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.
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.'