:: Night Sessions

New season dates

Saturday, June 16th, 2018




Alternative History

We were at the magnificent Kościół św. Józefa in Krakow on August 11 with a new programme called Secret History: ancient and modern polyphony for voices & lutes. The title comes from our current ECM album but unlike the CD (which is of music by Josquin & Victoria) this programme included new compositions and intabulations alongside the early music. Ariel and Jake played Arvo Pärt’s Pari Intervallo in a version newly sanctioned by the composer (‘Play it faster!’), and we did the first performance of Ash and Snow composed for us by former Weather Report drummer Peter Erskine, as well the first performance in Poland of John Paul Jones’ Cradle Song which we first performed in the Swaledale Festival last year. Huge thanks to the incredibly hospitable Musica Divina team.

We’ll be doing a similar programme in Cork at the wonderful Triskel Arts Centre on September 21, a kind of enhanced replacement for the gig we had to cancel because of snow back in March (enhanced because European Early Music Day had to go ahead without us so we’re not limited to the Renaissance this time). We had a wonderful time on our last visit and we’re really looking forward to actually getting there this time.

The quartet  next meets in York on November 7, my first time back in the Jack Lyons since my farewell concert of music by Veljo Tormis  with The 24 back in 2010 or so. This will be River God Songs and will include material from our proposed next album, including Moeran, Warlock and Peter Pope as well as the new John Paul Jones and Peter Erskine pieces. We’re also hoping to  do Ian Telfer’s Finisterre. This is a song June Tabor first recorded with the Oysterband in 1989, and then re-recorded in 2010 for her own album Ashore. The first version is a fairly anonymous sea shanty, the second one of the most eloquent and moving songs I’ve ever heard, so it’s a sort of tribute to June T and the idea that a song can be whatever you want it to be. I’ll probably try it out in September with the Dowland Project to make sure it works in our semi-improvised way (I’m tempted to play the piano…).

Two days later we’ll repeat the York programme in the Greenwich Early Music Festival (in Blackheath), and then we reconvene in Spain for concerts in Seville (28th) and Cadiz (29th) after which we go on to the Canary Islands.

Conductus in Worms

On September 2 I’ll join Christopher O’Gorman and my former Hilliard colleague Rogers Covey-Crump in the Magnuskirche Worms for the opening concert in the Kultursommerreihe Via Mediaeval series (no idea why it’s billed as in that link – I’m obviously bigger in Worms than I thought). Five years ago we did one of our first trio concerts in the same series. We’re returning 3 CDs, acres of research and dozens of performance later, to present a completely new programme which will also include some heavyweight organa (possibly being sung for the first time in 800 years).

St Bridget in Uppsala

On September 14  I’ll be with Serikon for the Travels of St Bridget programme in Uppsala cathedral,  following on from our concerts in Sweden last year. The programme will also include new versions of at least one of Gavin Bryars’ Laude arranged by Gavin specially for this ensemble.

Gavin in Bryarland

…and I’ll be doing two concerts of Gavin’s music in Ireland in November (it’s a very busy month). These will be in Cork (25) and Dublin (26) and will include Winestead (composed for the Hull City of Culture last year) and a new commission to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Triskel Arts Centre.

Resurrecting Dufay 

On November 10  I’ll be getting together in Sheffield Cathedral with my ex-Hilliard Ensemble colleague David James to do Jacob Heringman’s transcription of Guillaume Dufay’s L’Homme Arme mass for the three of us (Jake playing the two lower parts). In between the mass movements we’ll do Byrd and Tallis Motets. The Dufay mass is one that I particularly enjoyed singing with David and the Hilliards. It must be nearly 20 years since we last did it, so fingers crossed…

Dowland Project in Germany

It’s been a while since the Dowland Project’s last gig so I’m delighted we’ve been asked to Murnau on October 21 for the Grenzenlos world music festival. The line-up will be me, John Surman, Milos Valent and Jacob Heringman and there will be improvisations galore (based loosely around the Night Sessions album), some Schubert and a tribute to local musical hero Placidus von Camerloher. There is nothing more liberating than a Dowland Project gig, and I can’t wait.


…and a postscript:

I don’t think I actually mentioned Aretha Franklin in A History of Singing, so it was a big surprise to see the book quoted (though not attributed) in a Guardian leader celebrating her life.  It’s quite touching when you discover someone’s actually read your stuff, and especially when they can extrapolate from it (the Guardian’s writer puts a wonderfully human gloss on the real importance of singing). In Krakow last week a couple came up after the concert and asked me to sign their well-worn copy of the Cambridge Companion – or their bible, as they called it.

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.








Machaut Acadian stye

Saturday, August 17th, 2013


I have four performances of Peter-Anthony Togni’s Responsio in Nova Scotia coming up:

August 22            St John’s Church, Lunenburg (7.30)

August 23            Manning Chapel, Wolfville (7.30)

August 24            All Saints Cathedral, Halifax (7.30)

August 25            Eglise St Bernard, St Bernard (4.00)

(more details and ticketing information on Jeff Reilly’s site here)


Responsio is an extrapolation on the Machaut mass (actually, a response to it…). Living composers working with dead ones has been one of the great creative drivers from the medieval period to the present, and it’s always exciting to be at the sharp end of that process. Togni’s work also taps into the medieval and renaissance practice of expanding an existing composition by adding an extra voice – in this case the bass clarinet of Canadian polymath Jeff Reilly. The instrumental line is part-improvised, part-composed and will enrich the Machaut texture even further, adding a completely different linear element on top of the Machaut chordal structure. The other interesting thing about this line up is that it’s two women (Suzie LeBlanc and Andrea Ludwig) and two men (Charles Daniels and me).   That will create a radically different soundscape from the more usual male-orientated scoring favoured by the early music movement. There’s a very narrow pitch window in which the piece will work for this line-up (it’s often done with a fifth singer to avoid extreme tessituras), and it means that Charles and I will be singing very high and very low from time to time. And then there’s the question of how we pronounce the Latin – Acadian maybe?


The diary for September looks like this:

September 9-11     Conductus (a3) at the Cantum pulcriorum invenire conference, University of Southampton

September 14        Sibelius Academy, Helsinki

Septermber 15      Colosseum (Rome): Hilliard Ensemble

September 22       Conductus (a3) in  Otterberg


In October I’ll be recording in Austria and coaching in Finland (details to follow). The Night Sessions has its first Russian review from Blair Sanderson at Rutcracker.org:

…This album is not for early music purists or people who like to put their music in neat cubbyholes, because the blending of consort music with avant-garde jazz and experimental vocalizations does not allow for easy categorization. Yet the album works surprisingly well on its own terms, not only because of its compelling feeling of darkness and melancholy, but also because it provides many inventive transformations and surprises that keep the listener thinking. It may be called crossover music for the sake of convenience, but Night Sessions really is sui generis.

He gets it.



Night Sessions – Hortus Ignotus

Tuesday, August 6th, 2013


074 garden

The least successful Night Sessions track is Hortus Ignotus.  Manfred Eicher took me by surprise and suggested making up the words as well as the music. My poetic gifts are not at their best at 1.00 in the morning and for a moment I panicked. The thing about improvising the music is that you’re negotiating with everyone else as you go along – it’s a conversation where you usually get a bit of time (even if it’s only a nano-second) to think about where you’re going to go next. If you’re improvising text (and I can do it in the car with my granddaughter no problem) you’re on your own. What came out was something about gardens. It starts off OK, but without anyone to spark off it meanders into nothing very much; all those wonderful images of the Hortus Conclusus failed to find my brain until it was too late. There’s some great playing (the band are obviously better gardeners than me) otherwise I’d have left it off the album.

In the original 1st edit track listing (ie before we’d actually given them proper names) it was down as My Garden (thankyou Peter Laenger). At the time, we’d just moved to York and we didn’t have one any more. Now we do, and when we bought our new place a couple of months ago it looked like the picture above, a real secret garden. And with a tree at the end of it, though spring hadn’t arrived to tell us what sort of tree it was.

029 tree

It turned out to be a magnificent apple tree, and a look at an old map showed that many of the neighbouring gardens were carved out of an old orchard, with some of the old apples and pears still flourishing. And there were some rampant old roses too, and the remains of a swing

029 roses


The garden hadn’t been touched for years, and we realised that, magic though it was in its decayed state, we’d have to take some pretty drastic action to make it live again. First, some chopping:

063 mess


Pretty impressive…

Then I hired a shredder, thinking a day’s happy shredding would do the trick and leave me with lots of compost…

017 the beast

…but after a bit shredding began to remind me of my old day job:  very repetitive and happening in very small increments. So I hired some very big men to do the job as well as cut down a couple of trees that had to go to accommodate our cathedral-sized kitchen extension. It took four of them just a day:

055 post men


Of course, men never do absolutely everything you pay them to do, so there was still quite a bit left for me to turn my hand to. And it got increasingly bleaker as I raked, dug and swept. At the second attempt I succeeded in putting up a new swing, having sunk graceully to the ground after my first effort. This has now been tested by Emily and found to be vey satisfactory.

061 swing

So, as the sales of Night Sessions begin to taper off over the next few months  I hope there will be the gardening equivalent of a retrograde inversion, with lots of new things appearing as we move more towards creative garden composition rather than improvised destruction.

Meanwhile, the renovation work on the house is firing away, and we hope to move in at the end of next month. It’s been fantastic dealing with builders and gardeners, woodyards and window makers – people who do things when they say they’re going to and who love what they do. A refreshing change from travel agents, concert promoters, record companies and the like. I’m off to Canada in a couple of weeks but I’ll do a garden update when I get back.