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:

Image

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

Conductus on iTunes in November

Conductus 2It is with much excitement that I can tell you that Conductus Vol. 2 is now available in iTunes! You can purchase your copy from here. And, if you’ve still not purchased Vol. 1 yet, then that is now available on iTunes too and can be purchased here. If you would prefer to marvel at the physical product, then you can order the cd directly from Hyperion here. Hurry though if you want to receive it in time for Christmas. It could provide the perfect antidote…

The Conductus project continues to gather momentum with John Potter, Rogers Covey-Crump and I due to record Vol. 3 early in 2014. While this is likely to be the final album, the live strand of the project is set to continue well into 2015 and beyond. With the continued support of the musicologists at Southampton University, we hope to keep developing the Three Medieval Tenor repertoire and are currently discussing touring schedules for 2014 and 2015. If you are interested in hosting either the two-voice or three-voice programme (with or without the fantastic film by Mick Lynch), then please contact Robert White Artist Management.

IMG_2365The rest of November has been quite quiet for me, but has been punctuated with two fantastic performances. Last Thursday I travelled to Malvern to sing a programme of Bach Motets with the Ex Cathedra Consort. While I have sung the Motets before, it has never been in a one-to-a-part situation. Performing in this way allowed all of the performers a certain degree of flexibility which is not always possible when singing with others, and this flexibility allowed the music to breath in a way that I have never experience before. It was an extremely exhilarating performance of what can only be described as life affirming music. The four Motets were interspersed with performances of two of Bach’s Cello Suites played by Andrew Skidmore. What a privilege to sit and listen to some of my favourite music in a concert that I was taking part in. Fantastic!

Earlier in the month I was able to relearn the role of Damon in Handel’s Acis and Galatea for a concert performance with Halesowen Choral Society. It was great to turn up and find that two of the other three soloists were also University of York and Choir of York Minster Alumni. William Knight and Nick Ashby were both on fine form (vocally and socially), and it was also lovely to meet Gemma King. The concert was a great success with the choir sounding extremely enthusiastic, and band playing very sensitively!

MinsterTime at home this month has been brilliant in allowing me to prepare for the onslaught of the festive season. It has also allowed me to catch up on a certain amount of correspondence and admin, and has prompted me to start thinking about projects for 2014 and beyond. So far, these include planning performances of the Three Medieval Tenors (as described above), workshops for a brand new opera project, a second incarnation of the male quartet which met earlier this year, a brand new a cappella group with a difference, and a solo voice programme. Unfortunately I can’t give away any more than that at the moment, but stay tuned and I will reveal all when I am able!

iFagiolini, Conductus and Binchois

September continues to be a busy month with concerts in Antwerp, Southampton, Bridlington and Otterberg.

IMG_2283After a short UK holiday with my wife at the end of August, I travelled to Antwerp with iFagiolini to take part in a performance of their programme of music in 40 and 60 parts by Striggio and Tallis. The revelation of Robert Hollingworth’s approach to this music (and has seen the group nominated for a Gramophone award for their recordings of it), is his use of voices and instruments in numerous combinations. It was fascinating to work with Robert who, despite the forces, approached the performance of this repertoire as chamber music – it is still one-to-a-part music after all. To add a little variety and auditory respite for the audience, I also sang in a smaller ensemble who performed pieces by Striggio and the amazing Noel! Adieu thou courts delight by Weelkes.

PAPH2776Shortly after the beginning of the new Minster Choir term, I travelled to Southampton with John Potter and Rogers Covey-Crump for our first live performance of Conductus a3. This performance took place during the Cantum pulcriorem invenire: Music in Western Europe conference being hosted by the Mark Everist and his team at the Southampton Music Department. As always, Mick Lynch‘s film went down very well, and the academics in the audience seemed to respond positively to our interpretations of this repertoire. We stayed on in Southampton and became guinea pigs for several papers, helping to demonstrate the performance practicalities of the acadmics’ hypotheses. It was fascinating to see how the two do not always align, and to realise that our own performances of the Conducts repertoire have used the musicology as a starting point from which we have developed our own performing ‘tradition’.

Back in York, the Minster Choir have inducted and read-in their new chorister and Choral Scholar recruits and continue to sing with much gusto in front of huge crowds. We are beginning to prepare for the feasts or All Saints’ and All Souls’ before concentrating on music for Advent and Christmas. This year we will be performing Handel’s Messiah for the first time  in a while, and it promises to be a much anticipated event in the Minster’s calendar.

IMG_2321On the road again, I made my way to Bridlington Priory to sing with the Binchois Consort in a concert which formed part of the Priory’s 900th anniversary celebrations. As always, singing with this group was a fantastic experience. The music, the singers and the banter made it a most enjoyable couple of days. As well as an anonymous Mass and chants for St John of Bridlington, we sang an ‘imporvised’ faux bauden setting of the Te Deum reliased by Philip Weller. The effect of singing these moving triads is so unexpectedly beautiful. Definitely something to explore further I think!

IMG_2345Finally, I have just return from Otterberg where John Potter, Rogers Covey-Crump and I performed a longer version of the Conductus a3 programme as part of the Via Medieval strand of the Kultursommer Rhineland Pfaltz Festival. This was another fantastic experience. Having performed together earlier in the month, we were already in the Conductus groove, and the concert in Germany really allowed us to solidify this. The church was also absolutely stunning; it is one of the only simultaneously Catholic and Protestant foundations in Germany and in the region is dwarfed only by the Dom in Speyer. The warmth of the audience reception was wonderful and the German hospitality was second to none. I really look forward to singing with John and Rogers much more in the future.

Conductus 2While on the subject of Conductus, Hyperion have confirmed that Conductus Vol. II will be released at the beginning of December. Just in time for Christmas!

July 2013

IMG_1824July has been another busy month which has included a recording for NMC, two York Early Music Festival Concerts, a concert in the St Alban’s International Organ Festival and a BBC Prom.

The recording was an exciting two day affair in which we were rediscovering incidental music written by Britten for two plays by Auden and Isherwood; The Assent of F6 and On the Frontier. The scoring for both were similar being for voices (Ex Cathedra in this case), piano duet and percussion, as well as trumpets in On the Frontier. I was absolutely astounded by the colours which Britten was able to conjure with seeming limited forces. The soloists for The Assent were Andrew Kennedy and Jean Rigby, who were both fantastic to listen to. While much of the music is unknown, Britten reworked the The Assent’s Cabaret Jazz Song which later became part of his Cabaret Song cycle. This song sets the words (as featured in Four Weddings and a Funeral):

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.  WH Auden.

Ironically, we were recording this while Andy Murray was fighting for the Wimbledon title. When he eventually won (we caught the final games of the final set), the BBC Sport team tweeted the opening of this poem!

IMG_2076John Potter and I were very happy to be invited to perform a Conductus concert in York again this year. This event was jointly promoted by the York Early Music Festival (as last year), and the Plainsong and Medieval Music Society who were celebrating their 125th anniversary with a conference in York. We sang a short programme of pieces from the forthcoming Conductus II album in the very beautiful (if a little warm) undercroft of the Merchant Adventurer’s Hall. The place was packed and the audience seemed to respond well to the music, even without the film. I think the length was spot on for a late night slot, and there was still time for a pint afterwards. John and I are currently fixing details for two concerts we’re doing in September; in Southampton as part of a conference hosted by Mark Everest, and in Otterberg in Germany. Further details about Southampton will be posted when we have them, but you can see more about Otterberg here. We are pleased the Rogers Covey-Crump is able to join us for both of these, so we will be able to explore the three voice pieces further. We have also approved the second edit of Conductus II and are awaiting artwork so that production can begin soon. We expect it will be released in the autumn.

The second YEMF concert was with the Minster Choir. We performed a programme of Palestrina and Victoria along with some chant allegedly taken from the York Missal. The programme sought to explore the festival’s theme of ‘From Rome to York’ and was centred around Palestrina’s Missa Papae Marcelli, a work which we sing regularly as part of worship though not in a concert situation. The whole experience highlighted the stamina needed to sing a completely a cappella programme for a group who do it so infrequently. The feedback was lovely though and it is hoped that we can build on this success with more concerts in the future.

Three ChoirsThe Minster Choir were also asked to join the choirs of Salisbury and St Albans in a concert as part of the International Organ Festival in St Albans. This was a fantastic experience with the second half dedicated entirely to a massed performance of the Durufle Requiem. Andrew Lucas was insistent that this large choir pay particular attention to dynamics, the quiet moments especially. The effect was magical and made for rather an emotional performance. We received excellent hospitality too and experienced a real sense of camaraderie within our own choir as well as with the others.

IMG_2089Finally, I have spent the last week with Ex Cathedra in London preparing for a BBC Prom performance of Welt Parliament from Stockhausen’s Mittwoch aus Licht. Regular readers will remember what an amazing time I had last summer performing this piece in Birmingham under the direction of Graham Vick. Incidentally, that show won the Royal Philharmonic Society Award for Opera and Music Theatre. We had a great time performing it again, especailly in the Albert Hall which seems so well suited to Stockhausen’s music. It’s a mad piece (and perhaps more mad this time round without the context of the rest of the opera), but everyone seemed to appreciate it. We seem to be on a roll; who knows, we might get to do it again. Here are a selection of reviews:

‘brilliantly virtuosic and committed’

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/music/proms/10192294/Proms-2013-Stockhausen-Ex-CathedraJeffrey-Skidmore-Kathinka-Pasveer-review.html

‘The performance standard was exceptional … the effect was unutterable moving, and completely unforgettable’

http://www.seenandheard-international.com/2013/07/22/proms-11-a-late-night-stockhausen-prom/

‘An unforgettable and thoroughly convincing performance’

http://www.bachtrack.com/review-bbc-prom-11-2013-stockhausen-welt-parlament

http://www.operatoday.com/content/2013/07/stockhausen_at_.php

http://www.classicalsource.com/db_control/db_prom_review.php?id=11228

‘Ex Cathedra were calmly but precisely led by conductor Jeffrey Skidmore and showed themselves to be a truly exceptional choir’

http://www.bernardhughes.co.uk/?p=995

June 2013

ImageAlthough a little later than promised, here is a photo of the incredible Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum In Glasgow, where the Gabrieli Consort sang a beautiful programme of Morales and Lobo. It was a a stunning spot and the audience were clearly mesmerised by the whole experience. It was a rather fleeting visit to Glasgow for me with a flight there on the morning of the show and a train home the following morning, but it seems like a very handsome city and one which I look forward to revisiting.

Since then I have been planning and rehearsing. I have had several meetings about potential new projects, some of which I hope will be featuring on here very soon. 

I’ve a busy weekend ahead; on Friday I will travelling to Birmingham to join Ex Cathedra as they perform a live soundtrack for the screening of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 Space Odyssey. Although I have never seen the film, I am aware of its cult historical significance and am really looking forward to the experience. The film will be followed by a performance of Ex Cathedra’s 40th anniversary commission – Earthrise by Alec Roth. This 40 part piece has a score that mirrors the now famous image of the earth as seen from space. The effect is stunning!

In complete contrast, on Saturday I will be joining the York Musical Society for solos in Mozart’s Coronation Mass, conducted by David Pipe. This group are reputed to be the oldest choral society in the country, with a dynamic a diverse programme of concerts each year. It will be very strange to sing in the nave of York Minster out of a Minster Choir context. I’m sure the experience will be very rewarding.

Binchois in Birmingham and Gabrieli in Glasgow

ImageI had a fantastic weekend at Birmingham University singing with the Binchois Consort. As previously stated, we revisited the Brumel programme that we sang in Hautecombe last year. This really is some of the most sublime music ever written and it was fantastic to sing it again, though in a very different setting this time. The Barber Institute of Fine Arts has a fantastic and intimate concert hall, however there is little resonance there. We therefore missed some of the implied polyphony which is often created by a more resonant acoustic. This was of course not detrimental, and just provided different performance challenges. We also had the opportunity to coach and sing with the Birmingham University Singers (BUS), a mixed group of predominantly undergraduate students. They were a charming and enthusiastic bunch who really responded to our suggestions. All in all, I think we put on a very good show. It was also fantastic to meet some members of the audience afterwards, one of whom had just purchased a copy of Conductus Vol I! I hope you have enjoyed listening to it!

I’m preparing to go to Glasgow on Friday for a concert with the men of the Gabrieli Consort. We will be singing a programme of spanish music constructed around the Morales Requiem. We’ll be performing in the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum which looks to be a spectacular space. I’ll post some photos over the weekend.

Cambridge

ImageA slightly belated thanks to all the wonderful people at Cambridge Early Music Festival who made our Conductus gig such a wonderful experience. The audience endured the show admirably and were fantastically enthusiastic afterwards! I think I also managed to avoid being eaten by the horse in the film, so results all round!

I’m off to Birmingham this weekend to sing with the Bichois Consort at the University of Birmingham (where Andrew Kirkman is the Head of the Music Facualty). We will be re-visiting the Brumel programme that I sang with them in Hautcombe last year. We will also be taking some time to coach one of Andrew’s student groups who will then take part in the concert on Sunday afternoon. It promises to be a very rewarding weekend.