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.

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Dutch dash!

IMG_1651Last week, Mrs O’G and I were able to take a little time out and travelled to Amsterdam for a short ‘city-break’ where we were able to indulge our love of great food, cycling and (interior furniture) design. The city is stunningly beautiful and unlike many other capitals, is relatively compact and extremely laid-back. The city has so much more to offer than the sex and drugs for which it is infamous. And 2013 is a particularly bumper year too as the city celebrates several anniversaries; particularly 400 years of their canals, the re-opening of the Rijksmuseum and the 40th anniversary of Van Gough Musem to name but a few.

IMG_1638Although the Rijksmuseum and Van Gough Museum were closed due to extensive refurbishment (and will both re-open as part of these celebrations later in the year), we were struck by just how much other culture is available. Away from the large national galleries and concert venues are hundreds of quirky and unexpected experiences to be had. What was more refreshing was the lack of embarrassment in promoting this culture either. There was no hint of elitism, or any perception that this could ever be possible. Art seems to be for all who want to consume it, in whatever capacity. The dutch are proud of their heritage (as are most nations), but also recognise that the present is just as important. While history is preserved, this is not used as an obstacle in allowing the city (or the arts) to progress and adapt to changing times, tastes and fashions. There is also a spirit of adventurousness that is so lacking (in the arts particularly) in this country; there seemed little sense of a project having to make a financial return, but rather a mentality of being allowed the space to take risks for art’s sake.

IMG_1725Although we did not experience any live music while there, I imagine this excitement and spirit of adventure is evident in all art forms including music. A random-sample look at some local groups’ websites shows some very innovative and daring programming – particularly in the juxtaposition of early and contemporary music (and not the sort you plug just to get bums-on-seats) – as well as the public and private financial support offered. I do hope to be able to experience this sense of adventure from a performers point of view sometime in the future – hopefully I can find a way into the Dutch music scene!

Holiday over, it’s time to get back to work. The schedule for the Minster Choir is accelerating towards Easter. This year, as well as the build up to the wonderful music of Holy Week and Easter Day itself, we will also be performing Bach’s St John Passion for the first time in a long while. The soloists have recently been announced as:

  • John Mark Ainsley – Evangelist
  • Iestyn Davies – counter tenor
  • Judith Cunnold – soprano
  • Neil Griffiths – tenor
  • Benedict Nelson – Pilate
  • Roland Wood – Christus/bass

Further details can be found here.

The Ebor Singers also have a busy month as Easter approaches. They will be performing a Passiontide programme in the Minster’s sublime Chapter House on the 20th of March, and their now traditional performance of Stainer’s Crucifixion will take place on the 27th. They will also be participating in a hand-full of Lenten Compline services. Further details can be found here.

2013-Conductus-222x-01In April, John Potter and I will be performing the two-voice Conductus programme as part of the Cambridge Festival of the Voice. This will take place in the Emmanuel United Reform Church on the 13th and will feature similar repertoire to our YEMF appearance last year, as well as some new material from the forthcoming second disk. They will also be showing Mick Lynch‘s film which accompanies the programme, and John will be giving a pre-concert talk about the whole project. It should be an action packed weekend!