2016/17

So, it’s been a while since I posted last! And so much has happened – but I’ve taken the view that there are others who write so much more eloquently than I do about the various activities with which I’m involved, and I will leave it to them.

John Potter – has a wonderful blog about his activities (including the Conductus Ensemble) as well as his views on wider musical issues.

Cantabile – The London Quartet‘s blog is a journal of our various performing activities.

Gavin Bryars – writes wonderfully on all manner of  topics including his search for the perfect composing pencil, the Aztec Scoremaster 101!

The most important news of course is that my daughter was born in September and she is perfect!

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Let’s look back shall we?

DSC_01942015 has been an extraordinary year. It was the year in which John Potter, Rogers Covey-Crump and I took the Conductus project on the road. We sang concerts and led workshops in Bratislava, Beverley, Durham, Brussels, Radovlijca (Slovenia), and Brighton.

It is also the year in which I joined Cantabile – The London Quartet. This is a group with whom I sang back in 2012 and thought it unlikely that I would get the opportunity again. Since September, I have done 13 shows with them in Belgium, Germany and the UK including a charity concert for Bloodwise in the Royal Albert Hall in front of c. 6,000 supporters. And there was that trip to California in May…

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Photo by Jonathan Knowles during a Cantabile – The London Quartet photo shoot.

I have also had the privilege of singing with Gothic Voices this year! This is a group whose recordings were always a first port of call for me while studying medieval music at university. And in 2015 I was offered the opportunity to sing with them. Extraordinary!

I also had the pleasure of performing and recording with The Brabant Ensemble and Ex Cathedra singing diverse music by the likes of Pierre de la Rue, Carl Orff (Carmina Buranna), James MacMillan and Alec Roth. And I made my first visit to Dartington with Ex Cathedra in the summer – what an amazing place.

I won’t bore you any further, but you can see that it has been a very exciting year and 2016 promises to be similarly so. We expect the final instalment of the Conductus series to be released by Hyperion on 26th February, and are looking forward to more concerts and workshops in Cambridge and Besalú (Spain). We also have plans to explore new repertoire so watch this space for more news on that. Cantabile’s diary continues to fill up with engagements in Europe, the first of these on New Year’s Day in Bad Kreuznach in Germany. I have also been invited back to sing with Gothic Voices again and will be travelling with the Brabant Ensemble too. There are also tentative dates for Ex Cathedra so a busy year ahead.

Which just leaves me to say that I am constantly overwhelmed by the unerring support that I receive from my family, friends and colleagues while undertaking these singing activities. I know every day that I am very lucky to be pursuing this career and am extremely grateful for the constant love and support!

Wishing you a very Happy New Year!

As the days begin to draw in…

IMG_3514…it is great to be able to reflect on some of the extraordinary ‘summer’ singing experiences I’ve had this year! The Conductus Ensemble (as we are now referring to ourselves) has performed in Beverley Minster (Beverley Early Music Festival), Durham University’s Music Department, Église de la Cambre in Brussels (MedRen2015 Conference) and Cerkev vs. Petra in Radovlijca, Slovenia (Radovlijca Festival) You can see some images of this concert here. For each of these, we have led a workshop offering the audience an insight into this amazing repertoire and our unique approach to performing it. Although the structure of each of these sessions has been roughly the same, the results have been surprisingly varied with each group taking us in many different directions depending on their specific interests. This has been fascinating for us, and we look forward to continuing this exploration. We have two more Concerts/Workshops this year in Nieder-Olm (11 September) and the Brighton Early Music Festival (19 September). We also have a couple of shows booked in for 2016 in Cambridge and in Besalú, Spain and are in discussions about further events. Watch this space!

IMG_3395I have also been performing with Ex Cathedra. Firstly, we spent a week performing Orff’s Carmina Burana in the Birmingham Hippodrome with Birmingham Royal Ballet. Unlike our shows in the Colosseum in London earlier in the year, this was performed in the two piano and percussion scoring which is amazingly colourful – I think I prefer the immediacy of this instrumentation compared to the orchestral version. Having never sung the piece before these runs, I don’t think I’m going to be able perform it again without the beautiful choreography which added so much to the experience. I would love the sing the Swan sometime though… As well as Carmina, BRB performed a new piece called the King’s Dance with a score by Stephen Montague which was absolutely stunning.

IMG_3394The Ex Cathedra Consort has also been active with concerts at Douai Abbey, St John’s Smith Square and the Dartington Festival. As well as an English/South American programme In a Strange Land, we also performed a French Baroque programme of music written for the diva Marie Fel with the amazing Carolyn Sampson. The Hyperion recording of this music has just won a Gramophone Award! Well worth a listen.

I was also lucky to be asked to take part in a performance of new music written by Bill Brooks, Stef Connor, Jonathan Brigg and Michael Parkin during the York Late Music Festival. The programme was based on texts by (or related to) WB Yeats – 2015 being the 150th anniversary of his birth. I have known and admired Bill’s music since my time as an undergrad at York but have never had the opportunity to perform any in concert. This was an extraordinary experience! His approach to setting these amazing texts is exceptional and beyond description here. I will hopefully be able to upload some audio excepts of the show soon. In the meantime, you can listen to Stef Connor’s equally wonderful piece, The Lake Isle of Innisfree, and John Brigg’s Three Vachel Lindsay Poems! It should also be said that the ad hoc Everlasting Voices group were superb: Elsbeth Piggot, Ana Beard Fernández and Robin and Graham Bier.

Finally, I have been spending more time rehearsing with Cantabile – The London Quartet and may have more to tell you about that very soon!

California dreamin’

As the wind and rain batters my study window, I can’t help but think back to the glorious time I had with The London Quartet in Ventura, CA just a few days ago. We performed in the Community Presbyterian Church which was packed with a very appreciative audience, and were also put through our paces during a Q & A session with the Patrons and VIPs of the festival beforehand. The thing I love most about the TLQ experience is that they make a real effort to interact with the audience at every possible opportunity; before, during and after the show. It was fantastic to have the opportunity to talk to so many interesting people afterwards.

It was also great to meet Nuvi Mehta, the Artistic Director of the Ventura Music Festival and to hear how the festival has expanded, as well as his plans for the future. We are grateful to him and his team for looking after us so well, especially to Rose and the wonderful tech team at the venue. I hope we have the opportunity to visit again!

I leave you with Nuvi Mehta’s TEDx talk from earlier this year:

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This is not California, but we hope to see beaches like this...

This is not California, but we hope to see beaches like this…

I’ve just got back from a fantastic few days in London rehearsing with Cantabile – The London Quartet. I’ll be joining them in Ventura, California next week for a show in the Ventura Music Festival. I sang with the group almost three years ago when they visited the American mid-west and am extremely pleased that they have asked me to join them for a second time. At that time, I found memorising a 90 minute show’s worth of music a huge challenge, but by the end of the 20th show I had managed it successfully. This time there is only one show, so no margin for error! Even though there is some material from before, I have had to spend a significant amount of time remembering these classics as well as memorising some newer songs in the group’s repertoire. It’s been great fun, and it was extremely satisfying to realise this work with the rest of the group this week. It was also fantastic to meet and to sing with TLQ’s new soprano, Sarah-Ann Cromwell who is absolutely brilliant!

Next stop, California!

Bratislava and beyond



The Three Medieval Tenors had a fantastic time in Bratislava at the beginning of the week. We sang in the Dóm sv. Martina to a packed house and the feedback we received was very positive. This is polyphony as you’ve never heard it before and can be quite a weird experience for some, but the audience seems to have found it hypnotic and moving. If you understand Slovak, there is a short film about the show! 

For us, it was great to be doing it again after a bit of a hiatus, and it was a really positive start to a busier year ahead. It was also great to have time to hang out with Josef Luptak and Miloš Valent. Our next performance will be at the Beverley Early Music Festival on the 21st May. There haven’t been any further date confirmations since my last post, but I’ll keep you informed as they come in.

I’m now in London rehearsing Carl Orf’s Carmina Burana with Ex Cathedra and Birmingham Royal Ballet. The show opens this evening at the London Coliseum and runs until Saturday (with a matinée). Surprising, I have never sung this piece before, but know it well; it was the first classical recording I was ever given and remember listening to it constantly. I was always so enthralled by the sheer scale and impact of the music. The rehearsals have definitely lived up to those expectations so far, and I imagine that the ballet will only enhance the experience further. If you’re unable to make the London shows, we will be doing another run in Birmingham in June.

#Conductus2015 begins

conductus rehearsalSo, after a relatively quiet* January and February,  my journey with the Three Medieval Tenors for 2015 is about to begin. We sing our first live show in the Dom in Bratislava on Monday the 16 March. This is the first in a series of shows we will be doing across the UK and Europe throughout 2015 and the early part of 2016. All of these performances will include a workshop allowing audiences a chance to experience this extraordinary repertoire in a more interactive way. These are open to all and will likely to free of charge, so please do come and join in at a show near you. So far, our itinerary looks like this; Beverley Early Music Festival, Durham, Brussels (as part of the MedRen conference), Radovljika – Slovenia, Nieder-Olm – Germany, Brighton Early Music Festival and Cambridge (2016). This is just the start and we are in negotiations with a number of other promoters to secure further dates. I’ll update as soon as I can. You can also find out more by following the Three Medieval Tenors on twitter @3MedievalTenors

Following this, I will be heading to London to perform Carmina Burana With Ex Cathedra and Birmingham Royal Ballet. If the other large scale Ex Cathedra collaborations are anything to go by, these 4 performances at the Coluseium in London will be awesome. It was a great privilege to sing two new works written for Ex Cathedra earlier in the year too – by MacMillan and Panufnick. A live recording was made and I hope to be able to share this sometime in the future. It is music that really must be heard by a much wider audience.

Finally, I’m pleased to be joining Cantabile – The London Quartet again in April for a performance in California. It has been nearly three years since I sang with the group and things have changed a little since then. I’m really looking forward to meeting their new member Sarah-Ann Cromwell, and to relearning some of TLQ’s classic repertoire together!

*Other activities included singing at the consecration of the first woman Bishop in the Church of England, recording another disk of Christmas music with the Minster Choir , recording material for two disks relating to the Siege of York in 1644 with the Ebor Singers as well as a number of teaching and coaching sessions. I’m going to update my website soon with a page dedicated to my teaching and coaching activities, so if you’re interested in finding out more, watch this space…

Happy New Year

IMG_3003A belated Happy New Year to all! 12 days in, and things seem to be going well so far. I’ve had a birthday, filed my tax return, begun the new term with the Choir of York Minster and resumed my teaching practice again. My diary is up-to-date and I’ve even had an enquiry about dates in 2016! But lets not get ahead of ourselves…

2015 is shaping up to be the year in which we get to tour the Conductus project. The Three Medieval Tenors – John Potter, Rogers Covey-Crump and I are finalising dates with about a dozen promoters in the UK and Europe, many of which will include workshops with Mark Everist to further the appreciation and understanding of this remarkable repertoire. Until now, we have been engaged as researchers for an academic project, the outcomes of which have included two recordings (released by Hyperion) based on the project’s research findings. While we have managed a few performances, this year will be an opportunity to really get this music heard. Live performance will allow us the opportunity to push the improvisatory elements of these pieces even further. We are also expecting the final volume of the Conductus recordings (Vol. III) to be released in the summer.

IMG_3002The rest of 2015 includes (so far) the premier of pieces by James MacMillan and Roxanna Panufnick with Ex Cathedra (31 January), performances of Carmina burana with Ex Cathedra and Birmingham Royal Ballet (19-21 March, London Colluseum, 17-20 June, Birmingham Hippodrome), as well as performances with the Brabant Ensemble and others. There are several performances still in the pipeline of which I will be able to tell you more in due course, including a couple of projects that I have instigated. Performances are likely to include works by the likes of Lang, Pärt, Gesualdo, Finzi, Dowland, Bryars, Dove and Praetorious among others. It’s going to be an exciting time!

I would love to hear from anyone who happens to read this; if you want to find out more about any these projects, have comments about the blog or just want to say hi, please do get in touch.

135 days later…

It is 135 days since my last post! This is not because of a lack of things to say or news of projects to report, but rather that 3240 hours can just fly by and before you know it you’re four and a half months down the line…

In that time, I have workshopped new choral pieces written for the Tallis Scholars as part of the NCEM Young Composers Competition; I have sung a continuo only version of the Monteverdi Vespers with the Ebor Singers; I have sung Birtwistle with Britten Sinfonia Voices as part of his 80th birthday celebration series curated by the Barbican; I have rehearsed and performed with the Voices of York (York’s MA Vocal Ensemble) whose academic year culminated in a very successful final assessed recital last week; I have performed exquisite French music with Ex Cathedra in their Vespers for the Sun King programme, at Birmingham Oratory for the last time; I have made a recording of Byrd and Dering with Les Canards Chantants featuring incredible instrumental accompaniments played by Jacob Heringman and Susanna Pell; I have sung Purcell and Britten with the Gabrieli Consort in France and Switzerland, and been completely inspired by the solo and duet singing of Charles Daniels and Nicholas Mulroy; I have broadcast Choral Evensong live on BBC Radio 3 with the Minster Choir; and I have recorded Alec Roth’s A Time to Dance with Ex Cathedra in London. We have also seen the Tour de France peloton weave its way through Yorkshire, and bought (in February) and begun renovating a house in Fulford. Not bad work for just 135 days!

The property thing has been hugely exciting; very tiring and far more time-consuming than we ever imagined, but our house is slowly becoming the home we have always wanted. As a byproduct of this purchase, we have also become rather obsessed with the myriad of home renovation shows on TV – most being reference points of how not to achieve your ‘dream home’. The one exception is the BBC’s 100K House: Tricks of the Trade fronted by Kieran Long and Piers Taylor. These two offer architectural and design advice to individuals who have very limited budgets. What the show illustrates is that a small budget need not mean compromising architectural design integrity as is so often the case in builder led projects. The budget restraint forces clients to consider out of the ordinary construction techniques not usually associated with domestic architecture, and budget materials not intended for finishing in order to achieve their goals. This approach requires the client to be open minded enough to consider the creative solutions offered by the architects. While usually skeptical to begin with, clients are usually overwhelmed by the extraordinary beauty and integrity of the finished product.

The reason for this preamble is that I think this is true of much live music at the moment. Many big name groups are churning out the same repertoire year after year in order to get bums-on-seats. Festival brochures are full of tried and tested shows – there are few risks being taken for fear of the financial consequences. These groups are the building equivalent of the huge builder/developers building bland identikit houses that are not fit for modern living and yet continue to make profits by doing so. There are very few groups who are willing to go out on a limb and push the boundaries of performance and repertoire, and challenge the perceptions of their audience – they’re afraid of alienating that potential long-term subscriber. This seems to me to be rather patronising. As with the 100K House, the audience just needs to be coaxed into a slightly different way of thinking about music by a professional whom they trust, and they will no doubt be surprised and delighted by the beautiful, if sometimes challenging, results.

This risk averse approach does not seem to be the case in Europe. I have said before that while visiting Holland, I have been struck by the lack of embarrassment surround culture and the pushing of boundaries within this. The architecture analogy continues to be useful here too. While there is certainly a vernacular that makes domestic architecture typically Dutch, it is rare that you are confronted with huge populations of the same house. Where additions have been made, these are often in a contrasting and exciting style, usually with a nod to the history of the building it is enhancing, but with a radical look to the now and beyond. Historic buildings are adapted for a modern lifestyle too with little National Trust mentality in sight.

It is against this backdrop that I have been having some rather exciting conversations with a collective of singers about creating a new group – a flexible group who will not be afraid to embrace the indie band mentality of getting music out there, and of collaborating with other interesting creatives. We will likely visit the music of the past, and will certainly explore the new, but hope to present it in a way that is relevant to the needs and lifestyles of a modern audience. There is much still to explore, but the ideals of the group are aligned in such a way that this could be a very exciting project. Watch this space!