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.

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Christmas

imageWishing all of my friends and colleagues a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

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!

Conductus Vol. 3

Conductus 3 session

Photo by Adrian Horsewood

At the beginning of April John Potter, Rogers Covey-Crump and I met at the National Centre for Early Music in York for the last time to record the final instalment of the Conductus project for Hyperion. As always, this was a wonderful few days in which we explored more of this fabulous forgotten repertoire in a way that has become second nature for us all. Having now spent a number of years with this music and amassed a considerable amount of it as ‘repertoire’ for the Three Medieval Tenors ensemble, it is amusing to think back to our initial attempts at bring this music off of the page. One of the initial steps of the CPI project was a research day in which the Southampton academics presented us with manuscripts (all completely alien and many almost illegible), and asked us to interpret them. One of the outcomes of this first step was to allow the academics to determine how much of the original notation could feasibly be incorporated into their finished editions. Based on our interpretations that day, I am surprised that they included any, however I am very pleased that they did! While reading from the source may not be the most direct way for a modern performer to interpret this music, with a little preparation it suddenly becomes a very liberating experience. By performing in this way we have cut out the middle-man and are given the responsibility of making decisions which would otherwise have been taken by an editor. While editors are usually very clear in justifying the decisions they have made, we as performers may see an alternative route in performance given the opportunity. An edition merely standardises the thoughts of one individual. The limits of modern notation also do not allow the performer to see the detail implied by the manuscript’s intrinsic graphic beauty and all of the additional information that this conveys. cantum original manuscript final hdrOf course the context of performance can limit the success of such an approach, but in a single voiced ensemble I have found this decision making very liberating. We have been lucky enough to perform this repertoire a number of times now in both a two- and three-voiced configuration, and each one has had an exciting almost improvisational feel to it. The decisions I have made have varied slightly from performance to performance. These decisions have obviously been influenced by the decisions made by my colleagues making each performance a unique event while still staying ‘true’ to the manuscript from which we are reading.

While the recording part of this project has now come to an end (we expect the final disk to be released sometime in the autumn), we are in the process of applying for a further AHRC funding to allow the live performance element to continue in 2015. This will likely include a programme of concerts and workshops across the UK and Europe. There has already been much interest from festivals and promoters, but if you would like to find out more about booking the live Conductus show, please contact RWhiteAM@aol.com

Finally, Conductus Vol. 2 was released in December and has received some lovely press. Here are some highlights:

John Potter, Christopher O’Gorman and Rogers Covey-Crump are musicians who are entirely inside the style and manage to present everything with impeccable taste and purity (Gramophone)

The three singers blend beautifully and each is attuned to the character of this graceful music … the recording is detailed yet resonant, serving the needs of lyric clarity whilst evoking a pleasingly airy ambience (BBC Music Magazine)

This fascinating and beautiful release … an impeccably performed and recorded programme (International Record Review)

Lent and Easter

As Easter approaches, this is what I will be up to during April:

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5 April 2014; Bob Chilcott St John Passion, York Minster

Chilcott’s 21st Century setting of the Passion story is both dramatic and beautiful. The Chapter House Choir is delighted to be joined by guest soloists Christopher O’Gorman (Evangelist) and Chris Thornton-Holmes (Jesus) along with an instrumental ensemble and singers from Cantores and St Olave’s Choir. The St John Passion was premiered at Wells Cathedral in 2013 and this will be its Northern Premiere.

The concert will also include the sublime Tenebrae Responses by Victoria.

http://www.boxoffice.yorkminster.org

11 April 2014; The Ebor Singers Into Darkness, Chapter House of York Minster

Have you ever listened to music live in darkness? Total darkness? Starting in candlelight and progressing to 100 percent pitch black, the concert will explore the transition from light to darkness, not just in its liturgical context, such as Holy Week Tenebrae, but as an auditory experience for choir and audience alike. The choir presents some of the most powerful and poignant choral music to come from the western world, with works including James MacMillan’s stunning Miserere and Whitacre’s beautiful Sleep juxtaposed — yet inextricably linked — with choral music by Brahms, Victoria and Lotti.

http://www.boxoffice.yorkminster.org

14,15,16 April 2014; The Ebor Singers sing Compline at York Minster

It has become tradition for The Ebor Singers to sing Compline at York Minster during Lent and Holy Week. This period of contemplation culminates in a performance of Stainer’s Crucifixion on 16 April at 7:30pm. This year the soloists will be Jason Darnell and Andrew Thompson.

Holy Week to Easter at York Minster

During this period, the Minster Choir explores some of the most sublime music ever written including; Tallis Lamentations of Jeremiah I & II (14th), Frank Martin Mass for double choir (17th), Bairstow’s Lamentation and The Reproaches of Sanders (18th). You can see full details on the Minster’s Music Scheme.

Winter’s passing

IMG_2544With Christmas well forgotten and the revels of a significant birthday now just a hazy memory, it seems strange to look back over the festive music making of last year. Suffice it to say, there was rather a lot of singing – and not too much of the usual ‘stuff’. The highlights for me were definitely singing with Ex Cathedra again in two programmes; An Elizabethan Christmas with the viol consort Fretwork, as well as their annual Candlelight programme. This included a piece by my Minster Choir colleague Ian Colson – A Cause for Wonder, which was received enthusiastically by singers and audiences alike. I would definitely recommend checking out his music which is published by Boreas Music.

IMG_1694In January, I was asked by The Opera Group (now The Mahogany Opera Group) to take part in a workshop with the composer Emily Hall. I first came across Emily’s music when I heard her piece Rest – A Secular Requiem performed by the folk group Lady Maisery. It is evident that Emily approaches much of her work as song writing in the way a pop songwriter might, and the results are absolutely beautiful. She has been commissioned to write a concept album opera for TOG (currently being called Folie a Deux) which will be released and toured in 2015. During the workshop, I worked with Emily and the Group’s Director Frederic Wake-Walker exploring ideas of psychosis through movement and the voice. Emily is also keen that there is an electronic element to the piece, so we had fun experimenting with various electronic voice modifications. It was a fantastic day, and I learnt so much. Unfortunately my involvement in the project ended with the workshop, but I look forward to seeing the results when they appear.

IMG_2001Since January, I have been working regularly with Robert Hollingworth and his MA Vocal Ensemble (Voices of York) at The University of York. The group’s tenor was unable to complete the course, so I have been drafted in as a singer and assistant coach. It has been fascinating working with some very accomplished singers with a cathedral singing background getting to grips with some very unfamiliar repertoire. This term’s focus has been the madrigals of Monteverdi. It is absolutely sublime music, and Robert’s insights are very illuminating. However, singing in Italian has proved a challenge. We are starting to overcome this though and really beginning to make a pleasing noise as group! The fruits of these labours can be seen in VoY’s second assessed recital in April.

As well as this, the coming months’ activities include singing a predominantly improvised piece by Craig Vear in The Late Music Festival, a concert and workshops in Birmingham with the Binchois Consort and a concert in London with The Brabant Ensemble. I will also be joining the Chapter House Choir as the Evangelist for their performance of Bob Chilcott‘s St John Passion and John Potter, Rogers Covey-Crump and I will be meeting to record the final instalment of the Conductus project.

glassesOn an unrelated note, I bought a beautiful pair of Andy Wolfe glasses while in Amsterdam for my birthday in January. As beautiful as they are, the best part of getting them was the experience of actually buying them from Eye Respect on Herenstraat. Wilfried could not have been more helpful, and his after-sales care has been second to none. We are in email contact regularly now! If you are in Amsterdam, please go and visit this store. It is an experience just to browse, and the customer service is top class.

Happy New Year…

…and apologies for not posting any news for a while. I had a very hectic December and January has been much the same so far; so much so that I’ve not had a chance to tell you about it! I have booked some time to concentrate on updating the website and as part of that process will bring you are up-to-date with my recent activities. I hope you’re able to join me then! In the meantime I hope you enjoy the photo of the Harrison and Harrison van spotted in the Minster’s car par recently, which I was pleased to note is a Peugeot Expert!Image