional keynote at conferences with creative agendas. The first of these will be at the  Katholische Akademie Schwerte next year for the Tenor: Mythos, Geschichte, Gegewart congress.   I’ve also been invited to participate in the 25th anniversary events at the Bremen Akademie für alte Musik (I taught there in its early days,  when we lived in Great Dunmow and  Air Bremen did a daily return flight from Stansted until it went out of business). More on these in due course.

Cantum pulcriorum invenire

Cantum imageI also now have part-time research fellowship at the University of Southampton. The ink was barely dry on my resignation letter  when I was invited by Mark Everist to take part in his Cantum Pulcriorum Invenire project. This is the result of  Southampton’s success in getting a huge AHRC grant to look at the 13th century Conductus repertoire, and will involve me and Chris O’Gorman experimenting with the research findings and recording the results for Hyperion over the next three years. There is also an Australian dimension to this: much of the 13th century material was originally edited by Gordon Anderson at the University of New England (the volumes of music are known in the trade as Anderson Conductus), and the University of Sydney will explore his legacy as a partner on the project. This is a hugely exciting project, and we’re looking forward to performances in both hemispheres.


The Dowland Project

Actually, most of what I’ll be doing immediately is developing existing projects, which I now have much more time to devote to . The Dowland Project still has the famous night sessions from St Gerold awaiting release. These were completely improvised (and featured a rare performance by John Surman on lecturn). We don’t have a release date from ECM yet, but we’re working on it. It’s not easy to get the band together (Steve lives in Seattle, JS in Oslo and Milos in Bratislava) so we try to make sure that every gig is groundbreaking in some way. Our visit to the Prague Strings of Autumn Festival next month will have several surprises.

Beyond Being…

Being Dufay FolignoAmbrose Field’s new and as yet untitled project is nearly ready to roll. The first performances will happen from June next year onwards. Like Being Dufay, it will be a multimedia presentation with a video response from Michael Lynch. The source material is 15th and 16th century pieces where composers tribute their fellow composers, so it’s really a trope of a trope of a trope.

…and beyond the lutesong

Potter & Abramovich in SloveniaAriel Abramovich and I are moving into radically different repertoire from our lutesong comfort zone. We will continue to explore the more eccentric byways of the early 17th century (notably Danyel and Morley as well as Campion and Dowland), but we’ll also look at the parallel ‘division’ repertoire, which works in similar ways to jazz some 300 years ahead of its time. We’ll be doing surviving examples by Rognoni and others as well as creating new versions of our own.


But the main difference from next year onwards will be doing programmes with vihuela, and where possible with two of them (or vihuela and bass lute). The first opportunity for this is the 400th anniversary of the death of Tomas Luis de Victoria in 2011. We’re preparing several programmes of masses and motets, adding Jacob Heringman to Ariel’s vihuela. After that we’ll be returning to Josquin with a similar ensemble including Lee Santana and soprano Anna Maria Friman, so that we can explore the canonic part writing with two voices. We hope to record both these projects for ECM in February.

I won’t be neglecting acappella performances of Josquin and his contemporaries though. The Sound & the Fury will continue to record Franco-Flemish at Kloster Mauerbach, and the Ciconia Ensemble is beginning to plan new programmes for the 600th anniversary of the composer in 2012. Red Byrd will also fly from time to time: NMC is planning to release the live BBC Lichfield Festival recording of Thea Musgrave’s Wild Winter. More on all of these later.


Vocal Authority coverI completed two chapters for new Cambridgetenor book pic Histories over the summer. The immediate writing task is for Neil Sorrell and I to finish our singing history, which we’ve promised to  CUP by the end of the year. I also have a chapter to write with Liz Haddon for the book of the IMP project. After that I’ll be taking my time updating the tenor book and writing a sequel to Vocal Authority. Neither of these will be conventionally ‘academic’. The paperback corrected reissue of the tenor book has had a good reception, being  listed in the Financial Times Hottest Holiday Reading and a Sunday Telegraph paperback of the week.

What I won’t be doing…

I’m not intending to do any more academic writing of the sort that has tiny print runs and goes mainly to libraries where three people read it (and in the case of the Cambridge UL  copy of Vocal Authority, scribble oh-so-clever glosses in the margins).

No one-to-one teaching either – the old master-apprentice model needs completely re-vamping for the 21st century, especially in higher education.

Nor am I going to sing any of the mainstream tenor repertoire. I’ve never understood why people want to sing the same old stuff year after year. It’s been a while since I sung Bach Passions, Handel oratorios and the like, and as far as  possible I won’t be doing anything I’ve done before. None of  my performing projects is actually repeatable: programmes have an evolutionary shelf life, and if anything gets to sound the same as last time then it’s time to stop. It’s risky of course, but I like to think that avoiding the bland  predictability of the mainstream is partly why I’m still in business when so many of my contemporaries who took a safer route are now finding life difficult. That’s something  that our all-centralising university education factories don’t really get.

and best  of all, I’ll now have plenty of time for this…

Mybeautiful granddaughter Emily, born to Alice and Ned on August 7th

Emily asleep

Life is good!


Tuesday, September 21st, 2010

This is my first autumn back in the real world…and November has an unprecedented 5 gigs in England, including new works by Gavin Bryars at King’s Place and the first London performance of Being Dufay…

October 3

Robert Kirby memorial event

Cecil Sharp House, London

October 15

Sound & Fury live broadcast from Mauerbach ORF 22.00

October 15- 19

Kloster pic
Sound & Fury recordings (Vienna)

Josquin Desprez: Missa Gaudeamus & Missa Sine Nomine

Marbrianus De Orto: Missa Mi mi & Missa L’homme armé

November 3

Dowland Project (Prague)

Strings of Autumn Festival

November 6

Gavin Bryars Ensemble

King’s Place (London)

to include new versions of Madrigals by Gavin Bryars to poems by

Blake Morrison

November 11

A Musicall Banquet (Birmingham) with Ariel Abramovich

Birmingham Early Music Festival

November 18

Being Dufay

The Albany, Lewisham

part of the Sampler Festival

November 24

Roger Marsh 60th birthday concert (York)

to include new works by Ed Jessen and Morag Galloway

November 25

Launch of UYMP Songbook (compiled by John Potter & David Blake)

Birmingham Conservatoire

April-May: Gavin Bryars, Being Dufay & Josquin Desprez

Saturday, April 3rd, 2010

Gavin Bryars Punkt album

This was recorded at the 2008 Punkt festival in Kristiansand. Live recording is exhilarating, and most musicians today try to make even a studio recording as ‘live’ as possible – long takes, minimal editing and lots of risk taking. But usually you know in advance that you’re actually recording something.  Gavin often records his gigs as a matter of record, and certainly the Punkt Festival set-up was perfect for this, but none of us expected to see it end up as a CD. It’s a reminder that every second counts and you never know what might come back to haunt you (YouTube, for all its wonders, is also the graveyard of clips that can’t decay fast enough). But I love this CD. It’s vintage Gavin – exquisite playing from his players Morgan Goff, Nick Cooper and James Woodrow, with the man himself on bass (and occasional piano). What an amazing  quartet they are – sitting on stage listening to them playing the two instrumental Laude is just one of the best things there is. And, of course, nothing beats singing with Anna Maria Friman (who’s just agreed to join me for the Josquin project).  Gavin’s band is a bit like a family – we’ve all been with him for a long time – and it was typical of him to invite Arve Henriksen, in town for Punkt and the future Mr Friman-Henriksen, to join us for a couple of numbers. Lauda 37 ‘Ciascun ke fede sente’ is one of two tracks featuring Arve, and it’s absolutely unique in Gavin’s oeuvre (his pieces with trumpet are very few and far between). We only saw it for the first time that day, and the trumpet is improvising; it doesn’t get much live-er than that. The last piece is the beautiful  ‘Amore dolce senza pare’. I nearly lost it at the end, but Morgan’s fabulous portamento is what you’ll remember.

Performances aren’t complete until they’re absorbed by the listener. Gavin provides no texts or translations, so the final element in the process is the audience members creating their own meanings inside their own heads. That’s just as it should be.

Being Dufay

Potter & Field

We’re hoping to have a film of the complete Perth Festival performance, but at the moment we have a YouTube clip of live audio with a video montage to give an idea of what Mick Lynch’s films look like. Lisbon was another wonderful gig, very efficiently organised by Pedro Santos.   There’s an interview with Nuno Galopim and a review by him in DN Artes.  I also heard some interesting singers at the workshop organised by Paulo Lourenco at the Escola Superior de Música de Lisboa in their stunning new building.

The Sound and the Fury

Sound & Fury

…have a review in Gramophone for our ‘intimate and uncomfortable portrait’ of Gombert!

The next S&F event will be a recording session in Kloster Mauerbach followed by a concert in the church on July 9th. We hope to record Caron clemens et bengigna, jesus autem transiens, and sanguis sanctorum masses and the Ockeghem Missae mi mi and ecce ancilla domini

Josquin Desprez: Transfer in Mysteria

This new project, to be recorded by ECM later this year, has now expanded to 2 singers and 2 vihuelas. I’m hoping it will encourage promoters and audiences to think more creatively about 15th and 16th century polyphony: it wasn’t all a cappella – and our version is one of the many alternative ways that this music might have been performed. The line-up is Anna Maria Friman & me (singers) with Ariel Abramovich and Lee Santana (vihuelas). This should be a great combination of voices & instruments to explore the further reaches of renaissance sacred music in due course.

Forsaking Authenticity…

Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim’s Wall Street Journal article was based in part on an interview with me during which I touched on Duke Ellington, sheet music and the dodginess of written sources.


APRIL 20 Being Dufay Chicago Early Music Festival

next performance at the Dancity Festival Foligno (Italy) June 26

APRIL 27 – MAY 21   19th Century Italian Opera Project (University of York)

MAY 5 L’Auditori (Barcelona): Musical Banquet (with Ariel Abramovich lute)

MAY 7 Castellón: Musical Banquet (with Ariel Abramovich lute)

MAY 6-9 Castellón: lute song workshops (with Ariel Abramovich lute)

MAY 27 Words & Music: Gavin Bryars & Blake Morrison (Howard Assembly Room, Leeds)

THE RESPONSES to the tenor book will continue next time. Happy Easter all.