New (and good) reviews for a new (and better) year
The latest in our series of recordings of Machaut's chansons has just been released by Hyperion Records. Entitled The Lion of Nobility, it includes a lengthy lai, as well as shorter, more intimate songs. It is an Editor's Choice in The Gramophone magazine. Ed Breen picks out the lai as one of the highlights, describing it as a 'headline performance ... rich, mesmeric and deeply moving'. Not to be outdone, Matt is praised for his rendition of Dame, se vous m’estes lonteinne. Ed Breen also points to the famous rondeau Ma fin est mon commencement, which he says 'is especially pleasing in this thoughtful, clear performance'.
Richard Turbet, writing in Early Music Review, is no less enthusiastic: 'The performances are outstanding. Individual members of the Consort have voices sufficiently good to carry off the solo items, yet they blend well, while rendering each line and Machaut’s delightful rhythms clearly. For example, the way the two voices round off Moult sui de bonne heure nee is exquisite. And there are no obtrusive instruments! Anyone seeking a reliable introduction to Machaut’s music, or seeking to expand their knowledge of it, can be confident of ample rewards in this fine recording.'
Our thanks to the reviewers for their kind words, and also, and always, to Simon Perry and Hyperion Records. You can purchase the album at the usual outlets, including directly from Hyperion here: https://www.hyperion-records.co.uk/dc.asp?dc=D_CDA68318. More than ever, small record companies need our support.
That was the year that wasn't
I suspect it's difficult for any of to look back on this year with any great fondness. None of The Orlando Consort would put their challenges ahead of those faced by those at the front line - the nurses, the doctors, the carers - nor would we bemoan our financial losses. Compared to those faced by people who have fallen through the various social fissures, we have fared well. Furthermore, we have all stayed in rude health. So we count ourselves amongst the lucky ones and do not seek sympathy. Rather, we would like to thank those who have worked so hard in such trying circumstances this year.
On a more parochial note, we would like to thank again the Arts Council of England for their support; without the ermergency grant it is entirely possible that the group would have ceased to exist. As it is, we hope to pick up the pieces in the coming months and fulfil the engagements that were postponed. We really look forward to that. And we look forward to meeting our audiences again, to performing for them and, hopefully, to appreciating more fully the music we perform, and the privilege of performing it.
Given the year that we have had, the few occasions on which the group has been able to perform are more cherished. We toured North America in January and February, taking in Vancouver, Seattle, San Francisco, Eau Claire, Nashville and Birmingham. We therefore saw old friends and made new ones. We also managed to complete a recording for Hyperion, our favourite and most-faithful record label. We made new videos, we gave a livestream performance of music by Machaut, we planned and devised new programmes. Whilst less in the public eye, we were busy. And we missed singing together.
Please do consider supporting artists of all nations in the coming years. It was Philip Larkin who said that ultimately all that survives of us is love, and though one can debate whether he was being ironic or genuine, the sentiment was really about a cultureal object: a sculpted tomb. Artists of all kinds create or bring alive works of art, and it is those artefacts that endure as expressions of a culture and a civilisation. The world creates art because it needs it, and we are lucky in that we get to partake in that process. But art has always had an economic context and relied upon patrons. So when you attend a concert or buy a CD, congratulate yourself that you, in a small way, have contributed to the arts.
We wish you all a very happy new year. 2021 will be better.
Back to business
Last Friday, the four of us trecked up to Loughton in Essex for a day of recording. This was to complete a disc of early Renaissance music from Florence, something that illness had intervened to scupper back in January. No, not Covid, but a bad cold and a loss of voice. Nothing worse than that. We arrived to find the church looking strangely inviting, the sun low in the sky, the remnants of early morning fog, and frost specked grass. Inside it was nice a warm and, best of all, we got to sing together again. That's a rarity, of course, though some of the London Sunday choirs have been working, albeit under new conditions, and there have even been a few studio-based recordings. But it's not like it was, and if this is the new normal then Lord help us. But we take what we can, and it really was a joy not just to be singing again but to be making music together (a phrase you don't find jaundiced pros using very often). Fingers crossed for 2021. Stay safe and stay sane.
Thank you to the National Lottery
A sincere thank you again to the Arts Council of England for their generous help during this parlous time by organising an emergency fund for groups and organisations like ours. Without it, we probably would no longer exist. But we must also extend our gratitude to the National Lottery and its players, for it is the revenue that it generates which in part funds the Arts Council. So every time you buy a ticket, you can be sure that some of the money will be going to the arts. Far be it from us to urge anyone to gamble, but I for one still buy my weekly tickets precisely because I know that a lot of the money goes to good causes. #ThanksToYou
The Noah Greenberg Award
Some good news today, most obviously in the form of the announcement of the Pfizer vaccine success, but also because we learned overnight that our future work on a CD, which will ultimately be part of our Machaut project, has been recognised by the performance committee of the American Musicological Society. The society is holding its annual meeting online this year, which means that there was no-one there to accept the award. The main credit must go to Dr Yolanda Plumley and Dr Anne Stone. It is they who will develop the website and provide us with the new editions from which we perform,. They have always been on hand to answer questions, offer advice and give encouragement. It sounds like we're blowing our own trumpets, but we feel that this collaboration exemplifies the spirit of the Noah Greenberg award and we are immensely grateful to the American Musicological Society for their decision.
Keeping a sense of proportion is important in this Covid-centred time so it was perhaps inevitable that we should have enjoyed our concert on Saturday night so much. It was six months since we had sung together, and it all came back very easily.
Broughton Castle, built in the fourteeth century, helped add a dash of authenticity, as did the chill in the hall, but we didn't really notice.
Fantastic, as well, to be singing Machaut again, a composer whom we know so well having recorded over eight discs of his music. If you would like to see the concert, then you still can.
An actual concert! Well, virtually.
Today, in Broughton Castle near Banbury in Oxfordshire, the four of us will gather together to perform for the first time since February of this year. Yes, we have a concert, or a gig as we tend to refer to it. We are singing a programme of songs from Guillaume de Machaut's Le Voir Dit for the Oxford Lieder Festival, which is staging its concerts and relaying them to its audience via livestreaming video. We commend the festival and hope that you might want to join us at 10pm GMT on October 10th. You can buy your tickets here.
Another lockdown video
While we are unable to sing together, we are planning new concerts and developing new projects. A new video offers a glimpse into two multimedia projects, the first of which, Voices Appeared, we have been touring successfully, the second of which, Listening to Pictures, we will be premiering in 2021. Please do take a look.
That rarest of all things ... a concert!
We've become very used to seeing concerts cancelled these last five months. It's as if locusts have descended on our diaries and stripped them bare, the most recent example being a performance in Vienna slated for later this month that has gone by the way because Austria has been placed on the quarantine list. That would have meant that we would have been required to self-isolate, a particular hardship that has a knock-on effect for partners, wives,children, even lodgers. And a further reason is the professional concern in that we would have been unable to honour a concert that has been in the diary for sometime now and which will take place on October 10 2020. So we're very pleased to announce our participation in the Oxford Lieder Festival.
We are obviously at the earlier end of the historical spectrum here. Much as we would all like to dust of Dichterliebe or Wintereisse, we will be singing Machaut. Our concert will be taking place in the rather grand venue of Broughton Castle and will be live-streamed. Please do support this enterprise and, indeed, The Orlando Consort by booking tickets.
A new video for a new era
As visitors to the website will know, all live performance for the group has been suspended for the forseeable future. We continue to chat to each other - Zoom has proved to be a good way of keeping up spirits and exchanging news - but we haven't seen each other in person since March. And, of course, we haven't sung together. Still, we haven't been idle and the result of our recent labours can now be viewed on YouTube. Do take a look and circulate a link for friends. It aims to answer some of the questions that we are frequently asked, and it is also a very swift and gentle guide to medieval music.
Madison Early Music Festival
Today, Saturday 11th July, we were due to be giving a concert in the Madison Early Music Festival. For obvious reasons, the concert cannot take place, though we are glad to say that it is only postponed rather than cancelled, and that a new date for July 2021 has been set.
The Festival asked us to create a short video from earlier performances, which, with the kind permission of the Library of Congress concerts, we have been able to do. We also include some video material we created for promotional purposes a few years’ back. Please take a look here (the video will go live at midnight GMT on July 11th). It includes some interesting original musical manuscripts, messages from the members of the group, and a spoken commentary that places the music in its historical context. For those of you interested in music and the manuscript sources, we are here providing you with more explanation.
We begin with Rose, liz, printemps, verdure, a chanson by Guillaume de Machaut, the great fourteenth-century poet and composer. Machaut very much paved the way for the fifteenth-century chanson composers that followed him, consolidating the poetic and musical forms, and investigating the themes of courtly love. He was an artist who had a strong sense of personal aesthetic identity, manifest most obviously in the careful collection of his oeuvre at various stages in his life. Fortunately, many of these manuscripts have survived and their beauty is obvious. The images of Machaut come from the Prologue to one of those collections, the so-called Machaut A manuscript, held in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France (BnF, ms. fr. 1584) and the music comes from the collection known to scholars as Machaut Vg.
Ave Regina coelorum (Hail, Queen of Heaven) is by the English composer, Walter Frye. Though a secular piece, this was the first in several of the Loire Valley Chansonniers. These were beautifully illustrated books created for rich patrons, which included the music and the poems of many fifteenth-century chansons (songs). What is so striking about these books is not just the detail and care lavished on the notation and the illustrations, but the fact that the books are so small. And incredible amount of detail is included in something roughly the same shape as your phone, albeit somewhat thicker. The images featured in the video are from the Laborde Chansonnier and the Leuven Chansonnier.
Adieu ces bons vins de Lannoys is by Guillaume Dufay. This is one of the group’s favourites, in part because the sentiments chime so obviously with our own experience of music and traval. The chanson is written (and dated in the manuscript) around 1425 and expresses Dufay’s regret to be leaving the region around Laon where he was then living as he has to travel to Italy for work. Much the same happens to us when we jet off around the world (or at least it used to happen to us), and we too lament leaving behind friends, family and wine. Of course, things have changed and one of the delights of travel is that we get to expand our beer and wine knowledge (and our waistlines).
The images of Dufay come from an illustration in Martin Le Franc’s Le Champion des Dames, and the original music is found only in a single source, Ox 213 (GB-Ob MS. Canon. Misc. 213), held in the Bodleian Library in Oxford.
The final piece is by the great Josquin des Prez, a frottola, In Te, Domine, Speravi (In thee, O Lord, I have put my trust). It’s found in Italian and Spanish sources, one of which, commissioned for Ferdinand II, is featured here (E-Mp 1335, Cancionero de Palacio). It’s a deceptively simple piece and doesn’t shout ‘Josquin’ in the way that some of his pieces do, but it’s as effortless and graceful as some of his more complex works. Besides, David Fallows reckons it’s by Josquin, and that’s enough for us.
The chanson that accompanies the video credits is another by Machaut, Je suis aussi com cils, and the original music is that found in the Machaut A manuscript (BnF, ms. fr. 1584). If you would like to purchase our most recent recording on which that track is found then please do so. We also encourage you to look at our other recordings in that series for Hyperion Records.
A positive note
It's sometimes difficult to discover the silver lining in the clouds that currently obscure the summer sun. We're all struggling different ways with lockdown, with illness, with a lack of focus, without specific tasks to fulfil, places to go or people to see. So to discover an article published in The New York Times today that mentions the small role that The Orlando Consort played in the romance of a New York couple is pleasing, to say the least. Dr Sigrid Carrie Gabler and Dr Manly Lin Romero, the former a nurse practitioner in neurology, the latter a music librarian, met in January 2019 and attended a concert entitled “Love’s Command: Sacred Poetry and Music” that we gave for Miller Theater at St Mary's on 46th Street, a regular venue. Fortunately, the performance didn't scare them away, and though it would be false to claim that we were responsible, they got married on June 26 of this year. Many congratulations to them both. We hope to see them back at 'Smoky Mary's' (as it is fondly known) in 2021.
A pressing question
When will we be singing again? As is obvious from our Concerts page, it's not going to happen in the coming months, and even if it does, it seems likely that till-now standard modes of concert presentation will have to change. Concert audiences will be spread out to observe social-distancing guidelines and there may well be a component of livestreaming or video-on-demand. We too will in all likelihood stand further apart, unless and until we can be sure that we have all had the virus and have sufficient antibodies to make us resistant to further infection, an issue that science itself has not been able to resolve. But will people readily accept watching us on their computer screen or smart television? The situation is further compounded by the necessity of travel. The majority of our concerts are outside of the country, and many countries, including the UK, are imposing quarantine restrictions. Even if a concert promoter is prepared to stage a concert, we have to get there. And get back. Safely.
One thing is clear, though: singing itself is not as inherently dangerous as has been often reported. Ed Ballard, a fellow singer, has read widely and written a cool and objective report in The Church Times, which is well worth reading. And Pat Ashworth has reported on Ed's piece in the same journal. A more impassioned plea comes from Richard Morrison in The Times (paywall), calling for support for a cultural sector that has been overlooked by the Government and indeed the Church, rather strangely given our thriving and much-envied choral tradition. Composers, conductors and singers have written a letter to The Guardian more recently, urging that action be taken. Their concern is understated but real; working lives are at risk.
We obviously endorse such rallying calls. By the same token, we are not blind to the risks of Covid-19 nor to the danger of our vested interests holding sway; we too will be guided by the science. But it is clear that, like theatre, our musical heritage is in peril. We will do everything we can, but we need more of the incredibly valuable help that the Arts Council of England has provided the group.
The Arts Council of England
It is with both considerable gratitude and some relief that we are able to announce that The Orlando Consort has received a grant from the Arts Council of England as part of their emergency funding for non-National Portfolio Organisations. The Orlando Consort receives no ongoing support from public or private sponsorship and relies on concerts and recordings to generate the necessary revenue to cover administrative and other direct overheads. That is fairly standard practice for small groups in the UK and somewhat different from Continental Europe, and while we take a certain pride in such fiscal independence, at times like these we are in considerable danger of sinking beneath the waves. The Arts Council has in the past funded many of our most adventurous and successful projects, such as Voices Appeared, Mantra and Scattered Rhymes. And when the group was in its infancy, various research projects helped us establish ourselves by working closely with the musicological community, and in staging concerts and workshops outside of metropolitan centres. We should also note here that much of the funding comes from the National Lottery, so if you occasionally take a flutter on its weekly draws you can take heart that, even if you lost your investment, the money is going to good causes. Thanks, then, to you, but in particular to the Arts Council of England and the National Lottery.
As you'll see if you scroll down, when last we updated the webpage we were holding on to two engagments, one for the Madison Early Music Festival and one for the Three Choirs Festival. It will probably come as no surprise to you that both of those events have been postponed until next year at the very earliest. We are very sorry to hear that and we extend our gratitude and sympathy to both organisations.
Three Choirs Festival
As you will see if you look at our concerts page, engagements have fallen by the wayside. The group diary has been effectively wiped, like all our surfaces should be at the moment, and the next time the four of us are meant to gather is in July for a performance at the Madison Early Music Festival. Beyond that is an engagement in Worcester for the Three Choirs Festival on 29 July. The festival is determined to go ahead and we applaud their spirit. Please support them and us by booking tickets. They don't go on sale until 22 April unless you are a member, and I will be posting a link here then as reminder. We will be presenting our film project, a live soundtrack of music composed or performed during the lifetime of Joan of Arc (c.1419-1431) to accompany Carl Theodor Dreyer's silent masterpiece, La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc (1928), a film that regularly makes lists of the top ten films of all time. Based on what our audiences have told us, we can assure you that it is a powerful and moving experience.
“The spectator was immersed in the fifteenth century...moved by the intensity of images and music.’ El Mundo
“[T]his is an exceptional achievement that reminds us just how potent the combination of silent film and live music can be.” The Guardian
[T]his now seems the benchmark score for Dreyer’s masterpiece." Classical Source
“A radical solution” The New Yorker
“a brilliant experiment” Cleveland Classical
“...a thought-provoking experiment that questioned the relationship between sound and image.” Musical Toronto
“Even without Dreyer’s searing film, to hear music of this immensely early period sung with such purity, wisdom, and insight is an inspiration” The Church Times
‘The vocal performance of the Orlando Consort was admirable, completing this marathon with unending elegance and lightness of touch, synchronising the smallest gestures and looks of the film with absolute precision.” Dreh Punkt Kultur
“If the film of Dreyer, in its inexorable advance to death at the stake of its protagonist, is distressing by itself, with this music, sung intensely during the hundred minutes by the five singers of the Orlando Consort, it is redoubled, together with an ability to stir our consciences and our emotions. Dreyer would have approved the experiment with enthusiasm and, from now on, it seems impossible to see the film again without it.” El País
The whole world is aware of the virus and how it has impacted our lives. The most pressing issue is, of course, the safety of those with compromised health, be it through age or chronic illnesses. Our hearts therefore go out to them first.
All of our concerts for the forthcoming months have been cancelled. One of the advantages of running the group ourselves is that over the years we have developed very good relationships with promoters and have thereby learned of the problems they confront. We thus share their frustration and disappointment, and also that of our audiences, members of which we always make a point of meeting after the concerts. All of the promoters have expressed the intent of rescheduling and we very much hope that this is possible.
In the meantime, we all wish you, our readers and listeners, the very best for the coming months. Many will have more times on their hands than is usual, so if you feel like developing your interest in the repertoire in which we specialise, then feel free to email us with any questions you might have at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also do your part by supporting Hyperion Records, again a good friend of the group. Besides our recordings, they have an amazing catalogue and their heart is absolutely in the right place.
Seville and Mantra
Please note that there is a performance of Mantra, our renaissance/Indian crossover project, in Seville next month, specifically on 18 March The concert has been in our diaries for a long time but the XXXVII Festival de Música Antigua de Sevilla has only just advertised it.
Flying in, flying out, carbon footprints and offsets
We are now back from our tour of North America. Judging by the response of audience and promoters alike, we count it as a success and we certainly all enjoyed and are immensely grateful to those who showed their support. You can read Don's perspective on the fortnight here. You might also want to read this review of the Seattle performance, though this may not be available in your country because of reasons of copyright.
As readers will be aware, climate change is a pressing issue for all of us. Over the years, we as singers have done more than our fair share of damage, often unwittingly or at least not wilfully, unaware of the real consequences of airline travel and the implications for the environment. But we can't ignore it any longer or fail to act, whatever certain self-serving politicians would have you believe. Given that the live musical performance is something that audiences still want, we will henceforth pay a carbon offset for all airline travel. There are various bodies to which one contribute and a variety of ways that the offset can make itself felt. We will thoroughly research this and can assure you that we will take this responsibility seriously. If you have any comments or questions then please contact us.
2020 began promisingly with a recording for Hyperion of a new project, details of which will follow in due course. Yes, a little mystery never does any harm. Suffice to say, the repertoire was both challenging and rewarding.
We are now off to North America for a six-concert tour, beginning on the West Coast in Vancouver, then working our way down to Palo Alto and Seattle. These first three concerts are of our film project, Voices Appeared, after which Rob flies home and the four remaining members head to Eau Claire, WI, Nashville, TN and Birmingham, AL. Don will be writing a blog and you can follow our progress here.
And in case you are interested, here are some pictures taken by Simon Perry, director of Hyperion Records, on our recent recordings.
Fresh-faced and bright-eyed: this must be an early take.
Don wearing his 'ficta' face. He adopts this when there is a thorny issue about manuscript accidentals, which is to say that notes that might need to be sharpened or flattened to accord with performance practice. Alternatively, he's just lost the plot and figures that looking intelligent might be the best approach.
Noises off. Perhaps it's the kids in the creche next door. Alternatively, Matt, like Don, is finding a suitable excuse for having made a mistake.
The four of us listening to playback, all in self-critical mode. The estimable Mark Brown, producer, seems to be amused by it all. The joke's on him. We were actually listening to the cricket commentary.
Something someone said has clearly made Mark laugh. Or maybe it was something that they sang?
Favourite recording of 2019
Richard Lawrence of The Gramophone has chosen our disk of Dufay as his favourite release of 2019. What better recommendation for a Xmas present can we offer you?
Further excellent reviews for A Single Rose
Some more great reviews for our most recent recording of Machaut's songs. This from The Sunday Times: 'With their stylish singing of a programme inspired by the floral imagery contained in the influential 13th-century poem Le Roman de la rose, the Orlando Consort’s four unaccompanied male singers ensure that these 14 beautiful virelais, ballades, rondeaux and motets still speak with eloquence and passion.' This from AllMusic.com: Countertenor Matthew Venner, tenors Mark Dobell and Angus Smith, and baritone Donald Greig sing with complete mastery of the intricate polyphony, odd harmonies, and complicated rhythms that are characteristic of Machaut's ars nova style, and maintain a purity of tone and line that keeps the music intelligible in the rather resonant acoustics of All Saints' Church, East Finchley, London.' And, finally, this from musicweb-international.com: 'if you are new to Machaut and indeed to this series, of which this the seventh in the Orlando Consort’s recordings, I strongly suggest that this disc, with its variety of forms and tempi, may be a good place to commence your journey.'
More recognition for Hyperion recordings
We have just learned that our Dufay disc has made the final shortlist for the Gramophone's Early Music Award for 2019 and that, coincidentally, our new recording of Machaut is one of the same publication's Editor's Choice for the month of October. Many thanks to Simon Perry and all at Hyperion Records for their continuing commitment to us, to the dedicated production team, and to the team of international musicologists who provide us with editions and guidance.
The Single Rose
And hot on the heels of our Dufay disc with its nomination comes the latest in our series of recordings of Machaut chansons. It has garnered three lovely reviews thus far, one in The Gramophone, one in BBC Music Magazine and one in Fanfare. Edward Breen, writing in The Gramophone says that "I love a big recording project planned with superb scholarship, lively programming and consistent performances, and this Machaut series on Hyperion has it all." Similarly complimentary is the reviewer for the BBC publication: ‘That evergreen theme of courtly love inspires in Machaut extraordinary harmonies and beautiful, primitive counterpoint. The singers combine pin-sharp tuning and gentle phrasing in this seductive collection.' Fr. Jerome Webber praises us for recording repertoire not recorded before and ends with a ringing endorsement: 'Grab this quickly if you want to see more of the series. Recommended without reserve'
Shortlisted for The Gramophone Award ... again.
Our new disc of chansons by Guillaume Dufay (see below) has been shortlisted for the Gramophone Ealry Music Award. This marks the fourth time one of our recordings for Hyperion has been recognised in this fashion and we are obviously keeping our fingers crossed. Either way, we urge you to go out and buy the disc on Itunes or on the Hyperion website. It's wonderful music, beguilingly simple yet profound, particularly the Lament for Constantinople.
Reviews of the new Dufay disc
It was wonderful to record and we're glad to say that it is now being warmly greeted. Most recently, The Sunday Times has praised our Dufay: Lament for Constantinople & other songs: The four voices of the Orlando Consort give spaciously beguiling performances of a choice selection, ranging from the moving lament for the fall of Constantinople, O tres piteulx, to songs of love unrequited and otherwise, and to a final artful drinking song, Puisque vous estez campieur.
The Gramophone has also made the disc its Editor's choice. 'You’re in expert hands here with The Orlando Consort' the editor says, 'and if that sounds like a cliché, it’s no less true, and that in-depth understanding of Dufay’s music leads to something very beautiful.'
Fabrice Fitch has written the main review, praising our tone, our tempi, our understanding of the music, and the balance of the programme. 'Like so many of the individual songs, the recital grows in stature with repeated listening.'. Hopefully that will encourage you to buy it. Modesty prevents us from agreeing, though we can certainly concur with the final line: 'Dufay is simply astonishing.' You can read the full review here.
The Times has also weighed in: 'the pleasures of voices weaving in striking counterpoint, and the combination, in this Consort’s hands, produces music-making of much fascination and joy. Wholeheartedly recommended.'
MusicWebInternational has commented on the group's 'beautiful balance ... and their tremendous concept of a suitable tempo for each song also of course their superb diction and use of vowels ... [E]ven if you have discs by other groups from other eras this will add perfectly to your collection.'
Fr. Jerome Weber, writing in Fanfare magazine, one of our regular and most erudite reviewers, sets the music in the context of scholarship, noting the coincidence of Alejandro Planchart’s monumental two-volume Guillaume Du Fay, his Life and Works (Cambridge, 2018) and our release. This gives us a chance to acknowledge the sad passing of a much-loved man, who was always immensely encouraging and kind to all of us in the Orlandos, providing guidance and editions on occasion. In fact, it was David Fallows, that other Dufay expert, who provided the editions for our disc, attending rehearsals and offering opinions. We're incredibly lucky to have such contact with both men. 'This splendid offering will serve as an ideal introduction to Guillaume Du Fay’s secular music for collectors who may have known mainly his sacred music. Highly recommended'
You can listen to an interview conducted by Robert Aubry-Davis with Donald Greig if you subscribe to the excellent Millenium of Music. You will also find earlier programs about the group and their recordings.
What's up, Doc?
Here's a post from Angus:
Performing Voices Appeared has been an exhilarating journey, not just for the amazing experience of singing 15th century to the extraordinary cinematic masterpiece that is La Passion d Jeanne d’Arc but also in the literal sense of travelling to concert halls, theatres, churches and even cinemas across the UK, Europe and North America. On many of those journeys you would have seen members of the Consort engaged in a number of activities such as watching films, catching up on TV box sets, reading, and attempting (Angus) and completing (Mark) crosswords. But very often Don has been otherwise engaged.
The cause dates back to Don’s brilliant idea to create a soundtrack for Dreyer’s landmark film of fifteenth-century vocal music composed or performed during the lifetime of Joan of Arc. It was one of those ideas that might seem obvious now, but that is pure hindsight. And even then, having the skill, dedication and sheer stamina to turn that nugget into a highly successful global project takes a lot of time and dedication. An absolutely huge amount, in fact.
One of the aspects Don has brought to the Joan project has been his insistence on rigorous research; if there was any angle that might have a bearing on his understanding of the film and its creation then Don wanted to know about it. There comes a point, I guess, when you start to realise that what you are learning may have previously been unknown or unconsidered. From there you may be in a position to evaluate and make a few conjectures in a way that nobody has done before. Maybe it was around that time that Don got the idea to do a PhD at the University of Nottingham: ‘Voices Appeared: Carl Theodor Dreyer’s La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc and Early Fifteenth Century Music – Live Music, Silent Film and Vocal Performance Practices.’ And so the process continued, with him scouring libraries and archives both home and abroad, and even learning Danish.
Which explains why, on trains, planes and even in automobiles, Don would very often be seen working away on his laptop – he was writing and honing his thesis. The work paid off handsomely too. Don has now been awarded his Doctorate and we are all thrilled for him. It is a fantastic achievement and we offer him our very warmest congratulations.
And who knows? He may now have time to watch a few more Hollywood movies on transatlantic flights. Though I suspect this isn’t the end of his research by a long chalk.
[If anyone feels the urge to read the thesis, then it can be downloaded here]
Home from home
For the metropolitan elite, or anyone who happens to be in London at the time, we invite you to come and see The Orlando Consort at an old and treasured venue: the Wigmore Hall on 25 April. The group began its career here, or at least one of our very earliest performances was given in the hall back in 1988. This is the first time that The Orlando Consort 2.0, so to speak, has appeared there, and will be giving a programme of mainly fifteenth-century English music, a repertoire of which we are very fond. Please come and join us. More information, including the opportunity to book your tickets, can be found here.
On the other side of the pond
We are now back from our tour of the USA and you can read about it on Matt's blog. You might also like to read a couple of articles published ahead of our performance of Voices Appeared in Columbus, OH: an article in the Columbus Dispatch and one from WOSO radio. Our concert in New York City for Miller Theatre was one of seven recommended concerts this weekend in The New York Times, and our performance of Voices Appeared in Portland received a very positive review from Allan Kozinn, formerly of The New York Times and now an occasional contributor to the Press Herald.
...and into 2019
2018 is now behind us and it's on to 2020. We begin the year in a familiar backyard: the USA. Our tour in January takes in New England, New York and Columbus, OH, with concerts and workshops at Dartmouth College, in Portland, ME, for our good friends at the Miller Theatre in New York City, and for 'Early Music in Columbus' (see concerts page for more details). Matt will be writing an account of our travels on his blog.
Beyond that, we will be recording our seventh disc for Hyperion of Machaut's extraordinary music and giving concerts in Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK, including our return to the Wigmore Hall on 25 April. More details will be posted soon.
More good reviews for the latest Machaut: The Gentle Physician
It's always heartwarming to read good reviews, the more so when it's the end of a long week. Here are two reviews from Allmusic.com and Clic musique. We have spared you the challenge of reading the original French text of the latter and hope that the translation doesn't offend or the condescending assumption of an English-speaking reader. Either way, if you want to read the full reviews then click on the links above.
From Allmusic.com: 'Machaut's vocal music has had no better advocates than the Orlando Consort, who have released six superb albums of his works, and continue to bring life to his intricate and intrinsically difficult music.'
And from Clic musique: 'The solo-voice virelais (tracks 2, 5, 7) are masterpieces of simplicity, clarity, and crystalline purity. The return of the refrain is never simply perceived as more of the same, but as the re-emergence of a delicate new moment. In the polyphonic pieces, a haunting magic emerges from the voices that accompany or gloss the main line with their vocalised melismas.'
Hopping across the pond
Somewhat later than anticipated, the final part of Angus's blog is now online. You can read it here.
New Machaut CD released and reviewed.
Hot on the heels of our nomination for the Gramophone Early Music award for Sovereign Beauty comes the latest release in our Machaut series: The Gentle Physician. It has received a lovely review in The Gramophone:
'As this recital progresses one is struck yet again with the sheer consistency of Machaut’s art. Despite recognisable phrases recurring from work to work, each piece has something to say. The Orlandos hit their stride in this series some time ago, and collectively they gel wonderfully ... exhilerating.
It is available for order here.
A return to Utrecht with Joan
The famous Utrecht Early Music Festival is well-known to the group. Indeed, the very first concert we gave outside the United Kingdom was there, so it was wonderful to be back this week with a performance of Voices Appeared. And given that Spain is similarly important to us, it was pleasing to see an extended review in the Spanish newspaper El Pais. My Spanish is not up to a detailed translation, but the reviewer singles out our performance as 'one of the great moments' of the festival. They conclude: 'If the film of Dreyer, in its inexorable advance to death at the stake of its protagonist, is distressing by itself, with this music, sung intensely during the hundred minutes by the five singers of the Orlando Consort, it is redoubled, together with an ability to stir our consciences and our emotions. Dreyer would have approved the experiment with enthusiasm and, from now on, it seems impossible to see the film again without it.'
Gramophone Award Nomination
We're very pleased to learn that the fourth CD of Machaut chansons, 'Sovereign Beauty', has been shortlisted for the Gramophone Early Music CD of the Year Award. Watch this space for more news. And, perhaps more importantly, treat yourself to a copy.
Joan revived in Salzburg
As reported below, we gave the 50th performance of Voices Appeared in Salzburg. It was well received as is shown by the various reviews. The Wiener Zeitung praised the vocal performances, describing the music as 'sparse, austere and yet so luminous', noting how the music chafed against the images yet created a new kind of unity. (Don, the film geek, suggests that the critic may have been referring subtly to 'Sound and Image', the 1928 manifesto by Sergei Eisenstein, Vsevolod Pudovkin, and Grigory Aleksandrov whcih argued that sound should exist in counterpoint to the image rather than merely aping it.)
The Neue Zürcher Zeitung noted the unquestionable impact of the film, and by extension the musical accompaniment, which sent the audience fleeing into the night. Though this might suggest that the audience wanted desperately to leave but were too polite, we would invite you to look at the full context of the report. It's also consistent of our experience of speaking to audiences after the film; people are profoundly moved, and perhaps a little surprised by quite how emotionally wrenching a silent film can be. The author of the review also singled out the careful synchronisation of music and image, praising our use of technology.
Dreh Punkt Kultur echoed these sentiments: The vocal performance of the Orlando Consort was admirable, completing this marathon with unending elegance and lightness of touch, synchronising the smallest gestures and looks of the film with absolute precision.
Next stop for us with the project is the Utrecht Early Music Festival at the end of August.
Setting up for the Salzburg performance. R-L: Don, Mark, Matt, Angus and Rob. And, above them, Maurice Schultz as the oleaginous Nicolas Loyseleur, Canon of Rouen in Carl Theodor Dreyer's La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc (1928).
Joan turns 50 in Salzburg
On Saturday 21 July, the group made its debut in the prestigious Salzburg Festival. The event was sold out, which is always pleasing, though in this case particularly so as it was coincidentally the 50th performance of Voices Appeared. It seems a long time ago now that we gave the first halting and challenging performance to an invited audience at King's College, London in January 2015, and the project has come a long way and earned a lot of air miles.
Many thanks to all who have supported us, including the Arts Council of England, who subsidised the project, all the promoters who trusted us enough to act as partners, and to Delma Tomlin and the National Centre for Early Music, who provided financial help and encouragement. Thanks also to the many concert promoters worldwide who have invited us to be part of their concert series. Thus far, we have given performances in the USA, Canada, Spain, Italy, Slovenia, Sweden, Germany, Denmark, Holland and the United Kingdom.
More good reviews for our most recent Machaut disk
Three very nice reviews, one from the ever-prestigious The Gramophone magazine, the other two from from the estimable online publications, Classical Source and MusicWeb International.
Fabrice Fitch, writing in The Gramaphone, notes that 'Hyperion’s Machaut series shows no sign of running out of puff.' He opines that 'the Orlandos project and enunciate Machaut’s French so well that one rarely reaches for the printed text' and praises the programming of the series.
David Truslove in Classical Source praises the 'finely-tuned ensemble' and says that 'the performers respond with unfailing commitment; the singing is distinctive throughout, and makes an especially rewarding experience.' Furthermore, 'these artists’ attention to detail in matters of phrasing, tonal weight, colour, nuance, subtlety, and the capacity for creating a narrative. Elsewhere, much is persuasive; a warm consoling tone is put to good use, such as in the despairing ‘Riches d’amour’ – which makes me reach for the repeat button.'
Richard Hanlon in MusicWeb International offers a richly detailed account of the disc, pointing out how the individuality of the voices serves Machaut's music particularly well: 'By considering these solo offerings, the listener gets a much greater insight into the parts that constitute the whole, as the constant wonder of the Orlando Consort lies in the complementarity of what are, on the face of it, very distinct, individual vocal personalities.'
Furthermore, 'Those who are collecting this excellent series need not hesitate. For those who aren’t and fancy dipping their toes in the waters of these fourteenth century polyphonic treasures I would argue that the present disc, varied in content as it is, makes an excellent starting point' We couldn't have put it any better.
To order the disk, please go here.
Some photos from Cremona
We were in Cremona last week for a concert of early Renaissance music sponsored by the Teatro Ponchielli di Cremona. Angus wasn't with us on this occasion, hard at work on the festival he runs for Music in the Round in Sheffield and so we had the pleasure of Jeremy Budd's musical company. Thanks to Marie-Suzy Vascotto for the photos, which were, obviously enough, of the rehehearsal
L-R: Matt, Mark, Jeremy, Don
Special halls produce imaginative solutions
We've just returned from a trip to Berlin, where we performed our 'Ambassadors' programme in the Pierre Boulez Saal. It's a new Frank Gehry-designed concert hall, and a special one – in the round, acoustically warm. It's also run by an imaginative management, a creative programming team, and produces the classiest concert booklets I have seen for many a year. The programme, another of Angus Smith's brainchildren, interleaves readings from diplomats to various European courts. Witty and moving by turns, it provides the audience with a social and historical background to what to some remains an esoteric repertoire. But it's great music and makes for an entertaining evening, judging from the audience's applause.
And it was certainly an enjoyable evening for us as well. The hall is built in the round, which doesn't exactly suit our usual concert formation, a gentle arc so we can hear and see each other, at least peripherally. So, in the rehearsal beforehand we tried out various positions and concluded that the best solution was for us to face inwards. That didn't mean that we universally presented backs to the audience, for each of us could still make eye contact with at least half the hall. And the acoustics were so good that it didn't mask anyone's sound or create problems of balance. It also meant we had far more engagement with each other and the music, perfect for medieval polyphony which is in many ways an idealised image of democracy where everyone contributes equally. We also moved between groups of pieces so that we could sing to those members of the audience to whom we had, for a while at least, been presenting our backs. All of that made for a rather convoluted if also slick choreography (though Don holds up his hand to sitting in the wrong the place on one occasion).
We salute Ole Bækhøj, whom some of us know of old, and Kirsten Dawes. Good luck to the hall and all your ventures, particularly the forthcoming open house on Webern, curated by Anna Carewe
A new Machaut disk
We're pleased to announce that the latest in our series of recordings of Machaut's chansons will soon be available to buy. Entitled Fortune's Child, it is the fifth to date, though there is much more to come. Click on the button below to hear a sample of one of the tracks, Riches d'amours, sung by Matt and Mark. Obviously we're going to urge you to buy it, but don't accept our word for it: read the first review of it on AllMusic.com, which praises the group for singing 'with remarkable virtuosity and freshness' to 'demonstrate [...] mastery of 's intricate counterpoint and complex rhythms, as well as the more challenging aspects of expression and interpretation of Ars nova vocal music.'
You can also take a look at this video, which includes audio of the first track of the disk, 'Gais et jolis'. To order the disk, please go here
It’s been a busy little patch for us recently. That’s how it goes: one week the group is chasing its tail, the next there is time to sit at home and update the website. We have been in Zurich, Florence, Nottingham and Catania in ten days, all the while popping back home for a flying visit, remidning our loved ones who we are and getting too little sleep. It’s always comforting at such times to have good reviews, such as that for our Nottingham concert ('When they sing, words are made to glow in their musical settings as they transport their listeners heavenwards via the spiritual world of the distant past...the four singers brought purity of vocal tone to everything they performed as well as pinpoint accuracy and complete transparency of musical textures. The effect was sometimes exotically strange but never less than sublimely beautiful.') And, when the performances are of Voices Appeared, it's reassuring when the technical side is handled as well as it was in both Zurich and Catania. The latter performance turned a church into a cinema, a suitably resonant (in every sense) venue. I’m not sure, though, what purists might think of putting the Virgin Mary’s name literally up in lights:
More positive reviews
And now back in the UK, we are basking in recent reviews in The Church Times for our Chiltern Arts Festival performance of Voices Appeared and one from Purdue of a performance of the same on our recent North America tour:
Even without Dreyer’s searing film, to hear music of this immensely early period sung with such purity, wisdom, and insight is an inspiration - The Church Times
Afterwards the crowd gave a round of uproarious applause to the group as they walked to the reception area where they met with audience members - The Purdue Exponent
The North America tour is now over and we would invite you to read Mark's highly entertaining blog here. Learn about Mark's brutal exercise regime, Angus's complex flight arrangements, Don's sick note, and much more.
The year is well underway and once again we find ourselves heading to North America, a continent on whose turf the group has probably spent nearly a calendar year in its thirty-year history. Mark Dobell will, by popular appeal, be blogging about our progress here.
There are many exciting events to come this year, including our debut at the prestigious Salzburg Festival, where we will be performing Voices Appeared. We will also be back in the studio for Hyperion, recording the seventh of our series of Machaut for Hyperion Records. Let the good times roll.
We come to the end of another busy year and, having just given two performances of our Medieval Xmas programme in York and Gdansk, it seems timely to cast an eye back of the last twelve months.
January saw us back in the studio recording the sixth of our Machaut disks for Hyperion. That won’t be released for some time yet, but July would see our fourth disk nominated as an Editor’s Choice in The Gramophone magazine, which made it one of their disks of the year.
February took us to Hamburg and a particularly moving performance of Voices Appeared in a church, an almost perfect venue for the film and the music. Then it was on to the USA in March for concerts in New York for our very good friends at Miller Theatre, thence to Charlottesville and Lancaster, PA for performances of Voices Appeared, then on to the West Coast for concerts in LA and San Diego. The summer saw us in Italy, Spain and the UK, and by October we were back in the USA for concerts in New York and D.C.
Good reviews have cheered us, so it’s nice to be able to cite the recent review in The York Press for our Xmas concert by way of signing off. They describe us as a ‘Rolls Royce vocal ensemble’ and they particularly enjoyed our ‘informative, often very witty, engagement with the audience.’
More positive reviews
We always chat with the audience after our concerts and often receive praise. Similarly we garner good reviews and enjoy the attention. But you never quite know, do you? Meeting people face to face makes it difficult to be direct with criticism, and music critics are similarly gracious. But when you get audience feedback passed on without invitation then it’s much easier to believe it. On which basis, getting the following reactions from our performances for the Lammermuir Festival were particularly gratifying, the more so because they picked us out from a very interesting line-up of artists and programmes.
'An amazing experience – Voices Appeared. The glorious sounds and the fabulous setting. Even more wonderful than expected. Thank you.'
'Love the innovations such as Jeanne d’Arc and the leaflet is right – Beautiful settings. Just keep it up – love more of the same.'
'Voices Appeared was amazing!'
'I much valued the chance to hear a wonderful professional vocal ensemble singing medieval polyphony – mostly Dufay – I found the church entirely absorbing and enchanting. I’ve still got other 18th century concerts and operas to attend. Well done!'
'Seven concerts this year – great standard. Highlight – Joan of Arc – but all terrific.'
The Orlando Consort in the USA
Read Don's blog of our Fall tour of the USA here.
It's a busy month, as was September with concerts in Scotland and Germany, and it's not over yet. We've just been recording some lovely music - chansons by Dufay, a composer who we've featured extensively in concert but to whom we have yet to devote an entire disk. We're glad to have corrected that, though it won't be out for a while. The experience was wonderful and along the way we've learned just how diverse his secular songs are, both in subject and treatment.
Next week we are off to Spain, then there's a concert here in England. And at the end of the month we return to the USA, to our old friends at Miller Theatre and to the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. We're not expecting a visit from President Trump... See the concerts page for more details.
More good reviews
Recently we performed Voices Appeared for the Lammermuir Festival, which returned us to St Mary's Church in Haddington where we recorded several disks for Harmonia Mundi USA. It was great to be back and the audience were enthusiastic, as was the reviewer for theartsdesk.com: 'even aside from the Orlando quintet’s exquisite performances, it worked wonderfully well on so many levels: sometimes simply as atmospheric background music, right through to the live voicing of specific chants and prayers from Dreyer’s ruthless inquisitors. And just like Dreyer’s images, the Consort’s accounts were ravishing in their beauty, but they also conveyed deeply held emotion. There was an unapologetic spiritual seriousness to the whole thing – one reflected in the hushed, reverential atmosphere of the evening overall – but it also showed just how powerful, and surprising, such an unexpected combination of movie and music can be.'
Thanks to all at the Festival who took such good care of us, and to the audience that welcomed us so warmly.
Our film project
Click on the video below to learn more about Voices Appeared, the live soundtrack of music from the lifetime of Joan of Arc that we perform to accompany screenings of Carl Theodor Dreyer's La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc (1928). It's where medieval music meets silent film.
View another video
Please have a look at our new video, which will tell you more about our ongoing project with Hyperion to record all of the polyphonic chansons of Guillaume de Machaut, together with some of the motets and solo song.
Sovereign Beauty reviewed and praised on BBC Radio 3 and The Daily Telegraph
Andrew McGregor reviewed Sovereign Beauty on Record Review last weekend (go to 1 hour and 14 minutes). You can hear Se quanque amours and his generous comments: 'The four voices of the Orlando Consort impressively weav[e] the composer’s counterpoint. It’s such refined, controlled singing, so observant of the nuances of Machaut’s poetry, the beauty and tone they generate hypnotic, whether in a solo vocal number like the virelai which follows or the contrapuntal complexity of the ballade we have just heard. It’s what the Orlando Consort was formed to do after all. This is the third volume of their Machaut series – this one’s called Sovereign Beauty and it’s new from Hyperion. Outstanding.' Thank you, Andrew.
And this from Ivan Hewett in The Daily Telegrpah
‘...the performances have a refined elegance about them, but that doesn’t mean they’re cold – far from it. The weave of voices makes an exotically strange and super-smooth sound, with a logic the ear soon learns to grasp.’ Thank you, Ivan.
Sovereign Beautry chosen as a Gramophone Editor's Choice
Sovereign Beauty, the new recording by The Orlando Consort and the fourth in the series of our Hyperion/Machaut discs, has received a wonderful review from Fabrice Fitch in The Gramophone and features as an Editor's Choice. He praises the 'fastidiously crafted ballade Se quanque Amours (reminiscent of Solage) and the two-voice Lay de consolation, a wonderfully judged postscript.' He gets quite carried away - 'this really is one bullseye after anothe' - but we're not complaining.Matt Venner and Angus Smith have been singled out in previous reviews, but this time it is Mark Dobell and Donald Greig who warrant comment, the former for his lyricism, the latter for 'a very moving Comment qu’a moy lonteinne.' This is 'The Orlandos at their very best, and if I hear a finer recording of 14th-century music this year I’ll be very surprised'
See below for a video preview.
Video preview of a new Machaut recording
Please take a look - and a listen - to tracks from our latest recording of music by Guillaume de Machaut. It is available for pre-order on iTunes here
Pre-order the next in our series for Hyperion of music by Machaut
The fourth of our recordings of the chansons of Guillaume de Machaut is available for pre-order on iTunes here and on the Hyperion website here. Entitled Sovereign Beauty, it features several motets amongst the collection of secular songs - rondeaus, solo virelais, the Lai de Consolation, and ballades. Jacques Boogart who, along with the rest of the team led by Yolanda Plumley, wrote the liner notes, offers an elegant summation:
'Whether he turned to the simplicity of the danced virelai or the increasingly complex polyphony of ballade and rondeau, whether he dealt with the poetic challenges of the lay or the intricacies of the learned motet, Machaut’s inventiveness made him endow each of his works with a singular and unique character. In his life-long musings over the problems of love, expressed in superb poetry and music, he achieved an impressive oeuvre of an astonishing variety. Thanks to his carefulness in preserving his works, we can, even after 700 years, enjoy Machaut’s creations afresh.'
Please show your support for the group and for Hyperion's dedication and philanthropy by ordering the CD in advance. Happy listening.
The group was in North America again in March and April of this year, with two performances in New York City, and one each in Charlottesville, Lancaster, PA, Los Angeles and San Diego. New York saw a performance of music by Loyset Compère, whose music the group has championed for many years and has two recordings to show for it. We also gave a pop-up concert for an appreciative and enthusiastic audience on the intimate stage of Miller Theatre itself. Once again we are indebted to Melissa Smey and her team for inviting us and making us feel so welcome. Charlottesville and Lancaster saw two performances of Voices Appeared, and our West Coast visit was for concerts of music related to the theme of gardens and gardenings. We are very grateful to Steven Wilson, soloist in his own right and singer with the excellent group New York Polyphony, for standing in at short notice and doing a truly extraordinary job.
Beneath the Northern Star reviews
Some very favourable reviews of our last release for Hyperion:
'The Orlando Consort sings this music one to a part, an unattested practice that gives it an oddly madrigalian quality. But their precise harmonies will satisfy their fans, and they have done a great service by releasing this largely unrecorded music,' wrote James Manheim in All music. Fabrice Fitch in The Gramophone was his usual generous and erudite self, opining that the group 'give Matthew Venner’s expressive countertenor full rein' in 'the top-voice-driven Credo by Excetre'. We are also praised for ' -revelling] in [an anonymous anonymous Credo's intricate textures.' Jerome Webber, a long-term admirer of the group, wrote a lovely review in Fanfare, describing the disk as a 'remarkable collection'. He says that we 'bring exquisite purity of tone, accuracy of intonation, and clarity of enunciation to music that they grasp intuitively. ...This is a valuable addition to recordings of early English polyphony, complementary to anything you already have. Highly recommended.'