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!

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#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…

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!

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.

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

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.

@mittwoch2012

20120824-141845.jpgTonight is the penultimate performance of Stochhausen’s epic opera Mittwoch Aus Licht which is being produced by Birmingham Opera, in which I play a parliamentarian in the World Parliament scene performed by Ex Cathedra. While I intend to write more extensively about what an extraordinary experience this has been, in the meantime I thought you might be interested in reading some of the reviews which the show has received so far!

The Daily Telegraph
‘I was both exasperated and enchanted, bored and riveted. Best of all is the World Parliament scene: voluptuous, melismatic and polyrhythmic, it shimmers ecstatically … High praise is due to the director Graham Vick and his colleagues who have devised a flamboyantly imaginative and rigorously executed staging in a disused warehouse, to the superb instrumentalists and to the choirs of Ex Cathedra and London Voices. Whatever one’s ambivalence about the musical content, this is a magnificent show.’

The Guardian
‘the extraordinary a capella World Parliament, wonderfully performed by the Birmingham-based choir Ex Cathedra perched high in umpires’ chairs around the edge of the performing space’

The Arts Desk
‘Ex Cathedra … ululated and chanted with immense power and precision, and conjured a sustainably captivating theatre from thin air.’

The Stage
‘Highlights include the virtuosic choral singing of Ex Cathedra in the World Parliament scene’

I should have posted this sooner, but to keep up-to-date with the rest of the action, why not follow me and others on twitter: @cpogorman, @mittwoch2012, @birminghamopera, and @excathedra.