#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…

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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!

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!

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.

NCEM Composers award 2012

Last month, the Ebor Singers were asked once again to take part in the National Centre for Early Music’s Composers Award 2012 which they hosted in conjunction with The Tallis Scholars and BBC Radio 3. Composers in two age categories were invited to compose a new choral piece with the Tallis Scholars in mind and using John Taverner’s In Nomine theme from Missa Gloria Tibi Trinitas as their starting point. From some 50 entries, seven were shortlisted for workshopping at the NCEM by the Ebor Singers with the composer Christopher Fox.

In the days running up to the workshop, the Ebor Singers had the luxury of three rehearsal sessions in order to learn the shortlisted pieces. This time was invaluable when it came to the workshop day because the singers were confident with corners which may otherwise have presented a challenge. All of the participants commented that they gained most from the workshop because of this preparation. There was a competence and performance confidence from where musical comments and adjustments could be made, rather than most of the time being taken up by singers grappling for notes as had been the experience at other similar events.

The workshops were fascinating from a singer’s perspective. Not only was it interesting to hear the many interpretations of the composer’s use of the source material – some very literal and others rather more esoteric – it was also fascinating to hear the various assumptions made by the composer’s when notating their work and vice-versa. As we have found in previous years, Christopher Fox is a fantastic facilitator in these situations. His charismatic, often ‘devil’s advocate’ approach, created a very interesting dialogue between composer, performer and ‘teacher’. The results of minor suggested amendments often had further reaching effects on the pieces overall.

The day culminated in a public performance by the Ebor Singers of all the workshopped pieces, recordings of which can be heard on the NECM’s website. These were then judged by Delma Tomlin (Director of the NCEM), Peter Phillips (Director of the Tallis Scholars) and Chris Wines (Senior Music Producer for BBC Radio 3). In her winners announcement, Delma highlighted that although there could only be one winner in each category, all who had made the shortlist had won in some way and will have inevitably gained from the experience of working with Christopher Fox and the Ebor Singers. The winners were Benjamin Rowarth (20) and Alex Woolf (16) whose pieces were performed by the Tallis Scholars in Durham Cathedral and will be broadcast on the Early Music Show later in the year.

As always, this competition proved that the future of choral composition – and by extension, performance – is in good hands.