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Formed in 1988 by the Early Music Network of Great Britain, the Orlando Consort rapidly achieved a reputation as one of Europe’s most expert and consistently challenging groups performing repertoire from the years 1050 to 1550. Their work successfully combines captivating entertainment and fresh scholarly insight; the unique imagination and originality of their programming together with their superb vocal skills has marked the Consort out as the outstanding leaders of their field. The Consort has performed at many of Britain’s top festivals (including the BBC Proms and the Edinburgh International Festival) and has in recent years made visits to France, Holland, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Sweden, Poland, the Czech Republic, Estonia, the USA and Canada, South America, Singapore, Japan, Greece, Russia, Austria, Slovenia, Portugal and Spain.
The Consort's impressive discography for Saydisc, Metronome, Linn, Deutsche Grammophon and Harmonia Mundi USA includes a collection of music by John Dunstaple and ‘The Call of the Phoenix’, which were selected as Early Music CDs of the Year by Gramophone Magazine; their CDs of music by Compère, Machaut, Ockeghem, Josquin, ‘Popes and Anti-Popes’, ‘Saracen and Dove’ and ‘Passion’ have also all been short-listed. Machaut’s ‘Messe de Notre Dame’ and ‘Scattered Rhymes’, an outstanding new work by British composer Tarik O’Regan and featuring the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, was short-listed for a BBC Music Magazine Award. The Consort is currently pursuing an epic project to record all the songs of Guillaume de Machaut for Hyperion; the first release ('Le Voir Dit') was selected by New York Times critics as one of their favourite classical CD releases of 2013 and has since been followed by 7 much-praised recordings. Also on the Hyperion label are an anthology of music by Loyset Compère , a survey of 14th century English music, and a Gramophone Award-shortlisted collection of songs by Guillaume Dufay.
The Consort’s performances also embrace the spheres of contemporary music and improvisation: to date they have performed over 30 world premières and they have created striking collaborations with the jazz group Perfect Houseplants and, for a project exploring historic Portuguese and Goan music, the brilliant tabla player Kuljit Bhamra. Recent concert highlights include a return visit to New York's Carnegie Hall, the new Boulezsaal in Berlin, and a debut at the Salzburg Festival. The group continues to tour internationally with its grand project presenting Carl Theodor Dreyer's silent masterpiece 'La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc' with a soundscape of music from the period in which the film is set, namely the early 15th century.
I have been singing for as long as I can remember, joining my father's church choir at the tender age of six and then becoming a chorister at Westminster Abbey when I turned eight. From there, I went on to Bedford School where I carried on singing in the chapel choir and then I continued at university where I was a choral scholar at New College, Oxford.
My singing teacher at Bedford, Tim Jones, was (and still is) a Vicar Choral at St Paul's Cathedral in London. When I was in my last year at Oxford, an alto job came up at the Cathedral. Tim got in touch and suggested I apply. I did, was lucky enough to be appointed, and all of a sudden found myself with the slightly scary prospect of singing for a living. The Cathedral job is a flexible one where we are allowed, encouraged even, to work and travel with other professional ensembles. In 2008, Robert Jones stepped down from his post with the Orlando Consort; I auditioned and was thrilled to be appointed.
I now combine singing with the Orlandos and being a Vicar Choral with other freelance consort and solo work. I sing regularly with the Monteverdi Choir and The King's Consort and I travel to Poland several times a year to perform and record with the National Forum of Music in Wroclaw.
Away from work, I love spending time at home with my lovely wife Julia and our sons, William and Joshua. I can often be found doing Bootcamp sessions at our local park and I have become a keen but very amateur gardener. The Orlando's touring life influences things at home too: I am now an HBO addict and have a dedication to sampling as many new American Pale Ales as I can find.
Like many of my colleagues in the singing world, my path here has been at once the most natural and the most random thing in the world. I suppose I have been singing since I was very small (perhaps I should rephrase that - very young) in school choirs and so on. I even had a dabble at playing various instruments: my mother forced me to give up the violin, and I could only ever play 'Happy Birthday' on the saxophone, so I guess I discovered where my strength was pretty early on. Singing was still no more than a hobby when I found myself at Clare College, Cambridge, reading Classics. After three years as a choral scholar there, and unsure how best to use my Classics degree, I applied - successfully - for a job as a lay clerk at St George's, Windsor. It was only then that I gave serious thought to the rather ambitious notion of making a living out of singing. A rent-free flat in a castle can be a deceptive thing.
Three years later I started a postgraduate course at the Royal Academy of Music. Highlights of my two years there include a very exciting - for me, at any rate - operatic debut as the Male Chorus in Britten's Rape of Lucretia, and winning a prize for the best final recital. All the while I had been wheedling my way into various choirs and consort groups, as well as doing the almost statutory church work to make ends meet - the Brompton Oratory, followed by St Bride's Fleet Street. And then one day my boss at the time, one Robert Jones, invited me to do an audition - correction, two long and difficult auditions - for the Orlando Consort. That was in 2002 and since then, well, I've learnt an awful lot about very early music!
I left St Bride's in 2006 to take up a job at Westminster Abbey. When I'm not there or working with the Orlandos, I am usually to be found working with the Sixteen (you may be unfortunate enough to have seen me on tv in the recent BBC 'Sacred Music' series). I love to do solo work when I can, too, although it's been a while since I've been able to find the time to do opera.
I live in Sussex with my wonderful wife Susan, who is also a singer, and my equally wonderful son James (6 years old at the time of writing). In what spare time I do get, I enjoy playing golf (badly) and doing cryptic crosswords (less badly). I dabble in the garden and I actually enjoy constructing flat-pack furniture. I will watch almost any televised sport (nothing involving horses or cars), but I am a social media refusenik. And that's about all you need to know!
I was always into music - the usual school choirs, school orchestras, and so on - and was a very keen trumpeter, though I never saw myself going down that route full time. However, it was almost a spontaneous thought to give singing a go and, without fully realising the course I was setting out on, I managed to gain a choral scholarship to sing in the choir at St John's College, Cambridge, where I read history. In fact, it was a good thing that I got a choral award as my A level results were so poor that no other university would have accepted me. Still, I very much enjoyed the work (honest!), specialising in American history, and I benefitted from a fantastic musical training from the director of the John's choir, George Guest.
After that I undertook a post-graduate certificate in education, which sadly illustrated to me that I was not cut out to be a teacher, and the post-graduate vocal studies at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London studying with Ellis Keeler and, later on, the wonderful and much-missed tenor Anthony Rolfe Johnson. I was fortunate enough to be able to establish myself on the freelance singing circuit, working with some excellent groups (Monteverdi Choir, Taverner Consort, Tallis Scholars, Gabrieli Consort) and some top-rank conductors, and I have also done my fair share of solo work around the world. Increasingly my singing has focused on the Orlandos and I love the set-up: great music, much of it still undiscovered, and, through the one-voice-per-part format the responsibility for a quarter of the performance! I do think of this as chamber music and the rewards of participating in this will be familiar to anyone who has played in or listened to string quartets or other instrumental combinations.
I do a fair amount of the day-to-day administration for the group, but I am very happy that others look after all matters connected with the accounts. Chief amongst the pleasures is devising new programmes and I get immense satisfaction when a small nugget of an idea leads to a complete concert or recording programme. I love to connect music to other subjects - maybe this is my interest in history coming out again? - and our 'Food' project is a good example of this. The 350 years of music relates to fine dining, food production, shopping and double entendres of a dubious nature by the dozen, but the music itself is hugely varied and entertaining and provides a great entry point for audiences who may not necessarily have experience of our core repertoire period. It has also led to us having lots of post-concert, and sometimes even mid-concert meals hosted by generous promoters over many years!
Since late 2010 I have also been the Artistic Director of 'Music in the Round', a Sheffield-based organisation that presents chamber music on a local, regional and national basis. There is a very busy year-round schedule, with a Spring and Autumn series, a May Festival and masses of fantastic community and education work. Working closely with a great organisational and performing team I get to indulge my interests in furthering my musical horizons and devising concerts and projects. Without (hopefully) getting too philosophical about this, the portfolio of work that I am lucky enough to experience both as a performer and as an organiser reinforces my belief in the incredible communicative power of music and the conviction that this power is an immense force for good in the world in which we live.
With access to modern technology I can do a significant amount of my work from home and this allows me to spend lots of time with (keep tabs on?) my teenage daughters, Hannah and Megan. They are growing up so fast - I know, that's a cliché these days - and while we share loads of interests and tastes, they are individually developing into young women who I believe have exciting futures ahead of them. OK, so I am biased, I admit it. I am also proud.
I was born between Dunstable and Luton in England, a suitable location for someone who has ended up being an itinerant singer of early music; Dunstable is a famous C.15th English composer and Luton is infamous for its airport.
A rather predictable though by no means preplanned life for a singer of early music followed: Chorister at Westminster Abbey, Choral Scholar at Canterbury Cathedral.
After getting a First in English and Film Studies at the University of Kent at Canterbury followed by post-grad work in Film Theory and despite serious attempts to fly in the face of such an upbringing (taking in lecturing in Film Studies and Semiology, reviewing films, early acting promise squandered in walk-on roles), I ended up in the early music 'scene' in London.
More by luck than judgement, I was in the right place at the right time and joined Tallis Scholars in 1985. Similar good fortune followed in 1988 when I was a founder member of the Orlando Consort. Along the way there has been singing with Westminster Cathedral, Gothic Voices, Taverner Consort, Fretwork, Gabrieli Consort, Cardinall's Musick and many choruses. Also active in the pop/session/musicals world and general "gun for hire", I'm happy and eager to experiment with different vocal styles from pop to musicals. Hobbies include watching movies, TV (I'm a great fan of Deadwood), reading, listening to jazz, beer, shopping, sport, running, and following the unpredictable progress of the English cricket team. I also plan holidays and write.
My first novel, Time Will Tell (Thames River Press) was published in 2013. It's set in the world of early music, both in the present day and in the fifteenth century where the behaviour of composers like Josquin and Ockeghem comes under close scrutiny. I have also published several academic articles - in Screen, Early Music, Tijdschrift van de Vereniging voor Nederlandse muziekgeschiedenis, The Musical Times, Music and the Moving Image- and chapters in The Cambridge Companion to Recorded Music and The Oxford Handbook of Medievalism. My current research is on the intersections of early music and cinema.
Recordings with which I would be happy to be associated are the Tallis Scholars' recording of Josquin's Pange lingua and La sol fa re mi masses, anything by Gothic Voices I've been fortunate enough to be involved with, and all of the Orlando Consort's recordings.
I have given lectures and workshops in musicology at Harvard, Stanford, Notre Dame, Peabody Institute, Vanderbilt University, Georgetown University, Boston University, Boston College, Wellesley College, and at various conferences, including two annual meetings of the American Musicological Society. I am currently an Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Nottingham where I received my PhD in music.
Voices Appeared Project
The Hyperion Machaut Project
The Hyperion/Machaut Project
25 Years of The Orlando Consort