REVIEW: Palisander, Mischief & Merriment, York Early Music Christmas Festival

Palisander: First concerts for nine months in this Covid-blighted year

REVIEW: York Early Music Christmas Festival: Palisander, Mischief & Merriment, National Centre for Early Music, York, December 4, evening

THE latest lockdown ended just in time to allow York Early Music to open its Christmas festival before a real audience.

There were only about 30 of us, to be sure, seated at small tables in ones or twos, but what a difference over livestreaming. Best of all, it inspires the players. Palisander confessed that these two performances – there had been one in the afternoon – were their first for nine months. You would not have guessed.

The period of Advent, or preparation for Christmas, has lost much of its original intent. It was once a time of strict fasting – not a bad idea in these days of sedentary constraint – to be followed by a 12-day yuletide blowout of Mischief and Merriment, the title of this concert.

Palisander’s quartet of recorders ranged all over the Tudor and Stuart periods, with occasional sorties into traditional and modern repertory, an invigorating mix.

Recorders cover a vast rainbow of colours, from the pipsqueak garklein, barely six inches long with only three finger-holes, to the avuncular contrabass, which stands over six feet tall. The whole panoply was on display here.

Players changed instruments on the move, so that as many as ten different ones were heard in a single piece. Toes began to tap at once in dances by Susato and Arbeau, which prepared the ground for a lively quintet of English numbers, three by Antony Holborne, marked by subtle use of staccato.

Several carols were woven into the tapestry, most with tasty but idiomatic harmonies arranged by one of the group, Miriam Monaghan. They included the spring song from Piae Cantiones (1582), nowadays better known through Good King Wenceslas.

Most of the mischief and merriment in the Elizabethan court was organised by the Lord of Misrule. He would surely have selected Toby Young’s Recorder Revolution!, which was pleasingly anarchic and lots of fun. Similarly, a theatre suite, played in masks, reflected Stuart customs. All were given with enthusiasm and joie de vivre that were infectious.

I had not previously thought that an hour of nothing but recorders could be so entertaining. You live and learn.

Review by Martin Dreyer

York Early Music Christmas Festival opens today…and it’s live at the NCEM

Welcome to the 2020 York Early Music Christmas Festival: Palisander reach for their recorders for today’s opening brace of concerts. Picture: Marc McGarraghy

CHRISTMAS arrives today at the National Centre for Early Music with the reopening of its doors for the annual York Early Music Christmas Festival.

Recorder quartet Palisander will launch the festivities at the Covid-secure St Margaret’s Church, Walmgate, with two socially distanced concerts at 4.30pm and 7pm.

The festival of live concerts will run until December 12, complemented by the inaugural York Christmas At Home festival of streamed concerts from December 11 to 13. Full details, including tickets and concert times, can be found at ncem.co.uk.

Look out for Martin Dreyer’s reviews of Palisander’s Mischief & Merriment programme today and Illyria Consort’s How Brightly Shines The Morning Star on December 7 in CharlesHutchPress.

Let’s dance! 2021 Young Composers Award at NCEM to take leap into new direction

Palisander: Dynamic young recorder quartet will be performing the competing composers’ works on award day at the 2021 NCEM Young Composers Award in York

THE call-out for entries for the 2021 NCEM Young Composers Award in York is under way.

Launched on BBC Radio 3’s Early Music Show today, the annual competition invites composers aged 25 and under to write a new work for recorder quartet.

Each year, the award is presented by the National Centre for Early Music, at St Margaret’s Church, Walmgate, in association with BBC Radio 3, joined for the 2021 award by the vibrant young recorder quartet Palisander.

This major national award is open to young composers resident in the UK and is divided into two categories: 18 years and under and 19 to 25 years.

Composers are asked to create a new work for recorder quartet based on any dance form from across all eras and cultures, from the bransle and the galliard to the Charleston and the tango.

The work may be a single movement rooted in a single dance form, a continuous movement that combines different dance forms, or a suite made up of two, three or four short movements. The entire piece should last between three to four minutes.  

Shortlisted composers will be invited to the award day at the NCEM on Thursday, May 13 2021 when the shortlisted compositions will be presented by Palisander in a workshop led by composer Christopher Fox.  In the evening, Palisander’s Lydia Gosnell, Teresa Wrann, Miriam Monaghan and Caoimhe de Paor will perform each of the pieces for a panel of judges.

The two winning pieces, one from each age category, will be premiered by Palisander in a public performance at St John’s Smith Square, London, on May 20 2021 as part of the London Festival of Baroque Music and recorded for broadcast on BBC Radio 3’s Early Music Show.

“We can’t wait to hear what people come up with,” says NCEM director Delma Tomlin

NCEM director Delma Tomlin says: “We are delighted to introduce an exciting new element of dance into this year’s awards. This really helps us to open up the award, giving us the opportunity to work with an ever-broader community. 

“Palisander are well versed in supporting school groups and emerging musicians and we are thrilled to work with such a dynamic young ensemble.  We can’t wait to hear what people come up with!

“Shortlisted candidates will be able to enjoy an action-packed day of workshops in York with Palisander plus composer Christopher Fox. The winning compositions will be broadcast on BBC Radio 3’s Early Music Show, a feather in the cap of any young composer.”

Alan Davey, the Beeb’s controller of BBC Radio 3 and classical music, says: “Supporting young talent and promoting new music are both central to BBC Radio 3 and we are proud to continue our commitment to supporting the next generation of composers inspired by early music.”

Palisander, all alumni from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, are “very proud” to be partnering with the NCEM and Radio 3 for next year’s award. “Our programmes, though rooted in history, are not bound by it. Contemporary compositions, arrangements and performance presentation play a central role in our concerts, so we’re eager to hear the next generation’s take on one of our favoured genres:  music to dance to!” say the London quartet.

“We look forward to introducing the young composers to our plethora of recorders of varying shapes and sizes, as well as the different timbres and extended techniques at their disposal. As passionate ambassadors of our instrument, we hope that the young composers will be as inspired as we are by the plentiful possibilities of the recorder family.” 

The closing date for registration is Friday, February 19, 5pm; the deadline for submission of scores is Friday, March 19, 12 noon. Shortlisted candidates will be informed on Friday, April 9 and will be invited to attend the award day and workshops in York on May 13. 

Terms and conditions and details of how to take part, including Palisander’s advice on composing for recorder quartet, can be found at: www.youngcomposersaward.co.uk/2021. Alternatively, email: info.composers@ncem.co.uk.

Christmas At Home with Palisander : York Early Music Christmas Festival launches an online weekend to complement the socially distanced concert programme at the NCEM. Palisander will play their part in both

PALISANDER will present Mischief & Merriment at the York Early Music Christmas Festival at the NCEM, Walmgate, York, on December 4 at 4.30pm and 7pm.

The recorder quartet of Lydia Gosnell, Miriam Monaghan, Caoimhe de Paor and Teresa Wrann will recall how Christmas was the highlight of the Tudor calendar when strict Advent fasting would be followed by 12 indulgent days of mischief and merriment.

These elaborate celebrations were presided over by the Lord of Misrule, who co-ordinated the Christmastide entertainments for the court. For their December 4 programme, Palisander will return to the NCEM to take on the role of Lords of Misrule, presenting festive songs and dances to keep toes tapping throughout December.

Traditional Renaissance settings of familiar carols will be paired with music to accompany the whopping 20-plus course Tudor Christmas dinner, complemented by Yuletide courtly dances and playful contemporary takes on the Lord of Misrule’s spectacles.

Palisander will showcase their full recorder family, from the six-inch garklein to the six-foot contrabass, plus everything in between, and among the featured composers will be Antony Holborne, John Dowland, Thoinot Arbeau and Michael Praetorius.

York Christmas At Home will present nine online concerts in three days from December 11 to 13. Palisander’s Mischief & Merriment will be streamed at 1pm on December 12 and will be available to view on demand until January 6 2021. Tickets are on sale at: https://tickets.ncem.co.uk/en-GB/shows/palisander%20online/events.

Tickets for the York Early Music Christmas Festival can be booked at ncem.co.uk. Hurry, hurry, is the advice

York Early Music Christmas Festival at the double as online weekend is added to NCEM socially distanced live concerts

THE 2020 York Early Music Christmas Festival will be not one, but two festivals, one at the National Centre for Early Music, the other online.

Festive concerts will be performed with Covid-secure safety measures in place in the mediaeval St Margaret’s Church, Walmgate, York, from December 4 to 12, complemented by a new online weekend festival to be enjoyed from the comfort of home.

After the success of the streamed York Early Music Festival, held remotely from July 9 to 11,  the NCEM will present York Christmas At Home from December 11 to 13, with the Yuletide music concerts available on demand throughout the Christmas period until January 6 2021.

York Early Music Christmas Festival’s live concerts will be staged with socially distanced cabaret-style seating and the option to pre-order drinks, including a warming mulled wine. Tickets cost £20.

Matthew Wadsworth: York Christmas At Home streamed concert with Kate Bennett Wadsworth

The line-up comprises:

Palisander, Mischief & Merriment, December 4, 4.30pm and 7pm;

The Marian Consort, The Great Mystery, December 5, 4.30pm and 7pm;

Illyria Consort, How Brightly Shines The Morning Star, December 7, 4.30m and 7pm;

Joglaresa, Bring Us Good Ale, December 8, 4.30pm and 7pm;

The Marian Consort: Concerts at both the York Early Music Christmas Festival and York Christmas At Home

The York Waits, The Waits’ Wassail, Music for Advent & Christmas, December 9, 4.30pm and 7pm;

Bethany Seymour, soprano, Helen Charlston, mezzo-soprano, Frederick Long, baritone, and Peter Seymour, harpsichord, Bacchus Is A Pow’r Divine, December 12, 4.30pm and 7pm.

In addition, the 7pm concerts by Joglaresa on December 8 and The York Waits the next night will be live-streamed, with tickets available at £10.

The York Christmas At Home programme will feature many of the NCEM’s favourite artists, who have “worked tirelessly to deliver a joyful selection of music, guaranteed to lift the spirits”.

The concerts will include works by Bach, Mozart, Handel, Vivaldi, Purcell, Monteverdi, Dowland and many others, with harpsichords, recorders, lutes, trumpets, oboes, theorbos and glorious voices, plus verse by John Donne, George Herbert and others.

Bethany Seymour, left, Frederick Long and Helen Charlston: On song at the NCEM and online

A York Christmas At Home festival pass costs £50, covering all nine concerts, while individual concerts cost £10.

Artists taking part are:

The Marian Consort in a programme of vocal music from Renaissance Italy;

The Chiaroscuro Quartet, performing Mozart’s late Prussian Quartets;

Palisander with their Mischief And Merriment programme;

Illyria Consort, performing seasonal music for the Nativity from across Europe;

Singers Bethany Seymour, Helen Charlston and Frederick Long exploring the theatrical genius of Purcell and John Blow with harpsichordist Peter Seymour;

Theorboist Matthew Wadsworth and cellist Kate Bennett Wadsworth, sharing an extravaganza of Venetian music;

Illyria Consort: Seasonal music for the Nativity from across Europe

Spiritato!, presenting The Leipzig Legacy with music by Bach and Fasch;

Steven Devine, continuing his 2020 project to share Bach’s Preludes & Fugues: Book 3;

Stile Antico, completing the weekend with a return to the Renaissance for their very own Nine Lessons and Carols.

Festival director Dr Delma Tomlin says:  “The York Early Music Christmas Festival was created in 1997 to introduce audiences to the extraordinary wealth of music associated with Advent, Christmas and Epiphany, from the Medieval to the Baroque, intertwined with the sagas, stories and tales of the north.

“This year, I’m delighted to be able to carry on the tradition, welcoming audiences to our beautiful home, St Margaret’s Church. I’m also thrilled to spice things up, introducing our online festival York Christmas At Home, an array of amazing music, which can be enjoyed well beyond Christmas and into Twelfth Night.”

Full programme details for both Yuletide festivals can be found at ncem.co.uk. Tickets are on sale at ncem.co.uk/york-christmas-at-home/

NCEM goes online in May with inspirational archival recordings and fancy footwork

Palisander: Watch out for spiders in all that foliage

THE National Centre for Early Music, York, will continue to reach out from behind closed doors to provide inspirational music online with a series of concerts throughout May.

Confirmed for next month are Palisander, Beware The Spider!, on Saturday (May 2); Rumorum, Medieval Music for voices and instruments, May 16, and European Union Baroque Orchestra, Handel & Bach, May 30, all starting at 1pm.

To view these concerts for free, follow https://www.facebook.com/yorkearlymusic/ or log on to the NCEM website, ncem.co.uk, where you also can find details of the Cuppa And A Chorus community singing sessions, now on Zoom, plus other NCEM news and more concert footage.

Palisander’s fancy footwork

In Beware The Spider!, first performed at the NCEM in March 2019, the young recorder quartet explore the Tarantella, the effects of a venomous spider bite, and the curious world of folk medicine. 

Fast moving and fun, with some fancy footwork to boot, the Palisander programme combined music by Vivaldi and many others with an entertaining narrative.

Like Palisander, Rumorum first played Medieval Music for voices and instruments at the NCEM in March 2019. These 12th to 15th century music specialists turn back the clock to the time of Medieval Europe when musicians travelled across the continent, gathering stories, sharing knowledge of love, pain and exile.

Rumorum: Rebec,, harp, flute and voice ensemble

This youthful ensemble formed while studying medieval performance at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis in Switzerland and took York classical audiences by storm when winning the York Early Music Festival Friends’ Prize in the 2017 festival competition.  “If you can’t quite visualise a rebec, harp, flute and voice ensemble, this is your chance,” says NCEM director Delma Tomlin.

European Union Baroque Orchestra’s concert recording dates from March 2017, led by director and harpsichordist Lars Ulrik Mortensen, who was joined that day by soloists Maria Keohane, soprano, Bojan Cicic, concertmaster,and Neven Lesage, oboe.

The concert was performed to celebrate Early Music Day 2017 on the birthday of JS Bach. “Entitled Betrayal And Betrothal, it features music by Bach and Handel and provides an exciting opportunity to hear this outstanding group again, presenting one of their last ever performances on stage,” says Delma.

“Keeping in touch with our audiences is so important to us in these difficult times,” says NCEM director Delma Tomlin

As an added bonus”, harpsichordist extraordinaire Steven Devine will “help you beat the blues” with Bach Bites – bite size chunks to inspire and uplift – every Wednesday evening at 6pm.

Delma says: “Keeping in touch with our audiences is so important to us in these difficult times and we’re delighted to be able to bring you this eclectic selection of archival recordings from concerts recorded over the past couple of years.

“We’re also continuing our Cuppa And A Chorus event, where people can meet regularly to sing in a relaxed environment. We’re now meeting virtually on Zoom, so even though we can’t be together, we can all try and stay in touch.” 

NCEM presents vocal group Voces Suaves in Facebook streaming premiere today

Voces Suaves: Madrigals At Your Service streaming today (April 18)

THE National Centre for Early Music series of Facebook streaming premieres presents vocal ensemble Voces Suaves this afternoon at 1pm.

Over the coming weeks, the York music venue, at Margaret’s Church, Walmgate, will be streaming a line-up of past performances from the NCEM archives.  

In today’s Facebook concert, Voces Suaves perform Madrigals At Your Service, focusing on the musical treasures of the Italian Renaissance and re-creating the magnificence of the courts of Ferrara and Mantua, with music by Monteverdi, Gesualdo and Wert.  

NCEM director Delma Tomlin says: “This group of nine professional singers are graduates of the Creative Europe EEEmerging programme and have performed at major European concert venues and festivals, taking audiences and critics by storm. 

Palisander: Online concert coming next on May 2

“This performance, recorded at St Lawrence’s Church in York, was a highlight of the 2018 York Early Music Festival and it forms the third in a series of NCEM Online concerts designed to welcome audiences from across the world into the extraordinarily rich world of early music.”

Future streaming concerts include a 2019 performance by the recorder ensemble Palisander on Saturday, May 2, at 1pm. “The group have been part of the EEEmerging programme too and their debut album, Beware The Spider!, released in 2017, received outstanding reviews from the critics,” says Delma.

Palisander’s concert was recorded in the Unitarian Chapel, St Saviourgate, York, at the 2019 REMA Conference. 

To join the merry streaming throng, simply click on to the NCEM’s Facebook page @yorkearlymusic. Alternatively, log on to the NCEM’s website, ncem.co.uk, and click on the news section. 

Future concerts and streaming dates will be announced at ncem.co.uk.