The track you are listening to is from the Orlando Consort’s new CD of music by Guillaume de Machaut on Hyperion Records, cited as one of the best classical releases of 2013 by The New York Times. This is the first in a series of the complete chansons of the fourteenth century’s most famous poet and composer, a bold project, which benefits directly from a Leverhulme Trust project that will produce the first modern edition of Machaut’s complete poetry and music.
The CD is of music from Le Voir Dit, Machaut’s partly autobiographical, narrative poem about the ageing poet’s relationship with a young lady, Peronne. This ballade, Ploures dames, describes the poet on his deathbed, advising women to dress in black.
We're dragging ourselves into the social-media maelstrom and have charged Mark with the job of blogging our current US tour. Here are his entertaining offerings, most recent first. If you have any comments, then please submit them here:
Feb 16th, 4.30pm local time
[Below: St Mary's in Milwaukee, the venue for our last concert]
I am pleased to report that the audience did stay for the concert, and they seemed to enjoy it to boot. I will admit that by the end of the show I was running out of stamina and technique. I felt like an old car, all of whose component parts are still working fine, but whose engine needs retuning. One starts to hear little clicks; notes that used to be easy are suddenly really difficult, and often vice versa; final notes run out of juice earlier than expected. None of these are things I would expect an audience to pick up on, necessarily, but it all just leads one to the conclusion that it is time to rest.
We met plenty of the audience afterwards and did our best to answer their questions. Then Charles Sullivan, our promoter, took us out for dinner (apart from Don, who had plans to meet up with friends). It was a lovely and sociable evening, a fitting end to a successful tour.
I had planned to get up and go for a run this morning, but I had a terrible night's sleep, courtesy of the various and random noises in the night (both human and mysterious old building), so I skipped the run and went straight for one last belly-buster breakfast - oops. Matthew then headed off - his itinerary parts company with ours now as he is visiting family nearby - and the rest of us headed for the airport.
Moment of the day - we were all cheered up at Milwaukee airport by the sign after the security x-rays defining the area where people out their shoes and belts back on as a 'Recombobulation Area'. That is a fantastic piece of language, and the campaign to have it catch on begins here.
So that is about all there is to tell. It's time to head for home - I can't wait to see my beautiful wife and little boy, I'm out of clean clothes and my beard needs a trim as I am starting to look like a bushman. Unfortunately I have to head straight into a day of rehearsals and choral evensong when we land, but I am really looking forward to sleeping in my own bed tomorrow. Thanks to all who have stuck with me over the course of this blog (I love that I am still assuming you are plural) and have put up with my rambling thoughts, frequent gibberish and occasionally aggressive analysis of all the failings and foibles of air travel. We hope to welcome you back to another blog soon.
Live long and hocket.
Feb 15th, 4.00pm local time
Hello again. Today's answers are Saturday and Milwaukee.
We had a good crowd at the concert last night. There were lots of students, so naturally we assumed they were getting some credit towards their degrees by attending, but in fact it turned out that they were there because they wanted to be, which was very heartening. The reception afterwards turned out to be a brief punch and cookies affair (that peculiarly American concept), and then an early night was had by all.
What you don't want when you've hauled yourself out of bed at 5am is for the van taking you to the airport to arrive late. That is what happened though, and I jumped to the natural conclusion that it was to be the start of a long and arduous day of travel disasters. (For one thing, I couldn't get a seat assignment for what looked like a full flight to Atlanta). But if you are waiting for me to rant and rave and moan and groan like a latter-day Jeremiah - biblical reference there folks - I'm afraid I will have to disappoint you. The journey to the airport was smooth and quick, check-in was a breeze, security was efficient and I was allocated a seat at the gate with no fuss. I even had time to grab a bagel and a coffee.
It wasn't all plain sailing, of course. There was a young Neanderthal in my seat when I boarded our second flight, so to save him the trouble of moving I sat in the aisle instead, which he assured me was his designated seat. Except it wasn't. There ensued a lengthy and irksome game of musical chairs, not aided by the fact that the Neanderthal was trying to juggle a taco salad (sociable plane food!) while he finally bothered to check what seat he was supposed to be occupying. I know it's pedantic to get annoyed by this sort of behaviour, but it really isn't rocket science to match the number on your boarding pass to one on the plane, is it? And I know we can all make mistakes in that respect (we will have taken 8 flights on this tour, so you can get confused), but all I'm asking is that people TRY to follow the rules. As it is, well done genius, you made it into my blog...
However, with no further problems, we arrived on time, were met by a courteous driver and made the easy journey into Milwaukee. It's cold here, but dry, and I get the sense they are more used to winter than some other parts of the States, so the roads are clear and everything is functioning well. Hopefully that includes our voices. It's the last concert so despite tour fatigue setting in we need to try to make it a positive sprint down the back straight rather than a limp towards the finish line. As I write this, Angus and Matt are discharging a pre-concert talk, and soon we will sing for the knowledgeable Early Music Now audience. It sounds like there is a large audience for the talk, so hopefully they will all stay for the concert too!
Happy Valentine's Day to all in Blogland. We arrived (only a little bit delayed) in Baltimore and met up with Eric Stolzfus, our host. It seems to me we are destined always to drive through the rush hour wherever we visit on this tour, and the rush hour around Baltimore/Washington is notorious, so I was dreading the journey to Annapolis. For the wrong reason it turned out. Because of the aforementioned superstorms, the whole area was more or less on shutdown last night, so the roads were eerily deserted. It soon became apparent that the driving conditions were quite tricky, so I am really glad that Eric drove cautiously and sensibly to get us to our hotel, and we were all a little relieved to arrive safe and sound in one piece. Annapolis is a charming little town, and looked ever so pretty in the snow. We went around a corner to an Irish pub for dinner, which was delicious (and I even ate vegetables!).
This morning I went for a wander around town. I was prepared with my winter hat, but in fact it was very mild out, and the snow has melted quite rapidly. I bumped into Don who tipped me off to the wonderful Chick and Ruth's Delly (sic), possibly the most patriotic eatery in the world. Everything on their menu is named after firemen, policemen, former mayors or congressmen, and so on, and the whole place is festooned with banners celebrating American service personnel. I should add that my breakfast was stupendous, and very healthy. Only one of those is true.
We had a one-hour presentation at lunchtime to introduce our potential audience to the programme. It was nice to see enthusiastic faces and people seem genuinely excited that we are here. I then went for another wander down by the harbour and the naval academy, and retired to my room, where I have been lolling on my bed ever since. Sometimes the free time drags, other times it races by. I can achieve nothing for long periods of time better than anyone I know (although you are reading this blog...!).
I did manage to make contact with my family back home, but of course it made me feel sad to be so far away. Not because it's Valentine's Day - I'm ashamed to say I'm not very romantic and don't really believe in that, though naturally I miss my wife. But because today my little boy is 6 months old. He is so adorable and growing and changing so fast that I wish I didn't have to spend time apart from him. But no one seems to want to pay me to stay at home, so it is what it is I guess.
Tonight we will perform the same programme - in fact we are presenting the same one all the way round, with the exception of New York - followed by a reception. I don't suppose that will be a big event for us as we leave at 5.30am tomorrow to try to get to Milwaukee. Via Atlanta. I know. Wish us luck...
Feb 13th, 2.15pm local time
What a day that was. After just the five hours in the airport we finally got on a plane to Detroit. Well done Delta for getting us there. There's just one thing... Luggage. Oh.
We met Kevin at the airport, who drove us the 45 minutes or so to Ann Arbor, where I was able to spend a grand total of 17 minutes in my hotel room before heading out for the rehearsal. Mind you, it didn't take me long to unpack...
[Left: this is what our baggage carousel looked like]
So for the first time in my professional career I had to do a concert in my civvies. (That's a loathsome word but I can't think of a better one). And I have to say, it does have a weird effect on you. The audience were lovely, don't get me wrong, and of course it meant in some ways we had won them over without singing a note, but the whole ritual was disrupted. The concert felt like an out-of-body experience somehow. Like I was there but not there. At, but not in, the concert, if you know what I mean. I actually think it was a good show - there were some lovely moments - but it passed in a bit of a haze.
Better still, Chris Dempsey, the series promoter, bought us very welcome beers afterward and then took us out for dinner too. Wonderful hospitality, and just what the doctor ordered at the end of a seriously trying day.
The final incident to round it off? Someone let themselves into my room at half past midnight, the room having apparently been double booked. And then someone at the front desk followed up with a phone call at 12.45am to explain that the room had been double booked. I replied, as sardonically as I could, "yes, I noticed that". However, I want to put a shout out (as we young, cool people say) to the Campus Inn who were in every other way supremely helpful. Oh. And our luggage arrived in the middle of the night!
[Picture left: a real movie theater: Ann Arbor]
This morning was a slow burner. I went down to collect my luggage and was very surprised to see Don had not been up before me. I will explain to those that don't understand that Don is one of those people to whom sleep does not come easily. His usual response to the question "did you sleep well?" is a succinct "Drugs". It seems he took an extra dose in the night and slept right through to... 9.30.
Since I had been reunited with my belongings I had no excuse not to go for a run, so that is what I did. Well done me. And then had a massive brunch. Less well done me.
And now, Kevin has whisked us back to Detroit and we are waiting to board our next flight to Baltimore. There's been a lot of coverage of the snowstorms hitting the Eastern Seaboard ('storms of historical proportions' read the headline), so we don't really know how the travel is going to work out in the next few days. But we've had our bad karma now, right...?
Ed: Today called for the ultimate sacrifice by Don: using a Mac. This is him, sustained by a very fine pint of Bell's Two-hearted IPA, gritting his teeth and trying to access information about lost luggage:
February 12th, 11.00am local time
I can report that the concert was a success. The Zilkha Hall is a nice, intimate performing space, though considerably drier than the Cloisters, both acoustically and atmospherically. I'll be honest, it was not the quietest audience I've ever sung to. There was coughing, hearing aids and mobile phones (cell phones for American readers). And it was all being recorded for radio! At least they'll know it was live. We all had an early night after the concert, since we had an early start to get to the airport...
...to wait and wait and wait. As I write we are scheduled to leave three and a half hours late, but the aircraft we are to use is still fogbound in Atlanta. Apparently. It's one of those situations where it starts to look dicey whether we are going to make it in time for the concert. What can one do? Cross one's fingers and try not to get airport rage too badly. This challenges me more than most, as you will know if you have read any of my previous tour blogs. I can be anywhere on the spectrum from grumpy to homicidal in airports. Almost everything annoys me.
All right, since we have time, I'll treat you to a rant. I know it's what you've longed for. The thing is: is there any point in offering free wifi (brought to you by our sponsors, no less) if the wifi is so unreliable that you can't even check your emails?! I'm not trying to control the space programme here, or download the uncut version of Lord of the Rings in HD, I just want to do some basic admin. Is it too much to ask?
There. That's better. I'll let you know if we made it to Ann Arbor in time for the concert. The next time we have wifi.
Feb 11th, 3.00pm local time
Well, first things first. Don and Matt didn't make it back but instead agreed to meet us at Newark. Shuttle failure I gather. The hotel can expect a letter...
Relatively little happens on travel days, and yet they can be extremely wearing. Yesterday was one of those. Angus and I took the, ahem, scenic route to Newark. We dropped the car off, met Don and Matt, checked in, hung around, boarded the plane, and then everything slowed down. The flight was delayed, so we landed at Houston after 5pm. Which put us into the rush hour, so it took over an hour to get to our hotel. Where we waited twenty minutes to check in... And so on. Despite having done nothing more strenuous than sit in different vehicles, occasionally watching films (Enough Said and The Princess Bride, since you ask), I think we all felt ratty and worn out by the time we sat down for a delicious Mexican meal. I'm not always a fan of Mexican cuisine, as you will have read before, but this was very good. But O. M. G. The portion sizes! I barely got halfway through mine. I should negotiate paying half as much to receive merely a massive portion. You could have fed the Mexican army with this. Etc. etc.
And today? Well, today has been about hibernation. Partly because we are kind of tucked away by a freeway with no transport, partly because it's cold (yes, even in Houston), and partly because I'm just plain lazy, not much has been accomplished. I did at least manage to visit the gym and shift my not insubstantial carcass a bit. Woooo-ee, I am unfit. (Perhaps see all prior references to food and drink for a clue). I made myself run for a complete album's worth of music, so thank you Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (don't judge me). I thought there were 11 tracks but there were 12, which was nearly a fatal miscalculation. So I'm looking for shorter albums from now on. Suggestions welcome... All that remains is to return to my normal colour in time for tonight's concert. I'm looking forward to it - first half is Machaut's wonderful Le Voir Dit, second half is Greatest Hits of the Orlando Consort - insert jokes here. And we only sing it once. Today.
Feb 10th, 9.50am local time
Our concerts yesterday went extremely well. We were singing in the beautiful chapel of The Cloisters museum, a sort of reconstructed medieval Spanish chapel (but heated!). I won't describe in too much detail, as perhaps the elves who put this blog on the website (Don) will include a photo or a link. Suffice it to say it is a beautiful setting for a concert of medieval music. Most importantly for us it has a wonderful rich acoustic which served as a helping hand for four people recently off a transatlantic flight. I will be honest - it was hard work. I am a fan of the afternoon concert, though I maybe in a minority, but it is hard to give a good show to the 1 o'clock audience while reserving something for the 3 o'clock crowd. Plus our programme was also fractionally longer than it was meant to be, which curtailed our rest time. Angus takes the blame for this traditionally even though in this case it is not his fault. But these are small matters. We had enthusiastic and appreciative comments, which is all you can ask for.
In the evening our friendly shuttle driver Roy took us to a teeny tiny Thai restaurant (via a beer store). The food was delicious and the portions were soooo big. I don't remember ever having left Thai food on my plate before. And that was it really - an early night for all.
This morning Don has gone into New York for a meeting and Matt to pick up a dress (don't ask). I have oatmeal and coffee inside me and I have managed to FaceTime my family back home so all is good with the world. It is particularly fun to watch my little boy try to work out why his father is inside a screen. I do thank my lucky stars that this sort of technology is available now - we spend a lot of time away from home and it is so important not to miss out on him as he grows up.
And in an hour or so we will head to Newark airport, hopefully with Don and Matt having made it back out to Fort Lee. Today we swap leafy New Jersey for sun-baked Texas... I jest of course. We swap ice and snow for cold and wet. It's off to Houston for a concert tomorrow. No singing today at least.
Picture right: Matt being asked for ID when buying beer.
Picture left: Rehearsing in The Cloisters
Feb 9th, 8.30am local time
So, 2014 is upon us and the regular reader(s) of my blogs will be delighted to hear that it once more falls to me to be the official chronicler of this trip.
Since last I wrote I have become a father. I mention this not to elicit your good wishes - though I am sure they are forthcoming - but to provide you with a reason for my ramblings to be even more disjointed than usual. Many new fathers in the singing business look at touring as an opportunity to catch up on some sleep, and I will in the next week be no exception. This does not sit well with writing a blog. So I will have to be at my pithy and economical best... Oh well.
We flew from Heathrow to Newark yesterday. The flight was almost empty (brilliant). I watched a truly terrible movie (predictable). The queue for immigration was enormous (karma for the flight perhaps?). To be fair - and let it never be said I am an unreasonable man - they got us through in 40 minutes or so, so if you were hoping for a massive rant you'll have to look back at one of my other blogs...
Then a short drive to our hotel in Fort Lee, just outside New York City. At least it should have been. We have a new tradition it seems, to set off in the wrong direction on the NJ turnpike, adding 20 minutes and an unnecessary toll, while Don navigates leaning over his laptop as if he is hacking into the CIA mainframe. One of these we will stump up the cash for a satnav, but where is the fun in that?
Anyway, we made it in the end, and ventured out to a restaurant called The Wings Factory (better than it sounds) to uphold another tradition - the first night burger. Angus started this in the mid 1470s and it works very well for me since it takes away any need for decision-making with jet lag. And very good it was too, washed down with Lagunitas IPA. Matt went off piste and had wings (led astray by the name of the restaurant no doubt). I am not sure anyone comes back from a US tour looking particularly skinny, but in general the aim is not to put on too much weight (I would settle for even). Not sure it's off to a great start.
And this morning... Well, for me it's Eggs Benedict in the hotel. I can't help it, it's hard to steer away from it if it's on a menu - like Love Actually on TV. And it was gooood. Besides, I've been up since 4.30 so I figure I've earned it somehow. I met Don heading for oatmeal at Starbucks (his own tradition) and bumped into Angus dressed for the gym, which rather puts me to shame. Haven't seen Matt yet, but he's a new dad too so hopefully he will have slept better than I did.
And the itinerary for today? We have a short drive (navigation permitting) to The Cloisters in New York for two hour-long concerts at 1pm and 3pm. Don has designed us a nice programme - The Discourse of Medieval Love - which will be user-friendly both for us and the audience. We hope.
(Editor's note: tickets for today's concert and more information can be found here)
...and back to the USA
We're heading back across the pond for a concert tour that takes in five US cities: New York, Houston, Ann Arbor, Annapolis and Milwaukee. Aside from Ann Arbor, these are all return visits and we're greatly looking forward to it.
The first concerts are at The Cloisters, a perfect venue for us. The programme is entitled The Discourse of Medieval Love and features chansons by Machaut, our newest project. Do come along if you're at a loose end on a Sunday afternoon in February (9th to be exact - book tickets here).
For the other concerts, please check out the concerts page where full details can be found.
New York Times Best of 2013
A very nice ending to 2013 for us in the form of a review of the new Hyperion disk by James R. Oestreich in the New York Times: 'Here is exquisite if rarefied music from Machaut’s magnum opus,' he wrties, 'the “Livre dou Voir Dit” (“Book of the True Tale”), which consists of letters, lyrics and these songs, telling of a romance the composer carried on over great distances in the mid-14th century. The performances by the Orlando Consort of four male voices are masterly.' Well, that's very kind of you, Mr Oestreich, and we wish you a very happy holiday, as we do to all those who visit these pages.
I'm sure that The Church Times were being complimentary to Matt, but the following amused us. 'I get a shiver down the spine every time the alto Matthew Venner opens his mouth,. the reviewer wrote of the Le Voir Dit recording. Fortunately he went on to say: 'but he is not on all tracks; so you get to hear the marvellous sound that the other members make.'
North American contact
If you have any interest in booking The Orlando Consort for 2014-15 or 2015-16 then please write directly to firstname.lastname@example.org. He will be happy to talk with you about our future plans.
North America Tour
We're just back from the East Coast of America, having performed three concerts at Yale, in New York City and at Haverford College. Many thanks to all those who came along and to all the promoters who organised the events. Brains and bodies are a little battered after the experience, but we're all heartened by the wonderful reception and by the review of our concert for Miller Theatre in New York on Saturday. 'The consort’s performances all showed the consummate mastery and refinement, and each voice had its individual attractions,' was how Jame Oestreich put it.
...and hot on the heels of other fine reviews (see below) comes the voice of David Fallows in The Gramophone. Slightly tongue-in-cheek he says that it feels like the 70s again, by which we take it he means the emergence of a style of singing known in some quarters as the a cappella heresy: 'No instruments, just solo men's voices, singing text where there is text in the manuscripts, vocalising where there is none, always dead in tune, always beautifully balanced.' He praises Mark and Matt for 'the most magnificent articulation of the texts' supported by '[an] understanding of the lines gained from their senior colleagues' (which means Don and Angus). It is Angus, though, who garners the greatest praise: 'the unforgettable track here is Angus Smith performing the "Lay de Bon Esperance". This and Machaut's other lais must be among the greatest challenges before Wagner for any singer. He's terrific.' Again, we understand that to mean Angus, and not Wagner, and we all very much look forward to hearing Angus' Brünnhilde in due course.
November 2013 - USA
Soon we're off to the USA for three concerts. The first is at Yale on November 15th, a program(me) of music related to the Hundred Years War, including works by Machaut, Dufay, Dunstable and Frye. Then we're off to New York for a concert at St Mary's church on 46th St entitled 'A love Affair', wihich is a mutual celebration of the 25th anniversaries of both The Orlando Consort and the Milller Theater (November 16th). The folllowing day we head to Haverford College for another 25th-anniversary concert, of music by Machaut and various C15th composers like Dufay, Ockeghem, Josquin and Compère.
We very much hope to see you there (more details on concert page)
Reviews of 'Songs from Le Voir Dit'
This from The Daily Telegraph: 'Hauntingly and mellifluously sung by the four (but sometimes solo) voices of the Orlando Consort, this music still sounds as flavoursome as it must have done 650 years ago.'
From International Record Review, Andrew O'Connor remarks that 'this is an important and rewarding disc that any lover of Medieval music will want to own' and praises Yolanda Plumley's 'excellent booklet essay'.
Audiophile Audition gives the disc five stars and says that '[b]ased on these results the project is off to a fine start, with resonant, warm sound capturing the four male singers beautifully, making for a disc of notable importance and high quality.'
And this from europadisc.co.uk: 'The Orlando Consort sing these works without any instrumental accompaniment, yet there is no lack of colour or variety, and in performances of late medieval music this is about as good as it gets. As the first in a planned series of recordings of Machaut’s music by the Orlando Consort on Hyperion, this is a hugely promising start and a strong candidate for one of the discs of the year...simply marvellous!'
...and more recordings on the way
Last week The Orlando Consort was back in the 'studio' recording more music for release on Hyperion, coincidentally the 25th recording the group has undertaken. The next CD will be out next year. We also celebrated the 25th anniversary of the group with a small party at St Bride's in Fleet Street, courtesy of Robert Harre-Jones and the St Bride's authorities. The great and the good were gathered to celebrate with us, and all enjoyed a short recital of some of our favourite pieces. We were joined for a short section by Kuljit Bhamra and Shahid Khan and we performed with them some of the music from our Mantra project.
The pictures here show the true nature of the recording studio, this being a church in Essex. Unpromising as that may sound, it's remarkably quiiet - always a boon when it comes to recording - and welcoming.
New recording of Machaut for Hyperion
As visitors to this site will know, October sees the release of the first in a series of recordings for Hyperion Records of the chansons of Guillaume de Machaut. To celebrate this occasion we have uploaded a video of the group talking about the music and performing some of the pieces.
The recording is of songs from Machaut's Le Voir Dit, a narrative poem that describes the relationship between the ageing poet and his young, female admirer Peronne. The songs are hauntingly beautiful, miniatures of contained desire, each one carefully wrought and set within an arresting story that is elegantly described in the liner notes provided by Dr Yolanda Plumley, the project leader of an ongoing Leverhulme Trust-sponsored project to create the first complete modern edition of the poetry and music of this great composer.
The CD will soon be available from the usual outlets, though you may wish to visit the Hyperion website to learn more.
Photos from Leipzig
We've recieved some lovely photos of our time in Leipzig in the a cappella festival run by our good friends, Amacord. They were taken by Holger, one of the members of the group, and, as might be expected from a fellow-performer, capture us very well, rehearsing, performiing and relaxing. All photos permission of DREIECK MARKETING/Holger Schneider.
For this concert, we were joined by Charles (Daniels), esteemed former member of the group. It was great to have him along again and we're very grateful to Amacord for setting it up.
Right: a detail, which pretty much describes everything you need to be a singer: a watch (to tell you to be on and in time); a wedding ring (behind every singer is a supportive partner, ofte
n left at home); a pencil with a rubber (to annotate your score); an identity card (to remind you who you are, where you are and the promoter)
Left: at the end of the concert we were all presented with flowers and small boxes of Toffifee. All except Mark who, as a fan of the sweet, was awarded wtih a mammoth-size presentation pack by Daniel Knauft of Amacord.
Right: afterwards we were taken to a restaurant where we ate, and drank good German beer with our hosts.
It’s been a busy time recently, with concerts in Germany, Wales and England. Ashwell was the first of our recent outings, as part of the Ashwell Music Festival. It was our Anonymous Monk programme, which featured a local choir performing the plainchant and readings from letters by the eponymous narrator. Then it was off to Newbury for a pilgrimage all of our own. It was, as people in the UK know, a particularly cold May, but that didn’t deter the intrepid walkers who saw us perform a few pieces at the Organic Research Centre in Hamstead Marshall.and then trek across the fields in the driving rain to a more formal concert of music by Dufay, Compere and others. Then it was back to the farm for an authentic medieval dinner at which the Orlandos performed a few more rustic songs to round off proceedings.
The following week we were in Leipzig for a return visit to the a cappella festival run by our old friends, Amacord. They’re a five-voice vocal ensemble and, quite simply, the nicest and most genuine people you could ever hope to meet. Despite their hectic schedule of some 100 concerts a year and running their own record company, they somehow manage to organise a fantastic yearly festival. They not only invited the Orlando Consort, but also Charles Daniels, esteemed former member of the group, to perform some fantastic five-part music by Phinot, Clemens, Gombert and others. In our twenty-fifth anniversary year, it was a particular treat to work with Charles again.
After that it was to Wales for a concert of Mantra. As ever, the audience were enthusiastic. Shahid was his usual inspiring self, improvising a wonderful raga with Kuljit and Jonathan, and rounding off proceedings with some new nifty dance moves in the finale. Kuljit’s now-traditional ‘Bhamra lecture’ was entertaining and informative and Jonathan provided a brilliant mash-up of Dowland and three different ragas in his solo item.
We belted down the M4 and then it was back to Leipzig for the Gala concert of the a cappella Festival which saw us following Amacord onto stage to take the audience back to the very earliest close harmony. The joint winners of the competition then rounded off the first half and the second began with Huun-Huur-Tu, a group of Mongolian throat singers with whom we’d performed possibly our most bizarre concert in an aircraft hangar at RAF Leuchars in the East Neuk festival of 2008. The Leipzig concert was rounded off by the brilliant The Magnets and then all the performers and a fair few of the audience headed into the night for the post-festival party. As ever, we owe a great deal to Amacord for inviting us to participate, and also for being both bold and imaginative in including our more esoteric repertoire amidst such obviously crowd-pleasing repertoire.
Friday sees us at the Spitalfields festival giving our Food, Wine and Song programme.
Forde Abbey was where the Orlando Consort recorded their first album, way back in 1989, a disk of muisc by Phillipe De Vitry. Coincidentally, we are giving a concert there later this year, specifically on Thursday 19th September. The programme is very much a crowd-pleaser and at the same time an acceissible, broad survey of a variety of medieval musical styles. Entitled Food, Wine and Song, it features music from seven countires and spans more than three centuries. There are elegant chansons from France, bawdy villancicos from Spain, austerely beautiful organum from England and downright smut from Italy, and all the music is introduced in an informative fashion and with deft wit. The final German drinking songs are not to be missed. Tickets can be obtained at www.fordeabbey.co.uk, or you could ring the office on 01460 220231. Why not make a day of it and come and picnic in the grounds beforehand?
The following day, 20th September, we perform the same programme for the Cranbourne Farm Music Society, not far from Basingstoke in Hampshire. This small music society is very much a cottage-industry and we would urge you to show your support. Tickets can be obtained by writing to this email address:
The Orlando Consort is 25 years old this season. To celebrate this extraordinary event, we've compiled a video of interviews with the four current members. They discuss the formation of the group and future plans, including a new collaboration wtih Hyperion Records, further details of which be announced in due course. Please take a look.
Incidentally, we're all rather intrigued that an upload our recording of Machaut's Rose liz has received 22,000 views on YouTube. For reference, any such upload can, at the request of the record company or the group, be removed, but we're too flattered to do any such thing. Just search for Rose liz when you're on YouTube and add to the numbers. Oh, and don't forget to look at the new video. which is the real purpose of this post.
A very positive review here about the concert we gave on March 16th in Hove. (Note that Matthew Venner was unavailable and his place was taken by David Gould)
Martin Randall Travel
Martin Randall Travel, for whom the Orlando Consort has given many concerts over the years, are organising tours in both Spain and, more locally, in Yorkshire in 2013 and have invited us to appear. Details of each can be found bly cliking on the names above.
Recently we performed our programme related to the theme of gardens and gardening in medieval and renaissance music. The venue was College of St Hild and St Bede Chapel in Durham and we received a very positive review. The reviewer kindly picked all four of us out for mention and also noted that "each section of music was introduced by a member of the consort, all four of them having the gift of being able to combine erudition and wit." For the full review, click here
We're flying to the States for two concerts at the end of February and the beginning of March 2013. The first concert is at Wesleyan Univerisity in Miiddletown, CT, the second at Carthage College in Kenosha, WI. See the Concerts page for more details.
The Orlando Consort is now on Twitter. Go to @orlandoconsort and follow us. We'll be posting the odd comment, trailing concerts, reporting on events and generally keeping you informed about our work. Matt Venner, the youngest of us and thus the one most in touch with 'modern' trends, will be running the account. Do join in the discussion and direct message any questions you have.
Goodbye to 2012...and hello to 2013
Well, 2012 is over and with it another busy year for the Orlando Consort. The year began with a run of concerts and residencies – at Nottingham University and Durham University. We always enjoy working with students, be they composition students, as at Durham, or keen all-rounders such as we meet at Nottingham. There followed a quick trip to Ourense where the wonderful Conchi Da Silva runs a lovely little festival with the help of her husband, Juan. Further overseas concerts in 2012 included a return to Castelo Branco (with Mantra), Slovenia and various concerts throughout the UK, including a return to our friends at the Brighton Early Music Festival.
But we have also been back in the recording studio. The results of that will be announced with due pomp and ceremony in 2013 which, incidentally, marks the 25th anniversary of the group. So, yes, there will be a new Orlando Consort CD in 2013 and many more to come. Indeed, we will be back in the studio again in January and February of this year, and again in September. We also have two trips to the USA lined up, residencies in Bangor, Nottingham and Durham, concerts in the UK, Germany and Spain. And we’re still talking with promoters about other concerts. Keep an eye on the concerts page and try and catch us in 2013.
Happy New Year to all.
Striking new photographs
Recently the group had some new photographs taken by Eric Richmond. They will be available to promoters for publicity purposes, but in the meantime do have a look at a couple and see what you think.
The Anonymous Monk in Oundle and Sheffield
Over the years, The Anonymous Monk programme, a sequence of beautiful 12th- and 13th-century music introduced by readings, has proved to be a wonderful opportunity for amateur singers to get a taste of singing medieval music. It has been an equal hit with audiences.Two recent concerts are the proof of that.
At Oundle, The Orlando Consort worked with a group of singers brought together by the Oundle Music Trust. The Church Times wrote that ‘the singing of the Orlando...was beyond compare: rhythmically vital and pliant, delicate in the lower-voice trio.’ It also singled out Matt: ‘[T]he glory of the evening was the countertenor Matthew Venner,with his impeccable intonation and stylised French forward vowels. Honed by Ex Cathedra and already gathered in by The Sixteen, Venner is a singer of breathtaking talent and artistry. His three solo a cappella items, were delivered with such delicacy and relaxed confidence that one could happily have listened to him all evening.’
In Sheffield Cathedral, The Orlando Consort were ably supported by The Abbeydale Singers (click the name for link), the Songmen and Giirls of Sheffield Cathedral Choir. The Sheffield Telegraph spoke of the 'subtle shading and variance of dynamics by the massively accomplished Orlando Consort' and suggested that Matt's solos '[cried] out for specific mention.' Many thanks to the extra singers for their hard work and to Music in the Round for inviting us.
Matt's ears must be burning.
Matt and Don gave a workshop yesterday to The Diversity Choir, an LGBT community chamber choir. The choir were enjoying an annual weekend retreat and the members decided they'd like to understand a bit more about medieval music and the demands and rewards it offers small groups. They took to plainchant, anonymous C.14th English music and Dufay like proverbial ducks to water. A great choir that made us feel very welcome. Pictures to follow.
If you're interested in workshops given by members of The Orlando Consort, then contact us on email@example.com
A novel idea
Visitors to this website might well be interested to know that Don has written a novel. And it's being published. On Septebmer 1st, to be exact. Entitled Time Will Tell, it's set in the modern day and in the late medieval period and concerns a musical manuscript written by a C.15th composer. The true story of its genesis is told in a C.15th memoir by Ockeghem's right-hand man while the modern day story tells of its discovery by an American musicologist and his attempts to convince a British early-music group called Beyond Compère to give the piece its first performance. 'It's a serious subject,' Don says, 'but it's treated lightly with obvious elements of farce and a few codes along the way that need to be cracked. If you're an academic then there may well be historical details that will amuse you, but it's writtten for the lay reader and offers a behind-the-scenes glimpse of both academia and concert life.'
The following endorsements will offer you some further clues and, if you're interested, then you can buy it at Amazon in the UK and the US, as well as through bookstores and other retailers worldwide.
‘A fascinating double glimpse into the world of modern singers and medieval music’ - Terry Jones (Monty Python and author of Chaucer’s Knight)
‘A delightful romp through the passions and pretensions of the early-music world.’ - Sarah Dunant (Author of The Death of Venus and Sacred Hearts)
‘Funny, sharp and oddly compassionate, full of [Greig’s] experience of the world of early music performance and [his] deep knowledge of music history.’ - Charles Saumarez Smith – Secretary and Chief Executive, Royal Academy of Arts
‘This is one for lovers of The Name of the Rose and Possession ...and lovers of early music. Donald Greig's antihero lives in a thoroughly plausible academic world as he attempts to fit in with the equally plausible singers of the group Beyond Compère. The results are often hilarious as the story hurtles to its unexpected climax.’ - David Fallows - Emeritus Professor of Musicology at the University of Manchester and author of Josquin (2009)
We have just returned from Slovenia, where we gave a concert in the Radovlijca Festival, the oldest early-music festival in that country. Sadly Mark Dobell was unavailable, but we were delighted to have Steven Harrold (of The Hilliard Ensemble, amongst many others) with us.
Don was asked to do an interview for the television, the results of which can be viewed here. It also includes excerpts from the concert
Tim Thurston hosts a weekly show called Gloria on RTE, an Irish radio station. The brief of of the programme is a survey of "a millennium of sacred music from Gregorian Chant to contemporary Choral works". He has recently made a list of his top ten vocal ensembles, which includes The Orlando Consort. His suggested CD is THE ROSE, THE LILY AND THE WHORTLEBERRY - HARMONIA MUNDI HMU907398. For more, see here
2012: Old friends
2012 has seen the Orlando Consort back on familiar territory. The year began with concerts, workshops and more informal sessions at both Durham and Nottingham universities. We will be back there next year, again with the extraordinarily generous help of the Radcliffe Trust, which allows the group to give concerts and work with university students around the United Kingdom.
March saw us back in Ourense at the small, intimate Ourense Festival organised by Conchi da Sliva and Juan. The Orlando Consort sang at the very first concert in the first series back in 2008 and it was an honour to be there again, not just to perform there, but to spend time with Conchi and Juan, and the many other supporters of the festival.
More recently we have been back to Castelo Branco to see another old friend, Carlos Semedo, who runs the theatre in Castelo Branco, an enterprising venture which showcases local music and musicians, theatre, and film. The Orlando Consort were there performing Mantra.
Later this year will see us appearing in the UK, Holland and Slovenia
East Neuk Festival: Highlight of 2011
This from The Scotsman. The various critics were asked for their personal highlights of this year and this is how Claire Black responded:
Candles flickered beneath leaded windows and the chill night air inside St Monans Parish Church stilled. The Orlando Consort began to sing Guillaume de Machaut’s Messe de Nostre Dame, a 14th century polyphonic mass, and the hairs on the back of my neck stood up. This is what the East Neuk Festival does quite brilliantly – filling tiny, historic venues with world-class musicians for the benefit of a devoted – and growing – audience. It was my first year, but it won’t be my last. Next year’s starts on 27 June.
And so say all of us. Svend Brown, the artistic director, always comes up with brilliant programming ideas and places them in extraordinary settings. We wish him and Festival well for next year and thank him for inviting us to participate.
Florence and Singapore
We've visited a couple of extraordinary places in the past few weeks. First of all: Florence. As any casual lover of the Renaissance will know, this is a place full of wonderful churches stuffed to the gunnels with art. And music, of course, was an equally important part of that world; the sounds may have been lost, but they can be recreated. As part of Martin Randall Tours, we were invited to perform three concerts. The first was in the beautifaul Chiesa da Santa Trinita where we sang music of Dufay and other composers associated with the city. The following day we performed two concerts in the Tuscan countryside, specifically at the Villa La Ferdinanda in Artimino, some forty minutes from the centre of Florence. As ever, we were happy to meet our audience and mingle with them at lunch and, Florence being a small city, we also tended to bump into them on other occasions.
In November we jetted off to Singapore where we were performing two concerts of Mantra. Kuljit and Shahid were waiting for us - they had been visiting India - whilst the singers and Jonathan flew directly. Singapore is a real melting pot of cultures - Indian, British, Malaysian, Chinese - the perfect place then for a crossover project. The concerts were at the invitation of the National Museum of Singapore (see left) and took place in the Gallery Theatre on consecutive nights. The Orlando Consort also conducted a workshop for the music department of the University of Singapore. (see left).
Pictured below is the group and our hosts in the famous Raffles hotel. Many thanks to Lee Chor Lin for inviting us, to her staff for looking after us so well, and to Goh Ching Lee for taking care of all the details.
Left to Right: Angus; Goh Ching Lee - the Orlando Consort's new South East Asia agent and founder of CultureLink; Ms Lee Chor Lin - Director of the National Museum of Singapore; Shahid; Kuljit; Jonathan; Matt, Don; Mark.
Recently the Orlando Consort has been in
Wroclaw where we performed two concerts. The first was wiith a collection of local school choirs, some sixty in all, who were coached and conducted by Matt in the art of plainsong. The children's choir then accompanied the Consort in a performance of mainly thirteenth-century organum, with the adults performing the poilyphony.
The pictures above show Matt conducting the massed choirs, and the finale to the concert when the five teachers who instructed the children prior to Matt's arrival came up to the stage to receive their bows.
The second concert took place in a local restaurant which can trace its existence back to the fourteenth century. The programme was of medieval music with common themes of food and drink, the first half performed in a small hall, the second in the restaurant itself where the Consort performed shorter sets which interspersed the courses served to those lucky enough to have bough tickets. Mark doesn't always end up on the floor. Usually he's very good at holding his drink....
Matt and Venner
This spotted in a newsagents in Norway recently. We are assured that Mat and Venner means "Food and Friends" which is a comforting thought. If it had meant "Young and Forgetful" we wouldn't have been surpriised.
It’s been a busy summer for the Orlando Consort and an enjoyable one. In June we joined forces with Kuljit, Jon and Shahid for a collaboration with the Waltham Singers under their dynamic conductor Andrew Fardell. The first half featured Victoria’s Missa O Quam Gloriosum sung by the choir interspersed with motets sung by the four of us. The second half featured music from Mantra with the choir singing the choral parts with gusto and obvious pleasure. Andrew, incidentally, was at Kent University shortly after Don left his alma mater and, though they didn’t know each other at the time, has been a great supporter of the group. It was as Head of Music at New Hall School that Extempore II had its very first airing only a few days before we went into the studio to record it. We thank him and the Waltham Singers for their gracious hospitality.
In July we returned to East Neuk to sing two concerts. The first, featuring Stephen Burrows as the extra countertenor, was of the Ockeghem Requiem and related motets, an extraordinary work and one we much enjoy performing. The following day, Matt and Stephen flew home and Rob Macdonald joined Angus, Mark and Don to perform motets by De Vitry and the Machaut mass in the wonderful small church in St Monans, the venue at which we featured two world premieres by Tarik O’Regan and Giles Swayne three years ago. Whilst there, we paid our now-traditional visit to the Himalayas, the eighteen-hole putting green at St Andrews (Angus won, as he always does) and to a fantastic off licence with a fine selection of microbrewery ales from which Rob and Don had to be dragged away
Later in July we sang music by Dunstable and contemporaries in the famous York Early Music Festival, the concert broadcast by the BBC. It’s always great to be back in York; it feels very much the spiritual home of early music, not least through the efforts of Delma Tomlin, Director of York Early Music Festival and the National Centre for Early Music, who was awarded an MBE in 2008.
Then it was on to the Gower Festival and a performance of The Rose, the Lily and the Whortleberry in the church of St Mary, Rhossili on a spectacular summer’s day.
Shortly after that we were on the road to Schwäbisch-Gmund, a small Bavarian town which hosts an annual music festival. This was the second visit for the Orlando Consort and the first outing of Mantra in Germany. A late-night concert audience, initially unsure how to react in a church, led by Shahid’s robotic dancing, were by the end stamping and clapping.
August will see us all on well-deserved holidays and on the first of September we will be heading to Poland and the Wroclaw festival.
Mark Dobell: Star of stage and screen
Keen-eyed viewers of last week's Royal Wedding might have noticed a face familiar to those who have attended Orlando Consort concerts or studied this web site. Yes, your eyes weren't deceiving you: that was Mark singing in the Westminster Abbey Choir. It might surprise some of you. Was he moonlighting? The truth is that no man can live by medieval music alone; we're professional singers and appear in a variety of situations. Many of the faces you see in the early-music scene have benefited from training as choristers and are currently supported by paid Church work. Both Matt and Don were choristers at Westminster Abbey (Don having sung at the wedding of Princess Anne back in 1973) and Matt is now a vicar choral at St Paul's. Rumours that Matt is not talking to Mark because the Abbey 'got' the Royal Wedding and St Paul's didn't are exaggerated.
If you missed Mark's appearance, you might want to check out this video on YouTube. Mark was clearly popular with the director, making notable appearances at 0.54, 1.46 and 3.17. Also present was Robert Macdonald, the bass who has appeared on several Orlando Consort recordings and in concert with us.
February 2011 Tour Diary
"We often feel, when stranded out by a freeway in a hotel, that we have very little access to cultural activities. I would argue, however, that dining at a Waffle House is in itself a fascinating cultural experience....and if you want to experience cultural difference, try explaining to the regulars that you are over here to sing medieval music…"
Read Mark Dobell's wry, witty and entertaining report of our recent trip to the USA here
..as the England '66 World Cup Squad put it. Safely back in England after a visit to the USA for three concerts in Columbus, OH, Stockton, CA and New York, NY. Mark has been writing a diary so check back soon to discover about the the fire in Columbus, Sunday morning in Stockton, and our debut at Carnegie Hall.
All went very well, particularly the concert in New York which was a buzz for us all. Allan Kozinn, esteemed critic for the New York Times, had flagged the concert ahead of time ("a fine British quartet") and also wrote a review which referenced "the tightly blended sound that has long been its trademark". The full review can be found here.
Pictured right, Jennifer Flores - who took such good care of us at Carnegie Hall - holding the poster for the concert.
The picture below shows Argo curled up reading the New York Times review. From the baseball and the violin we can surmise that he's had a busy morning. Argo, incidentally, belongs to Robert Besen, our redoubtable US agent.
Medieval Song Network
Keen readers of this website may have noted that the Orlando Consort will be giving a concert as part of the Medieval Song Network, a research group based at the Institute for Musical Research. We're proud of our involvment with this project and invite you to visit their website which can be found here.
Radcliffe Trust residencies
It's been a busy start to the year. We've been working hard giving lectures and workshops in three universities - Bangor, Durham and Nottingham - as part of a residency scheme funded in part by a generous donation from the Radcliffe Trust. This has seen us advising on productions of The Marriage of Figaro and The Coronation of Poppea as well as music closer to our chosen period, that of the medieval era. As well as working with specialist ensembles and choirs, we have also worked with composition students informing them of the expectations that performers might have and the sometimes very real difficulties of realising their dreams in vocal form. As part of the residency we have also given concerts at each location and, well, experienced some of the local ale, only for reasons of research you understand. Our visit to Durham saw us working with the Egglescliffe Senior Girls Chamber Choir led by their inspirational teacher Matthew Haworth. We worked with them last year when we presented Mantra at the Sage in Gateshead. It was, as the Mantra collaboration proved to be, an inspirational afternoon and we encouraged them to trust in their (excellent) ensemble skills and ditch the conductor. They took to the idea with alacrity and had no difficulty at all in performing without Matthew's guidance, something which will stand them in good stead and help them to listen to each other in performance situations.
Well, what does 2011 bring for The Orlando Consort? January sees us busy in academic mode with three residencies at Bangor, Durham and Nottingham. In Bangor we will present workshops and seminars on medieval compositional techniques, the relationship between text and music, as well as more performance-based workshops with various university choirs and consorts. In Durham, as well as working with a local school choir, we will address and assess compositions by young composers offering insights into the difficulties they pose for performers and making suggestions prompted by their work. In Nottingham we will work with ensembles and also provide musical examples in teaching contexts. At all three universities we will give concerts. This work, an important part of our profile as an ensemble, has been made possible by the generous funding of the Radcliffe Trust whose mandate is to promote and encourage music.
February sees us heading across the pond for one of our short but intense tours. We will visit Columbus, OH were , in addition to giving a concert of music inspired by the theme of love, we will also present a small concert for local schoolchildren. Then it's across to the West Coast for a concert at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, CA, before returning to New York to give our first ever concert at the prestigious Carnegie Hall (see concerts page for full details).
Later in the year sees us giving more performances of the successful Mantra project in London and Germany, a collaboration with the Waltham Singers which will draw on the approach advanced with Mantra, as well as more mainstream concerts in Sheffield, London, and return visits to East Neuk, York, and the Gower peninsula.
There is also one further project which has now begun in earnest, namely our role as associate performing ensemble to the Leverhulme Trust-funded project, The Works of Guillaume de Machaut, led by Yolanda Plumley at the University of Exeter. The Orlando Consort will work alongside a team of scholars - Yolanda Plumley, Anne Stone, Jacques Boogaart, Barton Palmer and Uri Smilansky - to create the first modern-day edition of the complete poetry and music of Guillaume de Machaut. The resulting volumes will be published in print and online by Medieval Institute Publications and TEAMS/METS. A Digital Research Environment, a truly multimedia website, will host recordings made by The Orlando Consort, together with performers from Le Basile, of key musical examples and options to enhance the edition.
Matt and Julia's wedding
It's not often that we feature really personal news on this website, but we thought that Matt and Julia's wedding was worthy of comment. On Saturday 17th July Matthew Venner and Julia Hodges were married in Dulwich College Chapel. The choir, in which Angus and Don sang, was brilliantly conducted by Matt's dad, Jonathan Venner. The reception was held at Dulwich College where Matt teaches voice, and Matt's speech was delivered with applomb. Not once did he fumble with the microphone or drop it (a sometime feature of his announcements in Orlando Consort concerts) and no-one croaked out the immortal line heard in New York: "Your voice isn't loud enough!"
Suffice to say that Angus, Don and Mark would like to congratulate them both and wish the married couple every happiness.