Eboracum Baroque gather remotely for Heroic fundraising night of Handel music

The 25 Eboracum Baroque musicians and singers who will perform the Heroic Handel virtual concert

EBORACUM Baroque will present Heroic Handel in a fundraising virtual concert for the York ensemble on July 18.

This 7pm programme of Handel’s music has been recorded and filmed in isolation during lockdown to be premiered on youtube.com/eboracumbaroque and facebook.com/eboracum.baroque.

The concert will feature virtuosic Handel operatic arias from Rinaldo and Giulio Cesare, characterful instrumental music and the concluding magnificent Coronation anthem, Zadok The Priest.

“This is a chance to hear talented young musicians performing Handel’s dazzling music for singers and a full period instrument orchestra,” says founder, director and trumpet player Chris Parsons, a University of York graduate. 

Twenty-five Eboracum Baroque musicians have each recorded their individual parts separately from across Britain and Europe before being assembled remotely for this unique performance.

“This is a chance to support young professional musicians in these uncertain times and secure the financial future of Eboracum Baroque, so that we can continue to offer high quality, engaging musical experiences including concerts, recordings and education workshops,” says Chris.

Across lockdown, the ensemble has given a series of virtual concerts featuring repertoire for solo instrumentalists and singers, as well as a Spotlight series focusing on different instruments from the ensemble.

“For Heroic Handel, we’re delighted to be joined by our good friends, York Gin, who will present a segment of the concert all about the gin craze of the 18th century – and some cocktail making too,” says Chris. “Dress up as if you were going to watch the concert live, grab a drink of your choosing and enjoy Handel’s glorious music from the comfort of your own home.”

Eboracum Baroque players perform Vivaldi at York Mansion House

Here Eboracum Baroque trumpet player and director Chris Parsons answers Charles Hutchinson’s questions on remote concerts in lockdown, climaxing with Heroic Handel.

How did the project start?

“Eboracum have been working on virtual projects all through lockdown with our themed virtual concerts and Spotlight concerts, which feature different instruments from the ensemble.

“These were either performed via Zoom live or pre-recorded. They all featured just solo repertoire – and sometimes the performers duetting with themselves with the help of technology.

“But we were really keen to do something a bit bigger and utilise all the great musicians in the ensemble, so our project Heroic Handel was born, featuring 25 musicians all coming together to perform lots of music from opera arias, chamber music and right through to Zadok The Priest for full orchestra and choir.

“The great thing is that it’s been such a fantastic collaborative project between all of the musicians, who have all been so positive and supportive. We’re really keen to keep music going and we’re hoping this will do that.”

Eboracum Baroque’s poster for the Heroic Handel concert

How do you put together a virtual concert recording?

“It’s quite different to a usual concert! The main thing is keeping everyone together, with everyone sending their recordings in separately from wherever they are – mostly all across the UK but some in Serbia and Spain!

“The main thing is a click track and a pair of headphones. I choose the tempo of the piece – Handel wouldn’t have known what a metronome was! – and that is then sent in the form of a click track and the players and singers have to stay exactly in time, so that it can be stuck together using software.

“It’s quite a strange process recording your part all by yourself and not bouncing off the other players/singers. We actually had the cello and harpsichord record their parts first and then people could have some instruments to play along to, along with the click track.

“Quite a new experience for many of us, but one we’ve embraced it if it means we can get to perform together.” 

What does the editing require?

“David Sims, another music graduate from the University of York, is the tech whizz who puts it all together. As he put it, his job is ‘sticking it all together and making sure that if people have recorded in their bathroom/garage/box room, he can make it sound like everyone is actually in the same place’!”

As director, how have you selected the programme for the themed concerts and what have been the themes so far?

“Again, quite a collaborative experience with all the musicians involved. As we were all performing completely solo, it was important to choose the right repertoire – and the right instruments.

“As a trumpeter, there’s not really much music that works completely by itself, so I didn’t have too much to play, but there’s lots of solo music for cello, violin, oboe and recorder that worked really well.

“We also had some folk songs sung by John Holland Avery, which worked really nicely unaccompanied.

“The themes have been everything from Baroque Dance music (including teaching the audience  how to dance a minuet in their own home); Bach’s Leipzig Coffee House concerts and an Italian theme again with audience participation, teaching an 18th century Venetian gondolier song!”

Eboracum Baroque musicians at Stamford Georgian Festival

How have the Spotlight concerts gone?

“They’ve been great to really show up close our baroque instruments. We’ve done ones for recorder, strings, oboe and trumpet. For the trumpet one, we used technology to combine myself and another trumpeter, so we could do some more repertoire.” 

What has been the reaction to the concerts in this union of the baroque and 21st century technology?

“Really positive. I think audiences are so keen to hear music and enjoy seeing the innovation so many ensembles have come up with during this strange time. We’ve found people really enjoy – particularly during March/April time – the Friday lunchtime concert time as something to look forward to in the week.

“It’s allowed us to explore repertoire we might not have done, which is a good thing, I think, to introduce audiences to new pieces as well.” 

Heroic Handel is the biggest concert yet. How much planning has it taken and how have you put the programme together?

“Yes, it’s been quite a process bringing everything together, but an exciting one! We began planning this at the start of May, so it’s been a great way to keep musicians busy.

“The main thing has been making sure we get all the tech side of things ready so that everyone knows how to do it. Again, it was quite a collaborative process.

“The great thing about Eboracum is that we’re a very flexible ensemble: one gig might be three musicians and another might be 20 musicians!

“So, I hope this concert will showcase everything Eboracum does. There are pieces in this concert with three players (the Recorder Sonata) and Zadok The Priest has all 25 players playing in it.”

What do you love most about Handel’s music?

“His music has everything! It can be so dramatic – all the grandeur with trumpets and timpani – but also so beautiful and expressive. He can just write a great tune and knows how to make it work for every situation.

“The opera arias you will hear in this concert are pieces that people in England would have heard nothing like till then and I’m sure they must have been blown away by it. He knew how to write for a big occasion too: Zadok The Priest just builds the tension before the glorious entry of the choir and the trumpets – a perfect piece for the coronation of a king.”

Eboracum Baroque chamber musicians at Canons Ashby, Northamptonshire

What’s coming next for Eboracum Baroque?

“This concert is really the culmination of our work in lockdown. We’ll then probably have a bit of breather for the rest of July and most of August as we work on what comes next for us.

“It’s such an uncertain time but we’re hoping we can begin to work together in the same place – probably in a church without an audience – where we can record concerts and then live-stream them.

“Particularly, we want to plan towards Christmas, which is really the time of year that will be decisive financially in how the ensemble proceeds into 2021.” 

What are you missing most in lockdown musically?

“Being together in the same room. Can’t wait till we can logistically get back to playing together. Eboracum members are more than just colleagues, we’re all good friends, so we’re missing the social side too.”

How will you feel when Eboracum Baroque can perform together again cheek by jowl?

“It’ll be an amazing feeling, I’m certain of it, probably quite an odd one too, playing with people in the same room again, but it’ll be fantastic, I’m sure of it!

“It will no doubt be a slightly different set-up for a while – including any required distancing – but I think it will really boost morale as well.”

How do you foresee the future for freelance musicians in these desperate times?

“It’s such an uncertain time. I’m ever the optimist that, in time, music will come storming back. The arts will be required even more than ever and having seen all the innovation during this lockdown period, I’m absolutely certain that this creativity will continue – creating new ways to watch concerts, new set-ups for audiences etc.

“For freelancers like myself and many of the Eboracum team, we just hope that venues are given the go-ahead to open and begin to programme concerts again in whatever form is possible.

“It will be a long, hard slog but I know musicians are never tiring and we’ll fight to bring this amazing industry back to happier times.”

Have you discovered anything to the good in lockdown? 

“During lockdown my wife and I had our first baby, a baby girl born at the start of April. So, we’ve been kept busy! A silver lining from it all is that I’ve been at home throughout and have been able to spend so much time with our new addition and to help my wife too, so that’s been great but we’re looking forward to slowly having more people around!

“Also, I’ve enjoyed a slightly slower pace of life – even with a new-born – and I think when things do eventually get back to normal, I’d like to try and keep a bit of that…”

Eboracum Baroque director Chris Parsons

THE July 18 concert comprises: Handel’s March from Rinaldo; O The Pleasure Of The Plains from Acis And Galatea; Sibilar Gli Annui d’Aletto from Rinaldo, featuring baritone John Holland Avery; Sonata in B minor, Opus 2 No 1: Andante and Allegro; V’adoro, Pupille from Giulio Cesare, featuring soprano Charlotte Bowden; Recorder Sonata in F major, and Zadok The Priest: Coronation Anthem for George II.

The Eboracum Baroque singers and musicians performing Heroic Handel are:

Sopranos: Lottie Bowden, Tamsin Raitt, Elen Lloyd Roberts, Naomi Sturgess

Altos: Laura Baldwin, Alex Osborne, Mark Williams

Tenors: Gareth Edmunds, Will Wright

Basses: John Holland Avery, Jamie Woollard

Violins: Katarina Djordevic, Kirsty Main 

Viola: Sam Kennedy 

Cello: Miri Nohl

Double bass: Frances Preston

Harpsichords: Seb Gillot and Marta Lopez

Oboes: Nicola Barbagli, Katie Lewis

Recorder:Miriam Monaghan

Trumpets: Brendan Musk, Chris Parsons

Timpani: Fabian Edwards

Bassoons: Catriona McDermid

Conductor: Chris Parsons

Audio and video editing: David Sims 

Eboracum Baroque performing Handel’s Messiah at Senate House, Cambridge

Who are Eboracum Baroque?

THIS group of professional singers and classical instrumentalists was formed in 2012 by Chris Parsons at the University of York and the Royal College of Music and has performed across the Britain and Europe, from Senate House, Cambridge, to The Temple Church, London, and Christuskirche, Hannover.

As well as their concert performances, Eboracum Baroque have given fully staged performances of Purcell’s Dido And Aeneas and Handel’s Acis And Galatea. 

Performing music from across the Renaissance and Baroque periods, the ensemble has a particular specialism in English music from the 17th and 18th Century.

In January 2015, Eboracum Baroque recorded their first album, funded by the National Trust and Arts Council England, comprising forgotten music by the English Baroque composer Thomas Tudway (1650-1726), recorded at Wimpole Hall, near Cambridge, where Tudway worked from 1714 to 1726.

The ensemble seeks to champion forgotten English composers from the period while still performing many famous works. Their second CD, Sounds Of Suffolk, released in November 2018, features forgotten music from 18th century Suffolk, such as violin sonatas by Joseph Gibbs and music from Ickworth House. 

Eboracum Baroque perform at National Trust properties, such as Wimpole Hall, Oxburgh Hall and Canons Ashby, presenting programmes unique to each property’s history.

In December 2015, the group undertook its first major tour abroad with performances of Handel’s Messiah in Münster and Hannover in Germany. A December 2017 tour of Estonia took in concerts of Bach’s Magnificat and Vivaldi’s Magnificat in Tartu and Tallinn, the second being broadcast on Estonian National Radio. 

Eboracum Ensemble run an education programme with schools across Britain, such as projects based around Handel’s Water Music and Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.

They continue to work with Horrible Histories author Terry Deary on projects where they hope to introduce the next generation of musicians to Baroque music. Performances with Terry have included a new narration of Purcell’s King Arthur and The Fairy Queen and The Glorious Georgians, a show at the Edinburgh Fringe.

They have devised The Story Orchestra: Four Seasons In One Day, an educational project designed around Vivaldi’s Four Seasons that has toured many schools, working with festivals and music hubs, such as the Edinburgh Book Festival and the National Centre for Early Music in York. 

Eboracum Baroque give concerts regularly in their home city of York at York Mansion House, as well as frequent performances in their “second home” in Cambridge, not least of Handel’s Messiah for the past seven years to a sold-out audience of 600 each time.