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…

JKnowles_Chris_TLQ_0183

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!

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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!

#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…

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)

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.

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!

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