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 (

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.

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.