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!

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Binchois in Birmingham and Gabrieli in Glasgow

ImageI had a fantastic weekend at Birmingham University singing with the Binchois Consort. As previously stated, we revisited the Brumel programme that we sang in Hautecombe last year. This really is some of the most sublime music ever written and it was fantastic to sing it again, though in a very different setting this time. The Barber Institute of Fine Arts has a fantastic and intimate concert hall, however there is little resonance there. We therefore missed some of the implied polyphony which is often created by a more resonant acoustic. This was of course not detrimental, and just provided different performance challenges. We also had the opportunity to coach and sing with the Birmingham University Singers (BUS), a mixed group of predominantly undergraduate students. They were a charming and enthusiastic bunch who really responded to our suggestions. All in all, I think we put on a very good show. It was also fantastic to meet some members of the audience afterwards, one of whom had just purchased a copy of Conductus Vol I! I hope you have enjoyed listening to it!

I’m preparing to go to Glasgow on Friday for a concert with the men of the Gabrieli Consort. We will be singing a programme of spanish music constructed around the Morales Requiem. We’ll be performing in the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum which looks to be a spectacular space. I’ll post some photos over the weekend.

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.