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.'
2017 - New Website
Welcome to the new website. The group has been busy already in 2017 with a trip to Washington, D.C. to work with The Folger Consort. There were two performances in Washington Cathedral on 6th and 7th January. And at the end of January we were back in the 'studio' (which is to say a church in Essex), recording more music for our ongoing series of Machaut's chanson for the ever-encouraging Hyperion record label.
We very much hope that you enjoy the new, clean lines of the new design. If you have any comments or suggestions, please don't hesitate to contact us.
Best wishes from us all.
Joan of Arc returns to Denmark (and Sweden)
We're finally getting the chance to perform Voices Appeared in the country of the film's director, Carl Theodor Dreyer. A performance in Aalborg on 27th September is followed by one in MalmÃ¶ the following day. And if anyone reads Swedish, then you can find a preview of the project here.
Review of The Burning Heart in The Observer
It's always heartening to receive a good review, the more so if you stumble across it blearily on a Sunday morning. Here, in full, is Fiona Maddocks's review of our most recent disk in The Observer.
This is the Orlando Consort's third recording of unaccompanied songs by Guillaume de Machaut (c1300-77). The idealised pains and pleasures of courtly love are captured with haunting intensity, variously melismatic, rhythmically playful and full of conundrums and puzzles, sensed but hardly understood by a modern listener. In the mysterious Cinc, un, trese, numbers are used to spell out a name, sung with cool precision by Matthew Vennercorrect (countertenor) and Angus Smith (tenor). Donald Greig (baritone) is a steadily burning lover, devoted to his hopeless cause, in the solo Tuit me penser. Mark Dobell (tenor) opens the disc with HÃ©, dame de vaillance, dying of love for want of a glance from his grey-eyed lady. All sing exquisitely.
Nomination for The Gramophone Awards 2016
Good news today in that the Loyset Compère recording, an excerpt of which you may very well be listening to right now, has been shortlisted for a prestigious Gramophone Award in the category of Early Music. Fingers crossed. It would a great fillip for composer who is all too often overlooked.
Reviews for new Machaut recording
Some wonderful reviews of the new release of the Machaut disk, this being number three in the series. Fabrice Fitch, writing in The Gramophone, describes it as 'offers a masterclass in maximum variety gleaned from minimal means' and as a 'very impressive recital'. Anthony Pryer in the BBC Music Magazine talks of an 'attractive, suave and measured' approach', and the Northern Echo praises it as 'alluring listening'. Andrew Benson-Wilson advises the listener to 'turn the lighting down and just let the music wash over and through you'. Several of the reviewers rightly acknowledge the musicological team behind the editions and the liner notes and, as ever, we are indebted to Yolanda Plumley, Barton Palmer, Uri Smilanksy, Anne Stone and Jacques Boogart.
Radio interview about Voices Appeared
Those of you interested in Voices Appeared might want to have a listen to a longer interview with Don, who designed the soundtrack. It has already aired on WZBC, WRFI, KZGM, and other Pacifica Radio Network affiliates in syndication in locations around the US on WZBC, WRFI, KZGM, and other Pacifica Radio Network affiliates in syndication in locations around the US. The interviewer, Toni Pennacchia, saw the performance we gave in Toronto and the interview itself took place on the telephone. http://spoileralertradio.libsyn.com/donaldgrieg
Pre-order the next in our Machaut series
Last week we were in the 'studio' again (actually a church in Loughton, Essex) recording more Machaut. Whilst there we were visited by Simon Perry, our renowned, respected and genuinely liked Boss (of Hyperion records). He brought with him the first pressings of our third Machaut release, A Burning Heart. As ever, it's beautifully produced in terms of sound and graphic design, with full texts and translations, and excellent notes. You can pre-order this at iTunes and we encourage you to do so. If you're never heard Machaut then this is an excellent (late) introduction. And if you're been following the Orlando Consort's previous recordings then you really won't want to miss it.
Voices Appeared: press and future plans
The 2015-16 season has seen the group very busy with several performances of the Voices Appeared project. As many of you will know, this is a live soundtrack compiled from music written and performed during the French patron Saint's lifetime, and accompanies screenings of Carl Theodor Dreyer's 1928 silent masterpiece, La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc. Described by The New Yorker as 'a radical solution', that is exactly what internationally acclaimed medieval vocal ensemble, The Orlando Consort, has done, drawing on its twenty-five years of experience of performing this specialist repertoire. Cleveland Classical said it was 'a brilliant experiment' and Musical Toronto as 'a thought-provoking experiment that question[s] the relationship between sound and image.'
Centring around the trial, the film focuses on the human voice and its power to accuse and reassure. Conflicting discourses, alternately cajoling and condemnatory, stage an unheard aural polyphony that finds an echo in medieval motets, antiphons, plainsong and discant. The soundtrack continually 'immerses the spectator in the fifteenth century...moving him/her by the intensity of images and music' (El Mundo). Classical Source opined that 'this now seems the benchmark score for Dreyer's masterpiece,' and The Guardian spoke of it as 'an exceptional achievement that reminds us just how potent the combination of silent film and live music can be.'
If the projecct is of interest to you then please contact us to discover how you migth bring this exciting project to your neck of the woods.
April 2016 Voices Appeared North America Tour
Follow Angus Smith's blog on our April 2016 North America tour, which includes performances in Houston, Toronto, Cleveland, Winston-Salem, Blacksburg and Raleigh-Durham
Follow Matt Venner as he blogs about our February 2016 North America tour
Voices Appeared for The Barbican
The final performance of the Arts Council of England Voices Appeared tour was last Friday for the Barbican at St Luke's Church in Old Street, Londond. It was sold out and marked the 26th performance since we premiered it almost a year ago. It's by no means the last performance - we're off to Spain next month and back to the USA in April - but it marks the end of a very important phase of the project. Many thanks to the Arts Council of England for their support, and to all our partners - the various promoters and the National Centre of Early Music - who showed such faith from the outset.
There's a lovely review of it by Tim Ashley in The Guardian: "this is an exceptional achievement that reminds us just how potent the combination of silent film and live music can be."
Be sure to read Mark's entertaining account of our January USA tour
Round-up of 2015
It's been a busy year from the group, notably with the new film project, Voices Appeared. We've nearly completed our Arts Council tour of England, the last engagement in January next year for The Barbican, and where ever we've gone we've been struck by the power of the film. People come away visibly shaken, and they're kind enough to say that they find the combination of music from the period with Dreyer's extraordinary film to be a very moving experience.
After the first experimental showing at King's, London, we made several small changes to the score, which have helped enormously. And what was a truly terrifying task, which even in the first rehearsals some of us thought might prove to be impossible, is now something that we take in our stride. Familiarity has also allowed us to push our emotional range, imbuing text and music with a force and vigour that we would normally find inappropriate to concert performance. And long may it continue, as indeed it will with many more performances planned for 2016, in the UK, Spain, Sweden, Denmark, Canada and the USA.
Even with that busy schedule, we found time to record two more CDs for Hyperion, the first being a further CD of music by Guillaume de Machaut and the second being of English music from the late C14th and C15th. Further notable concert performances included 'Dust and Ashes' for the Three Choirs Festival, a concert in Swidnica of early Renaissance repertoire, an exciting collaborative concert for Nottingham University, and a really enjoyable and stimulating residency at Wellesley College in October, including a lunchtime performance with the Chamber Singers.
A happy new year to all our followers and we very much hope to see you in 2016.
February 2016 North America Tour
London to Pittsburg, KS
And we're back! After two weeks at home - enough time to recharge and repack - we are in the US for the second of three tours here this year. We haven't got Rob with us this time as we're not performing the film project (we have more of those shows here in April) so it's just the four of us, returning to our core repertoire. We have six concerts lined up - five in five different States and one up in Montreal - so there's plenty of singing and travelling ahead. But today is a rest day after a long and tiring (but thankfully uneventful) journey from London. We'll probably end up in the gym at some point, call home, get some fresh air and then plan somewhere to go for dinner. Food is always our priority on tour...well, after beer. Oh, and we're going to rehearse in our hotel's conference room later - apologies to our fellow guests...
Matt gets some practice in for his new job as a hotel clerk
Pittsburg, KS to Birmingham, AL
The tour is well on it's way now. Our first concert last night was well-received, Angus's programming once again proving a hit. One audience member commented on the unexpected pleasure of having a history lesson mixed in with a wonderful concert (the programme - This Scepter'd Isle - touches upon all the Kings in Shakespeare's history plays). We were kindly looked after by Susan Marchant and her team at Pittsburg State and we're especially grateful to Susan for driving us to the airport at an ungodly hour this morning.
We're in the middle of a long travel day today, Mark noting that we've been in three States already - and that's before breakfast - with one more to go. But we know it's going to be worth it as we're meeting up with Jeff McLelland, on old friend and supporter of the group, in Birmingham, Alabama. We've a rehearsal with Jeff and his choir when we arrive then no doubt we'll retire to a local hostelry to catch up properly.
Before signing off for the day, we'd like to wish our friend Richard back in the UK all the best for a speedy recovery. Get well soon!
And not to be outdone, Mark too takes up position behind the desk: "I'll be right with you, sir"
As promised, Jeff and his team looked after us so well. We must have sampled at least five local beers in our short stay (Jeff takes his ale even more seriously than us) and after the concert we were treated to a wonderful reception in an amazing apartment overlooking the city. The concert itself was a real success. We shared the stage (or rather, the grand organ loft) with Jeff's fine choir of the Independent Presbyterian Church in Birmingham, taking it in turns to perform music from 16th Century France and England. It was another new programme for us, this time based on that great meeting of King Henry VIII and Francis I at the The Field of the Cloth of Gold in 1520.
Yesterday was a seriousy full-on day. From the moment we tried to check in at Birmingham airport, things got stressful. Delays to both our flights meant that we arrived in New York over two hours late but, miraculously and much to Mark's total surprise (Mark is not optimistic when it comes to airport efficiency), our bags arrived and we got to Carnegie Hall with enough time to rehearse. The warm welcome given by Jennifer Flores helped us unwind and relax before the show. As is often the case in the face of (albeit minor) adversity, we raised our game, and put the trials of the day behind us when we walked on stage. Performing at Carnegie is a real dream for musicians and we were determined to make the most of it. The concert had sold out and the audience gave us a very warm reception, calling us back on stage three times for more applause.
A couple of well earned drinks followed - the Amsterdam Alehouse is our usual haunt in New York - and we were joined by Melissa from Miller Theatre (another of our US friends who has become a great support to the group) and Mark's friend and CD-seller extrordinare, Joe. The only disappointment of the day was us not bumping into Kristen Chenoweth who was in the hall at the same time as us.
We're on our way to Canada now. It's my first time in the country and the weather forecast looks pretty typical (highs of -9c and lows of -16c). Two Canadian friends said I should try a Montreal Bagel, and Mark reckons I'd like Poutine: a local dish of chips, gravy...and cheese curd. Not sure about that one but I'll try anything once. Any more suggestions would be gratefully received.
Last night's concert went well. We were performing with Seton Hall's University Chamber Choir led by Jason Tramm. It was our Anonymous Monk programme and the choir did a great job, despite the challenging acoustic of a dry theatre. For many, it was their first time singing plainchant and, judging by the comments afterwards, they found it really rewarding. It was lovely to reconnect with Dena Levine too and we're really grateful to her for inviting us to New Jersey.
Not much more to report. Time to brush up on my 14th-century French pronunciation ready for tonight's Machaut...
Well, I'm pleased to report that everything I'd heard about Montreal was true. The people were incredibly friendly, it was unbelievably cold (-25c with the wind factored in), and the food lived up to it's hype. The Montreal Bagel was delicious (it even obeys Mark's second rule of food: that every dish can be improved with the addition of an egg), and it turns out that Poutine is the champion post-concert snack.
The hall - Salle de concert Bourgie - was a fantastic space: intimate but with the perfect acoustic for our Machaut programme. The festival hasn't been running long but Isolde LagacÃ© has turned it into a really successful series, with generous reviews from performers and audiences alike. Any small vocal groups and chamber ensembles wanting to perform in Montreal - this is the place to be.
We're on route to Boston now for the final concert of the tour. There's no let up in intensity though, not least because we've heard the concert is going to be recorded live for a future broadcast. Oh, and it's set to be even colder than Montreal...
And that's a wrap! Our last concert went well, with another warm and receptive audience in attendance. We were in the Congregational First Church over the river in Cambridge - a first for the consort despite it being our 7th visit to the Boston Early Music Festival. We were there at the invitation of Kathy Fay and we were so grateful that she came to the concert, having literally only just landed in Boston from a trip to France. We gave a pre-concert talk which always helps break down the audience/performer barrier. A little unintentional toilet humour helped this a long with Mark mentioning that our two latest recordings were in the can...
Following the concert, we met up with our friends in Ensemble Plus Ultra - another British group touring the States at the same time as us. It was great to see them and we wish them all the best for the rest of their tour. Do check out their website if you're in the area: http://www.ensembleplusultra.com
We caught the day flight rather than the red-eye back to London and were all home by 10pm - an extra bonus for ending the tour in Boston.
So that's all from us, till next time. We're back in the States for another Joan tour in April. Thanks for following!
Please find below Mark Dobell's daily blog about our current January 2016 USA tour
Sat 9th January
So Christmas has come and gone for another year, you've already broken all your New Year's resolutions and you are mired in the cold, dark days of January. What can possibly lift your spirits? How about an exciting account of the Orlando Consort's latest excursion to the USA?! Fear not, here I am.
We travel on this occasion not as four but five Early Music globetrotters, since our concerts require an extra voice in the form of low bass Rob Macdonald. He and Matt flew over yesterday and are enjoying a day's decompression in California, where they have been joined by Don, who flew over earlier this week to spend some time with Californian friends. So it is only Angus and I who are mad enough to take a 10-hour flight the day before the first concert. This has been necessitated in my case by other commitments tightly squeezed into my calendar, but also by my desire not to spend a night more than I have to away from my wife and son. My son is two now - hard to believe - and extremely good company, so it is truly a wrench to leave him at home. Expect more sentimental moaning along these lines as the tour goes on, but suffice it to say for now that the whole picture of touring changes when one has a family.
The flight was largely uneventful, which I always think a good thing in air travel. The food was quite good (by airline food standards), and I watched three films in between naps - The Martian, All The Presidents' Men, and Mr Holmes. The Martian was particularly good, although it did make me feel a bit homesick, predictably. All The Presidents' Men was great, though I was acutely aware of my ignorance of the events portrayed, and I'm afraid I found Mr Holmes a bit dull, despite the presence of Sir Ian McKellen and the lovely Laura Linney.
The usual chore of immigration was relatively easy. The Americans have come up with a number of kiosk systems to help people get through immigration more quickly (and electronically), which means very few people queuing for the old-fashioned human interaction that we love so much. As usual the officer was rude and condescending, but this is a constant in my experience. And of course, since that process was swift we did have to wait 45 minutes for our luggage. A bus journey to the car hire place followed, where Thrifty (name and shame - why not?) had no midsize cars available and wanted to make us wait an unspecified amount of time for one to arrive. Eventually they were persuaded to see sense and put us in an SUV instead, and Angus drove us (in the rain -yes, rain in California! I was outraged too) a couple of hours north to Santa Barbara.
There we checked into our hotel - hotel Milo, a charming place a stone's throw from the ocean - and met up with the rest of the team for the obligatory first night beer and burger at the Brewhouse (a pub which does exactly what it says on the tin). And then I'm afraid it was a pretty early night for me - I'm not as good at 32-hour days as I used to be.
Sun 10th January
I awoke at 4am, and dozed until 5. This sounds bad, but it's only a couple of hours earlier than my boy wakes me up at home. More rain, I'm sorry to report. I know it's good news for California which needs quite a lot of rain, but given most of the U.K. Is almost underwater at the moment I was rather hoping for some Californian vitamin D.
Today we had our first concert, in Hahn Hall a couple of miles along the coast. It's the Voices Appeared project, which is to say the live soundtrack to the Joan of Arc film. We have done a lot of these concerts in the last year (about 20 I believe) so musically it feels nice and familiar, though believe it or not we are still tweaking it even now. The challenge is instead one of stamina - the film is 96 minutes long, and we are singing more or less continuously for that time. And of course there is the technical challenge of setting up stands, monitors, the screen and so on, which has been done with very varied degrees of success over the course of the last year. I'm pleased to say we were very well looked after here, and the film played perfectly. The audience seemed extremely engaged, with good audible reactions at the key moments, and the feedback we had afterwards was very positive. It's not always easy for people to say they have enjoyed the film, as it is powerful and harrowing, but as long as they were moved we feel we have done our job.
I must say I am a fan of the afternoon concert in general. It is a good time to sing and you get to enjoy your evening, and eat dinner at a reasonable hour. On this occasion I was especially grateful because I think I would have slept through some of it if we had been on in the evening... Afterwards we returned to the Brewhouse for a beer and a plate, and then my bed beckoned early again.
Mon 11th January
Monday presented us with that rare treat, a complete day off. Usually on tour one has at least to travel on the non-concert days, but on this occasion we were left to our own devices. And I am pleased to say the weather cheered up to make it all the sweeter.
I wish I could tell you that I was super-productive all day, but that would be a lie. I did accomplish a few things: I went for a long stroll up and down State Street, I bought a new tablet for my wife, and I bought myself some clothes. This was all by way of cheering myself up after a video chat with my son back in England, who burst into tears and repeatedly asked "Daddy home?", which I don't need to tell you is difficult to bear. Still, buying shiny new tech and clothes is a long-attested cure for the blues (not to mention assisting the US economy...), and I do love Santa Barbara in the sunshine. It has the most wonderful chilled-out vibe. I feel in some ways that I am transported back in time - the buildings feel rather dated and preserved. And there are some excellent street 'characters' - the many homeless people who have sensibly worked out that if one has to spend most of one's life outside you can do worse than head for a place that lays claim to 300 days of sunshine per year.
Later in the afternoon Don, Matt and I went to see the new Tarantino flick at the cinema. We made up about half of the audience which makes you wonder how the old movie theatre makes ends meet, but I have to say I really enjoyed the film. It's silly and violent in equal measure, exactly what you would expect from Tarantino. Afterwards we went for a beer and a bite and then home to pack.
Tues 12th January
Today we left Santa Barbara and headed back down the coast to LA for a flight to Sacramento. Both cars got stuck in traffic following an accident on the main route. Angus and I took a very scenic detour, with the sea on the right and the mountains on the left, but still got held up in bad traffic in Malibu. Nonetheless we had all been cautious enough that we made our plane with ease. After a short flight to Sacramento, we were met by driver Mike, who ferried us to Davis, our home for the next four days. Here we are to give a concert of music by Cipriano da Rore, for a colloquium of academics, as well as taking part in some lectures and workshops, and a Joan of Arc concert to finish on Friday. But with the afternoon and evening open to us, we pursued our individual leisure activities. In your correspondent's case, this involved hauling his creaking carcass onto a treadmill for a while. Don had a quiet night in and the other four of us ventured out for an Indian meal. Indian cuisine in America has not always been a huge success in my experience, but this was a decent effort, if not quite up to the curry houses we take for granted in the UK. Rob and I rounded the evening off by squeezing in a pint at the Beer University, a pub with 60 impressive taps.
Wed 13th January
I awoke to a brighter day, and set out to explore Davis. A short wander from our hotel took me to the Davis Arboretum, through which I strolled to the main campus. The campus is large and nestles up against the town, which seems to me to give students here the best of both worlds. You don't often get to refer to a university's arboretum either... It still managed somehow to rain on me during my walk - one could easily forget we were still in California.
If I thought the campus was impressive, nothing could have prepared me for the concert hall. The Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts is about 12 years old, and it is no exaggeration to call it a world class facility. We had been scheduled to sing in the (smaller) Vanderhoef Studio Theater, but gratifyingly we had outsold it, so were moved into the (main) Jackson Hall. This is an enormous 2000-seat space, with beautiful light wood panelling (I am told from redwoods dragged from the bottom of lakes!) and a magnificent acoustic. Our little concert felt rather small in the surroundings, in which you could easily stage grand opera.
We had a lengthy rehearsal to brush up our de Rore. We do not often perform an entire programme almost exclusively devoted to one composer (to be precise, we did sing one piece by Lassus and one by Jacquet de Mantua, as well as a new composition inspired by a de Rore madrigal), and it is a mixed blessing. On the one hand one really has the chance to immerse oneself in the style of the composer, but on the other it can be a challenge to imbue the music with sufficient variety to make the concert interesting. In this case we were also performing to some of the world's leading specialists in this music, who all no doubt knew the music inside out. So no pressure then! I was also concerned because it was an 8pm concert, which would mean that I would be on stage past the time I had been falling asleep the previous few days.
In the event I am pleased to report the concert a great success. We acquitted ourselves well, got our teeth round the Italian, and received very pleasant feedback from the gathered academics and other audience members. We even had time to debrief in the Davis Beer Shop afterwards.
Thurs 14th January
A much colder day today. I can't help feeling the weather gods want to prepare me for winter back home.
This morning we took part in the Cipriano de Rore conference, as guinea pigs in a debate between two scholars, Ross Duffin and Jeffrey Levenberg, on tuning systems. If that sounds dry and a bit complicated then you have the right idea! I won't go too far into the specifics, except to say that Ross Duffin was arguing for a system of Just Temperament, and Jeffrey Levenberg for Mean Temperament, in the music of the period of Cipriano de Rore. To be honest I felt like a total ignoramus, being a humble practising musician who doesn't have any qualification whatsoever in music theory. I didn't even really know my diatonic semitones from my chromatic semitones - ha! In any case it was interesting to watch these two arguing against one another, both nobly committed to their principles. I am not going to declare a winner either, sorry.
After that we were treated to a lunchtime concert of music by (you guessed it) Cipriano de Rore, performed by the University's Early Music Ensemble - numbering 20 or so - and a consort of five viols. It was a nice, informal occasion, and I thought the students did a good job of getting round some tricky repertoire. Then we let the academics get back to their intellectual sparring and went our separate ways. I chipped away at a mountain of admin, went for a run - groan - and then undid all that effort with a fantastic pizza. Oh well.
Fri 15th January
We had a free morning, during which your correspondent caught up with some more admin (does it ever stop?!), and then our official duties bag an with a choral workshop with the Early Music Ensemble. They are a lovely bunch, enthusiastic and friendly, and very ably led by their conductor, Matilda Hofman, whose clear and decisive conduct in belies a somewhat bashful manner.
[In fact, it turns out that not only did Matilda attend the same universities as me (Clare College, Cambridge and the Royal Academy of Music), and even start off as a classicist at Clare, but she also conducted my wife in an opera project some 15 years ago. So it was especially good to catch up with her.]
Matilda cut her teeth with orchestral conducting, which you can tell from her expansive gestures, but sadly for her the Symphony Orchestra already has a conductor - her husband. Anyway, it was an excellent session, in which we worked on the pieces that the Ensemble had sung to us yesterday, and we offered lots of interpretative and technical suggestions. Strangely, tuning wasn't mentioned much, and we certainly didn't discuss the relative merits of Just or Mean temperament with them. Different crowd, I guess!
Next we did the technical set-up and check for our Joan of Arc concert in the evening. Once everything was set up just so, we had a couple of hours off before the concert. The concert itself went well, though from a personal standpoint it took me a while to get my concentration exactly where it should be. I was easily distracted by amusing things happening, such as Don repeatedly hitting his music stand when he conducted, and a man in the audience snoring himself awake. I suppose it could have been a woman come to think of it, but I hope not. Most of my little blips were conducting errors, which is in no small part because I am a terrible conductor. According to popular psychology one ought to become professional standard at any pursuit with 10,000 hours of practice. Well, I'm nowhere near that amount of time yet, but I reckon I could prove them wrong...
And after the usual meeting and greeting of the audience in the foyer, we repaired to the Davis Beer Shoppe (to give it its proper spelling this time) to chase away the adrenaline before bed.
Sat 16th January
Today we bade farewell to Davis. We made an early start from the hotel and were taken back to Sacramento Airport for the short flight back to LA. Finally - FINALLY - we had what I would term proper Californian sunshine. And it was gooooood. In fact it managed to distract us from the Groundhog Day of going back to Thrifty and picking up another car. The bus was crowded on the way to the car hire offices, so Angus and I worked out a good ruse by which he got to the front of the queue while I retrieved his luggage. So we got away ahead of the other car. It's a small victory but you need these things to feel good at this stage of a tour. It was under an hour to Costa Mesa, Orange County, our next destination.
I had a bite of lunch and a rest, and wandered over to the Segerstrom Hall for our sound check. It is yet another amazing hall, state of the art and only 9 years old. At one point there were more technicians on stage setting up our monitors than members of the Consort. Plus an absolutely massive screen for the film. We have been truly spoiled. Afterwards I went back to my room and had a very lethargic afternoon. I should have cut my losses and had a nap, but for some reason I chose not to, which meant I felt completely spaced out when it was time for the concert to start. Luckily there is little that perks you up more swiftly than being told about 1000 people have come to see you perform. That is certainly the largest audience we have had for this project and it was very gratifying. There were even rumours of limousines dropping people off. Was it too much to hope that Jennifer Aniston might be a fan of the Orlando Consort?
Sadly, she must have dashed straight home after the concert, since we never saw her. However in every other respect it was a great show and one I really enjoyed.
Sun 17th January
Another free morning (I know, we hardly do any work, do we?). I set an alarm and got up early. Now that my system has fully tuned in to California's time zone, it's time to try and turn it around again. I went to the gym and ran what for me constitutes quite a long way. It was made easier by a wonderful treadmill that afforded me a virtual run through a beautiful national park in New Zealand. But without actually running up the steep hills. Starting the day 600 calories to the good, naturally the only thing to do was to go and have a big breakfast. But in fact I resisted the temptation and grabbed something quick on my way to the local mall. It was a lovely mall, and I didn't have nearly enough time to explore it, but I did a quick march around it and managed to find a bargain or two.
Then I drove myself and Angus to Woodland Hills, our final hotel destination, and then a little later on to Northridge and the Valley Performing Arts Center. I realise you are bored of hearing this, but here was another fabulous hall (5 years old this time), fantastically appointed and staffed by lots of diligent people who couldn't do enough to look after us. We gave them a very good show too - everything seemed to click nicely. We even managed to overcome a small technical fault in the course of the show, which made us look ever so professional.
And then it was done. We had a last beer and toasted a tour well survived. It's definitely time to go home - the banter has started getting more acerbic, and frankly I've run out of clean clothes. Also I am of course itching to get home to my wife and son. So tomorrow we will head for LAX and fly home.
Thanks for sticking with my rambling thoughts. You may now stand down.