Conductus Vol II and Britten

DSC_0095The New Year has been filled with recordings so far. In early January, in this year of Benjamin Britten’s centenary, I was in London recording Britten’s War Requiem with the Gabrieli Consort. This disk will be the third in their Wratislavia Cantans Oratorio Series in collaboration with the festival of that name as well as the Wroclaw Philharmonic Choir & Orchestra and young singers who have been involved in the Gabrieli Young Singers’ Scheme. With such vast forces involved, one can image that the loud bits were pretty loud! However, Paul McCreesh also coaxed some exquisite quiet singing from the assembled masses. Although I have sung the piece before, I had forgotten how exciting Britten’s orchestration is. The brass fanfares in particular during the Dies Irae are mind-blowing – such evocative writing. The only downside to the sessions was that we didn’t get to hear much of the stella array of soloists; Susan Gritton, John Mark Ainsley and Christopher Maltman. I can’t wait to hear the final outcome!

NCEM3Then last week, John Potter, Rogers Covey-Crump and I returned to the National Centre for Early Music to record the second disk of the Conductus project for Hyperion Records. It was an intensive few days, but I think the results will be wonderful. Having made one recording already and performed the music live, we have definitely developed a collective sense of style. We have also got to grips with the editions which provide the performer with a mix of standard notation and clips of the manuscript. While I was sceptical about the time involved in preparing these scores for performance over the convenience of standard chant notation, I am now convinced that the results during performance are significantly different and worth the time spent with the manuscript. We could not have got the results we have without the amazing production and engineering skills of Jeremy Summerly and Julian Millard, and of course Mark Everist who was on hand to clear up any musicological questions. Thanks also to Mark’s team of musicologists in Southampton who prepared the editions.

conductus recording photoJohn and I will be performing the two voice version of the programme with Mick Lynch‘s film at Trinity College, Cambridge on the 13 April during their Festival of the Voice. The first outing of the three voice version with Rogers Covey-Crump will be in Southampton in September with the video. Both programmes are also available as full length concerts with an interval but without the film and the repertoire will continue to develop for both as we prepare for the final recording. Further details are available on my Conductus page, or from Robert White (RWhiteAM@aol.com).

Finally, thanks to Stephanie Puzey Broomhead for braving the cold and snow with me this weekend to take some new promo pics which you will see popping up on the website soon.

December 2012 – Christmas is almost upon us!

After a few days rest following the London Quartet America tour, the busy run up to Christmas has begun. This was kick-started by my favourite service of the year at York Minster – The Advent Procession. The Cathedral begins in darkness, and as the evening progresses with readings and music, candlelight is spread from the west to the east of the congregation. It really is a magical experience. This stop motion film of last year’s service gives a sense of the effect.

The musical highlight for me was Sandström’s Es ist ein Ros’ entsprungen which was new to me. This is only the second piece of his that I have come across, the other being his completion of Purcell’s Hear my Prayer, but on the strength of these his work is definitely worth exploring further.

DSC_0076Our Minster commitment continues with the second of our Carol concerts taking place on Friday the 14th, two Nine Lessons and Carols services on the 23rd and 24th as well as the special services of Christmas Eve and Christmas day. For a full list of the Minster’s Christmas activities, visit their website.

I have also been singing with Ex Cathedra this month. They have a busy schedule of Christmas Music by Candlelight concerts, which are an inventive combination of words and music in several venues in and around Birmingham. As the name suggests, these are lit solely by candlelight, which can present a challenge when trying to read new pieces by the likes of Stephanie Martin, Panufnick, Esenvalds and Runswick. This clever programme not only conveys a beautiful sense of the meaning of Christmas, but also also manages to provide a retrospective of the choir’s activities of the past 12 months. Jeffrey Skidmore’s programme note sums this up perfectly. I am singing the programme four more times in Hagley (11th), St John’s Smith Square (13th) and St Paul’s, Birmingham (18th and 19th).

In addition, the Ex Cathedra Consort (solo voices) also had two concerts in York and Birmingham. These explored the rich Christmas repertoire of the South American Renaissance in the first half, and juxtaposed this with more familiar French and early English repertoire in the second. Both concerts were sold out to very appreciative audiences. In Birmingham, we had the opportunity to explore the incredible facilities of the new Bramall Music Building at the university with it’s stunningly flexible Elgar Concert Hall. This place really sets the president for departments where students are expected to pay up to £9,000 in tuition fees.

20121212-105823.jpgStill to come, The Ebor Singers will be performing their Ceremony of Carols programme in the Chapter House of York Minster on Saturday 13th. This year the Britten will be accompanied on the harp by Melanie Jones. The programme will also include the premier of Ian Colson’s Angelus pastores as well as new pieces by Campkin and Campbell. Tickets can be purchased via the Minster Box Office.

Finally, as light relief from all the Christmas stuff, John Potter and I met yesterday to rehearse the new music for Conductus Vol II which we will be recording in January 2013. It was fantastic to get back into the mindset of reading from manuscripts and it all felt surprisingly familiar. With the experience of the last recording as well as singing the Conductus live, I think the second recording experience is going to be a real pleasure. We also heard this week that there are a couple of concerts in the pipeline for 2013. I’ll post more details once they are confirmed!

As I said previously, I am still working on a new programme idea, so keep an eye on this new page for more details soon.

Conductus reviews

I am delighted to say that the Conductus Vol. 1 recording which was released by Hyperion in September has begun to receive some rather favourable reviews. Unfortunately not all are available online, but I have included some extracts below along with links to those that are.

Gramophone

There have been remarkably few recordings of the conductus repertory – those marvellous settings of mainly accentual Latin goliardic poetry from the years around 1200 … John Potter is one of the most experienced singers in the world for this kind of music and he is magically balanced by the glorious voice of the much younger Christopher O’Gorman. For the three-voice pieces the still impeccable Rogers Covey-Crump joins them … These are seriously classy performances.

The Observer

What is, or are, conductus? The body of anonymous medieval songs, usually sacred but not liturgical and mostly forgotten, flowered in France in the mid-13th century around the time of the Notre Dame school. This new Hyperion disc … should reawaken interest in this beguiling repertory. The poems are about life, death, salvation and, naturally, the frail virtues of women. (“He who strives to keep and lock in a roving young woman/Is washing a brick.”) Three tenors – John Potter, Christopher O’Gorman and Rogers Covey-Crump – deliver these explorations with unerring skill and conviction

Classical Music Magazine

I found Christopher O’Gorman’s tenor, with a tonal spectrum wide enough to hold the interest without gilding the lily, very pleasing.

Musicweb International

The tenors, Rogers Covey-Crump, Christopher O’Gorman and John Potter eschew effect, reverberation and atmosphere in this hour of highly satisfying singing. They favour substance. In the first place, every word, every syllable, is clear. Distinct yet gentle French Latin pronunciation is employed. They simply trust the honest exuberance of the conductus … and it works.

John Potter, Rogers Covey-Crump and I are heading back to the NCEM In January to record Volume 2 and will therefore have a substantial amount of material under our belts ready for live performance. If you are interested in booking a two or three voice programme, please contact Robert White Artist Management on RWhiteAM@aol.com.

Conductus at YEMF

20120718-001440.jpgThis week has seen a return to music rehearsals for Stockhausen’s Mittwoch aus Licht with Ex Cathedra for Birmingham Opera Company, after an exciting appearance at the York Early Music Festival.

The York Early Music Festival hosted John Potter and I in the first live research output of Southampton University and Mark Everest’s AHRC funded Conductus Project – Cantum pulcriorem invenire. The performance took place in the beautiful All Saints’ Church on the Harewood House Estate late in the evening. The space was illuminated by candle light and the premier showing of Michael Lynch‘s beautifully evocative video. Thankfully there was enough light so as not to cause too many logistical problems when moving around the space during the performance, though John did have to use the torch app in this iPhone at one point.

Singing the Conducti in this space as a whole concert performance for the first time was a phenomenal experience. It was exciting to see how elastic we could be with the free texted sections, and exploring the juxtaposition of these against the rhythmic caude. I think the space encouraged us to explore the sound we were making too, with the resonance providing a sort of polyphony, especially in the solo numbers. The audience feedback was extremely positive with many fantastic comments about Michael Lynch’s film (during which, one of the horses tried to eat my head…). People also liked the fact that we didn’t take new notes between certain numbers, and that we were not static throughout, but moved around the space.

20120718-002457.jpgThe first recording, Conductus Vol I – Music & Poetry from Medieval France is being released by Hyperion Records in September and we are scheduled to record Vol II in January next year. With both CDs worth of repertoire under our belts, we hope to be able to perform more gigs during 2013.

Next week sees Stockhausen move into production rehearsals at the Argyle Works in Birmingham. The extensive music rehearsal time that we have already had for this piece has meant that we have been able to really get under its skin. Stockhausen (or his assistants) was so meticulous about his markings and it is impossible to overlook them. It will be very exciting to see Graham Vick’s vision for the piece on the stage. Unfortunately the shows are sold out, but hopefully there will be some media to show once the performances are complete.

Summer antics – Conductus and Stockhausen

After a much appreciated Easter break, The Minster Choir is now back to its full routine of services for the Summer Term. Even though this has just begun, I am looking forward to a busy summer of singing.

On the 10 July, John Potter and I will be performing the conductus programme live for the very first time as part of the York Early Music Festival. This will be accompanied by Mick Lynch‘s new video commissioned for the project. The performance will be largely based on the Conductus I recording (which is due to be released in the Autumn), but will also feature a sneak preview of new material in preparation for the second disk which we will be recording in November. John and I are meeting in All Saints’ North Street this week to begin exploring the new facsimiles.

During June, I will begin rehearsing for a Birmingham Opera Company production of Stockhausen’s final opera, Mittwoch with Ex Cathedra. This is the final work of his opera cycle Licht, and is being produced as part of the London 2012 Festival in August. The excitement of the project lies in the fact that it will be the first time that all six parts of the work have been staged together. It is an epic piece lasting some five hours and features two choirs, flying solo instrumentalists, live electronic and acoustic music and a string quartet streamed live from four flying helicopters. The performances will take place at the Argyle Works, a former chemical plant in the middle of Birmingham, and will be directed by Graham Vick.

New year, new website

As Candlemas approaches and Christmas officially draws to a close, the memories of the festive excesses fade. Despite these January blues, I am pleased to have achieved at least one of my resolutions; to create the website which you are currently viewing!

As you will see while you explore, the site offers an insight into who I am and a background into the projects I am currently involved in. This news page, which I intend to update at regular intervals (another resolution which will have to be monitored), will hopefully provide a more informal insight into these projects, as well as let you know about the other ensembles I sing with.

The Hyperion Conductus Project continues to gather momentum as we prepare for the first live performance on the 10 July 2012 as part of the York Early Music Festival. This will also coincide with the release of the first Hyperion recording. John Potter and I will be singing in the beautiful surroundings of All Saints’ Church on the Harewood House estate. Some of the images which form part of Mick Lynch‘s film that will accompany the performances were captured in this space and look breathtaking. John, Mick and I met this weekend to have our photos taken for the publicity material which will inevitably be produced to promote this project. For further details, please visit the projects page.

Although the name of the Gombert Project is yet to be decided, musical progress is being made. Cara Curran, Steve Potter and I met before Christmas to experiment with pieces by Gombert, Ockeghem and Josquin. The programme is centred around pieces written as homages to composers of previous generations know as Deplorations (hence the working title). Cara and I have picked out voice parts which are comfortable and interesting to sing (though not necessarily those for Mezzo or Tenor) while Steve uses the remaining written parts as a basis for improvisation. Steve is also working on a new set of solo piano interludes which will be interspersed through the programme and draw on the ideas already expressed. We anticipate that performances will last about an hour and would be ideal as a lunchtime recital or a late night, candlelit concert. The venue does need to provide a piano, though this need not be in a concert hall; we are always keen to explore quirky spaces. For further details, please contact me.

While I was a student at the University of York, I was a founding member of a vocal quartet which became known as No No Nigella. Although we have not sung together for many years, a decade seems a large milestone to pass without celebration. I have recently been in touch with the group’s original bass, Gwydion Tomos and we are plotting a reunion, so watch this space!