York Early Music Festival: Stile Antico, York Minster, July 13; Bojan Čičić, St Lawrence’s Church, York, July 13
OVER the past few years, and especially during lockdown, Stile Antico have been something of a “go-to” group in the early music world. No-one is complaining, least of all this critic. As their name implies, style is the watchword of these dozen voices.
Next month we commemorate the 500th anniversary of the death of Josquin des Prez, who is right up there in anyone’s shortlist of great Renaissance composers. He developed a new style that melded northern European technical precision with simpler Italian drama and clarity: it was widely influential for 200 years.
The programme was built around his Missa Sine Nomine (‘no-name’ mass, if you will), which is almost a textbook of imitation between voices, giving listeners multiple pegs to hang their hearing on.
Between the sections of the mass, we heard reminders of Josquin’s associations with his putative teacher Johannes Ockeghem, another of the greats, and two pieces by slightly younger colleagues.
After Josquin’s Kyrie, in which perfectly formed chords emerged from swirling mists of counterpoint, it was good to be reminded of Ockeghem’s sparer harmonies in his four-voice motet Alma Redemptoris Mater.
Following the Gloria, a work called Nymphes des Bois might have sounded almost lascivious in such a religious context. In fact it was Josquin’s setting of a lament by Jean Molinet on the death of Ockeghem in 1497, imploring all nature to weep for an engaging man variously described as gracious, kind and virtuous. It was indeed a gem, and faded symbolically.
Excitement at the start of the Credo became serenely dissonant at Christ’s Passion, before building again to a triumphant Amen. This was singing of the highest calibre, making perfect use of the building’s welcoming acoustic.
After Josquin’s own Salve Regina and an unusually restrained Benedictus, another lament followed, this time from Hieronymus Vinders on Josquin’s death, the dark colours of its seven voices underlined by the absence of sopranos. Finally, Jacquet de Mantua’s medley of Josquin’s greatest hits, doubtless instantly recognisable by contemporary ears, provided an upbeat conclusion.
These two straddled the soothing balm of Josquin’s Agnus Dei, completing the mass. All were a fitting tribute to a much-respected composer – and a timely reminder of his supremacy.
Late evening at St Lawrence’s Church brought the unaccompanied violin of Bojan Čičić in Bach and Biber. He had gamely taken up the cudgels at the eleventh hour to replace Rachel Podger, who had been “pinged’ into self-isolation”. They have been successful duet partners on disc so are equally talented.
He began somewhat cautiously with the first of Bach’s solo sonatas from 1720, BWV 1001 in G minor. Bach was known as a keyboard layer, but also played the violin all his life so was no slouch where strings were concerned. These fearsomely difficult works from his period at Cöthen laid the groundwork for the virtuoso techniques displayed by such as Paganini in the 19th century.
But they held no terrors for Čičić, even if he warmed up slowly. The slow intro led into more rapid counterpoint, both sections in the minor, until the warm, major-key Largo that was virtually a duet. All were preparation for the moto perpetuo of the final Gigue, which was thrown off with incredible panache.
He continued to dazzle in The Guardian Angel, one of Biber’s famous Mystery Sonatas. Sixty-five repetitions of a four-note descending phrase may not sound promising, but Biber’s Passacaglia overlays them with an extraordinary exploration of technical wizardry. Čičić revelled in it. So did we.
The dance origins of Bach’s Second Partita, in D minor, were keenly emphasised. After an accented Allemanda and the running passagework of the Corrente, we enjoyed a stately Sarabanda with much internal ornamentation.
The extremely sprightly Gigue was prelude to a highly dramatic Chaconne in which Čičić positively rolled his bow all over the strings, at breakneck speed. Its ‘chorale’ in the major came as light relief before the final return to the more serious minor key. Riveting stuff. You did not dare take your eyes off him.
ENCOUNTERS, the 2021 York Early Music Festival, will be briefer than first trailered.
Already cut from its usual ten days under Covid constraints, the live festival will now run from July 12 to 15, rather than until July 16 after the Government’s Step 4 lockdown easement was delayed from June 21 to July 19.
This has ruled out the participation of Spanish Baroque ensemble L’Apothéose, winners of the 2019 York Early Music International Young Artists Competition, along with Ensemble Clément Janequin, from France, and the Italian-Spanish trio sonata ensemble La Vaghezza. In their stead come two late additions: British vocal ensemble The Gesualdo Six and Florilegium.
“The festival may have shrunk from ten days to four, but it’s still jam-packed with concerts, which will be one hour in length, with no interval and no reserved seating, audience members being seated on arrival within social bubbles” says festival director Delma Tomlin.
“Because any musicians who lived outside of the UK had to consider the need to quarantine or the consequences of a positive Covid test once here, it just wasn’t worth the complications for them or us.
“The good news is that L’Apothéose will now play their Young Artists’ Showcase and record here next March; we hope to carry EEEmerging artists La Vaghezza over into the 2022 festival, though that will not be possible for Ensemble Clément Janequin, and the York Early Music International Young Artists Competition will definitely return at next summer’s festival, after the competition couldn’t happen this year.”
Delma expects that plenty of international musicians who had to forego performing in the 2020 festival, after being booked for the aborted original programme, will now play at the 2022 event. “The festival is filling up already, but not yet with a theme in place!” she says.
In another sign of Covid-times, the 2021 festival is a non-brochure event. “We had boxes and boxes of brochures that we then had to recycle, once everything changed, and since then we’ve doing everything online,” says Delma.
“So we’ve been reliant on people looking online constantly for updates and programme details for our 2020 Christmas festival, the Awaken concert series, the Beverley and East Riding Early Music Festival, and now this summer’s festival, but I can confirm we’ll produce print in the autumn for the 2021 York Early Music Christmas Festival.”
Roll on Monday’s opening concert “At last, we’re able to welcome audiences back to York in person,” says Delma. “The theme of Encounters, most vitally between audience and artists, seems particularly pertinent at this time when we can celebrate the joy of music making and being back together again to appreciate these glorious sounds together.
“For over a year, our home of St Margaret’s Church has been missing the energy and excitement that live audiences bring to us and we can’t wait to throw our doors wide open again.”
Both the opening and closing concerts will be performed twice at the National Centre for Early Music, Walmgate: Monteverdi String Band, led by Oliver Webb, on July 12 at 6.30pm and 8.45pm and The Gesualdo Six on July 15 at the same times.
“We’ll clean everything down and put the same concert on 90 minutes later,” explains Delma. “The 6.30pm concerts are sold out but we still have tickets available for the later performances.
“Oddly enough, The Gesualdo Six were meant to be playing at a festival in France at this time but couldn’t go, so we’ve been able to accommodate them, and Ensemble Clément Janequin, who can’t come here, will now be playing in France!”
Florilegium step into the festival breach to perform a Celebrating Bach programme at the NCEM on Wednesday at 7.30pm, joining a line-up of guest artists such as harpsichordist Steven Devine with Robin Bigwood (St Lawrence’s Church, Hull Road, Tuesday, 1pm) and violinist Rachel Podger (St Lawrence’s Church, Tuesday, 9.15pm).
The Society of Strange & Ancient Instruments present their weird and wonderful Trumpet Marine Project (The Citadel, Gillygate, Wednesday, 1pm, sold out); lutenist Jacob Heringman celebrates Josquin des Prez in Master of the notes II: Inviolata (Merchant Adventurers’ Hall, Fossgate, Wednesday, 9.30pm, sold out) and bass Matthew Brook, in tandem with York classical leading light Peter Seymour, performs Amore Traditore – Cantatas for bass and harpsichord (St Lawrence’s Church, Thursday, 1pm).
Delma is particularly delighted to announce that the festival will be working in partnership with the Alamire Foundation, in Flanders, to present a long-awaited concert at York Minster by renaissance vocal ensemble Stile Antico in Tuesday’s 7.30pm programme of Josquin des Prez – Master of the notes I: Missa Sine Nominee on the 500th anniversary of the Franco-Flemish genius’s death.
The live festival may be shorter, but the event will still run to Sunday in an online festival, YEMF ’21 Online, available from Thursday to the weekend, after the success of last summer’s first online package.
“This will include concerts recorded during the festival alongside specially commissioned highlights by the Rose Consort of Viols and the University Baroque Ensemble,” says Delma.
“The Gesualdo Six will open this four-day online festival with a live streamed concert from the NCEM on Thursday at 6.30pm.
“The online festival provides us with the opportunity to share some of the festival highlights with the widest possible audience, presenting concerts filmed by digital producer Ben Pugh and sound engineer Tim Archer in some of the city’s stunning venues: Merchant Adventurers’ Hall, St Lawrence’s Church and St Margaret’s Church,” says Delma.
“Going online extends the festival’s reach internationally, giving us the chance to boost our ticket income possibilities, so while we use small venues, such as lutenist Jacob Heringman playing to 60 people in candlelight at the Merchant Adventurers’ Hall, the decision to embrace online opportunities means others can enjoy it too. This provides a new stream of income at this time, turning around our business strategy on a pin.”
All next week’s concerts will be streamed, except for Stile Antico, whose Josquin des Prez programme instead will be available online at Laus Polyphoniae 2021, part of the Flanders Festival that runs in Antwerp from August 20 to 29.
The NCEM and York Early Music Festival have embraced the need to explore digital opportunities since the pandemic took hold. “The acquisition of Tim Archer, who I’ve known through our relationship with BBC Radio 3, has been key to this. When Tim left Radio 3, I asked him to work with us as our sound engineer, and he’s since worked alongside Ben Pugh on our festivals and the Awaken spring event,” says Delma.
“On top of that, we’ve been very grateful to have been granted Culture Recovery Fund funds to support our sustainable strategy,” says Delma.
“We’ve received two funding boosts, the first for the acquisition of digital equipment, the second to help to cover the loss of income after we lost £100,000 from our usual revenue streams because of the pandemic lockdowns.”
Reflecting on the changes brought on by the need to react to Covid times, Delma says: “It has pushed us very specifically into a whole new world of digital sharing and income generation, running parallel with that, and all our staff have been willing to adapt and embrace the changes. We’ve also been determined to make the online service as simple to use as possible, requiring only your email address.
“The other very positive thing has been our blossoming relationship with The Crescent [community venue] and The Fulford Arms, especially with Harkirit Boparai and Chris Sherrington, and the Independent Music network, putting on the Songs Under Skies concerts in the NCEM garden last summer and this summer.”
Post-festival, the YEMF ’21 Online concerts will be available to view on demand until August 13 2021 and tickets will be on sale until August 6 at ncem.co.uk. Live festival tickets are selling fast, with social distancing measures still in place to limit numbers, so hurry, hurry to book at ncem.co.uk before you are too late to be Early next week.
Did you know?
THE 2021 York Early Music Festival concerts by Rachel Podger, The Society Of Strange & Ancient Instruments and The Gesualdo Six will be recorded for broadcast on BBC Radio 3’s Early Music Show in late-July.
YORK Early Music Festival 2021 will have the theme of Encounters for its five-day run from July 12 to 16.
Presented by the National Centre of Early Music (NCEM), the annual festival of classical concerts will include a celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Franco-Flemish genius Josquin des Prez.
“This year’s festival theme is one of encounters, most vitally between audience and artists, which seems particularly pertinent at a time when the festival can welcome audiences back to an array of York’s wonderful historic venues,” says director Delma Tomlin.
“We’re particularly delighted to announce that we’ll be working in partnership with the Flanders-based Alamire Foundation to present one of the highlights of the festival, a long-awaited concert by vocal ensemble Stile Antico.”
Renowned for their vibrant and expressive performances of music from the Renaissance, Stile Antico will perform in the resplendent surroundings of York Minster on July 13.
Among the guest artists for the 2021 event will be: violinist Rachel Podger; lutenist Jacob Heringman; bass Matthew Brook, working with Peter Seymour; the Monteverdi String Band, led by Oliver Webber; a York favourite, harpsichordist Steven Devine, with Robin Bigwood; The Society Of Strange & Ancient Instruments with their “weird and wonderful” Trumpet Marine Project; EEEmerging artists La Vaghezza, specialising in music from the 17th and 18th centuries, and the ever entertaining Ensemble Clement Janequin.
“The NCEM is also delighted to welcome Spanish Baroque ensemble L’Apothéose back to York as part of the Young Artists Showcase,” says Delma. “L’Apothéose last appeared in the city in 2019 when they won the York Early Music International Young Artists Competition and The Friends of York Early Music Festival prize. This year they will be recording a CD with Linn Records, which was part of their prize.”
Established in 1977, York Early Music Festival celebrates York’s myriad medieval churches, guildhalls and historic houses through “historically informed music-making of the highest international standard”. The festival is considered the jewel in the crown of the NCEM’s annual programme, drawing visitors from across the world.
“At last, we are able to welcome audiences back to York in person and we can’t wait!” says Delma. “ This year’s theme of Encounters celebrates the joy of music-making and being back together again to appreciate these glorious sounds together.
“For over a year, our home of St Margaret’s Church, in Walmgate, has been missing the energy and excitement that live audiences bring to us and we can’t wait to throw our doors wide open again. We hope you will join us for this five-day celebration of music and friendship in our beautiful city, bringing you world-class music from stunning surroundings.”
The festival concerts will take place in a Covid-secure, comfortable environment. “All tickets are unreserved and audience members will be seated on arrival within social bubbles,” says Delma. “Each concert will last about an hour without an interval. Covid advice will be updated according to government guidelines.”
York Early Music Festival also will be available online from July 15 to 18. YEMF ’21 Online will include concerts recorded during the festival alongside commissioned highlights, with guests including The Gesualdo Six and The Rose Consort Of Viols. Full details and tickets will be released on Wednesday, June 16.
Tickets for the live festival are on sale at ncem.co.uk
YORK EARLY MUSIC FESTIVAL 2021 LISTINGS
Monday, July 12, 1pm, NCEM, St Margaret’s Church, York: Illustrated talk: Oliver Webber, “Un non so che di frizzante: the madrigal as a cauldron of creativity”.
Monday, July 12, 6.30pm and 8.45pm, NCEM: Monteverdi String Band, with soprano Hannah Ely, The Madrigal Re-imagined.
Tuesday, July 13, 1pm, St Lawrence Parish Church, York: Steven Devine & Robin Bigwood, The Bach Circle.
Tuesday, July 13, 7.30pm, York Minster: Stile Antico, Sine Nomine: Josquin des Prez.
Tuesday, July 13, 9.15pm, St Lawrence Parish Church: Rachel Podger violin, The Violinist Speaks.
Wednesday, July 14, 1pm, NCEM: The Society Of Strange & Ancient Instruments, The Trumpet Marine Project.
Wednesday, July 14, 7.30pm, NCEM: La Vaghezza, Sculpting The Fabric.
Wednesday, July 14, 9.30pm, Merchant Adventurers’ Hall, York: Jacob Heringman, lute,Inviolata: Josquin des Prez.
Thursday, July 15, 11am, NCEM: Illustrated talk: John Bryan, Josquin des Prez: the first of the “great composers”?
Thursday, July 15, 1pm, Matthew Brook & Peter Seymour, Amore Traditore – Cantatas for bass and harpsichord.
Thursday, July 15, NCEM, 6.30pm and 8.45pm: Ensemble Clement Janequin, Mille Regretz: Josquin des Prez.
Friday July 16, 1pm, NCEM: L’Apothéose, The Family Stamitz.
BEVERLEY Early Music festivities for 2021 will have a new look in May and June.
As the Government’s phases of easing lockdown unfold, the National Centre for Early Music (NCEM), York, and the Beverley & East Riding Early Music Festival will present, not one, but two musical celebrations from the East Yorkshire town.
Beverley & East Riding Early Music Festival ’21 Live will run from May 28 to 30, followed by Beverley ’21 Online: Concerts, Talks and Hidden Gems on June 5 and 6.
Social-distancing restrictions and the festival’s commitment to accommodating all those who booked for last year’s postponed festival mean that only a limited number of tickets are on sale for the “in person” concerts at the end of May.
All the concerts, however, will be available to enjoy in the specially created digital festival, Beverley ’21 Online, on the first weekend in June.
Festival director Dr Delma Tomlin says: “We are delighted to be returning to Beverley and we’ve been working hard to ensure that our 2021 festival is available for everyone to enjoy. “As well as producing a live festival, for the first time we are delighted to invite you to join our festival online, which showcases of the majesty of the glorious county town of Beverley.”
Delma continues: “Beverley ’21 Online is a specially commissioned digital version of the festival filmed around the town and audiences will be able to enjoy all the concerts from the weekend, plus talks and exclusive footage of some of Beverley’s magnificent historic buildings.
“We hope you’ll join us for this joyous celebration of wonderful music set against the backdrop of this beautiful Yorkshire town.”
Beverley & East Riding Early Music Festival ’21 Live, Friday, May 28 to Sunday, May 30
May 28, Beverley Minster, 7.30pm to 8.40pm: Stile Antico, Toward The Dawn, sold out
This programme charts a course from twilight to sunrise, seductive and unsettling in equal measure. Thrill to the spine-tingling sounds of Allegri’s beloved Miserere and enter into the glorious sound world of Nico Muhly’s Gentle Sleep, a haunting setting of words by Shakespeare, written especially for the 12 voices of Stile Antico.
Singers: sopranos Helen Ashby, Kate Ashby, Rebecca Hickey; altos Emma Ashby, Cara Curran, Hannah Cooke; tenors Andrew Griffiths, Jonathan Hanley, Benedict Hymas; basses James Arthur, Will Dawes, Nathan Harrison.
May 29, St Mary’s Church, 12.30pm to 1.30pm: Alva, Angels In The Architecture
Vivien Ellis, voice, Giles Lewin, fiddles and bagpipes, and Leah Stuttard, mediaeval harps, perform songs and melodies spanning 1,000 years, revealing stories hidden in the stones of the beautiful St Mary’s Church.
May 29, Toll Gavel United Church, 7.30pm to 8.30pm: La Serenissima with Tabea Debus, recorder, “The Italian Gang”, sold out
Life-affirming music of 18th-century Venice, featuring Sammartini and Vivaldi, directed by Adam Chandler.
May 30, Toll Gavel United Church, 3pm to 4pm: Kati Debretzeni, violin, Through The Eye Of A Lens
A virtual tour of Europe through the “lens” of a violin, performed by one of the world’s leading exponents.
May 30, St John’s RC Church, Beverley, 6.30pm to 7.30pm: Ex Corde, Heaven On Earth: Thomas More’s Utopian Dream
Reflections based on Thomas More’s Utopia with vocal music by Robert Fayrfax and Josquin des Prez, plus the premiere of a commission by Christopher Fox, inspired by More’s vision, directed by Paul Gameson.
May 29 and 30, Beverley Ballad Walks; Saturday, In And Around Beverley Minster, 4pm; Sunday, It All Happened In Beverley!, 10am, and In And Around Beverley Minster, 1pm
Taking place over the live festival weekend will be the hugely popular Ballad Walks, led by singer Vivien Ellis, brimming with songs and stories from the streets. The tales span 800 years of history and reveal Beverley’s sometimes murky past, as well as the fascinating tales of inhabitants.
Beverley ’21 Online, Saturday, June 5 and Sunday, June 6
TO ensure the festival can be enjoyed by the widest possible audience, all five concerts will be filmed and available online, with an added bonus of many exclusive treats.
Historian David Neave will talk about the Pilgrims of the East Riding, who left these shores in 1638 to set out for a new, and better, world in North America; Stile Antico share the music of the period through a specially commissioned film available to all ticket holders; and John Bryan, Emeritus Professor of Music at the University of Huddersfield, introduces the festival from the Rococo splendour of Beverley Guildhall.
There also will be opportunities to visit some of Beverley’s hidden gems in the company of guest curators Fiona Jenkinson and Dr Jennie England.
Further details of Beverley ’21 Online will be available from May 6.
For full Beverley Early Music festivities details, times and ticket prices, go to: ncem.co.uk.
Tickets are on sale now online at ncem.co.uk/whats-on-bemf/, by email to firstname.lastname@example.org or on 01904 658338, but due to limited capacity, some events may be sold out already, and the organisers will be operating a waiting list via email sent to email@example.com.
THE 2020 York Early Music Christmas Festival went out with a splurge of concerts over its last weekend.
Your reviewer caught two of the four on the final day. Spiritato! was the largest ensemble to appear at the festival, 18 period-style players, who concentrated on Bach and his contemporary Johann Friedrich Fasch in The Leipzig Legacy.
Had he not been born directly in Bach’s shadow, Fasch would surely be better known. We heard at once, in the opening Concerto in D, how Fasch was already anticipating the classical shapes and sounds that were to feature in Haydn’s earlier symphonies.
There were exciting trumpets in the opening Allegro and delightful solos from violin and oboe in the finale: enough meat on these bones, indeed, to make further exploration of Fasch an exciting prospect.
His Quartetto in D minor, dating from about 1750, was marginally less exciting, but well above run-of-the-mill Baroque, gracefully delivered in its slow movements, with contrastingly crisp counterpoint in the Allegros.
Spiritato! was led from her violin by Kinga Ujszászi, who came into her own in Bach’s Sinfonia in D, where her effortless panache was breath-taking. But elsewhere too, she led by example, sustaining a real sense of dance through both Bach’s Second and Third Suites.
The Second, in B minor, believed to be the last of the four to be written, was given here in its earliest version for strings alone. Here the sound was a touch top-heavy, needing an extra cello or two for good balance.
The Third Suite, in D major, was probably much earlier, written at Cöthen (where Bach was succeeded as Kapellmeister by Fasch) in 1718. Apart from its famous Air, caressed here by strings alone, the Gavottes had a gentle lilt and the Gigue made a triumphant finale. Spiritato’s palpable enjoyment had proved infectious throughout.
The festival closed with the 12-voice ensemble Stile Antico, in an appearance at the unusual but most welcome hour of 5pm. Here we were back to purely Christmas repertory, mimicking Nine Lessons and Carols with nine Renaissance works, each preceded by a contemporary reading, in A Renaissance Christmas.
My heart usually sinks when I see that musicians are doing their own readings: few manage it with much prowess, let alone clarity. Stile Antico largely proved me wrong; these well exceeded expectation. There were two poems each from John Donne and George Herbert.
Robert Southwell’s The Burning Babe was another excellent choice, as was Emilia Lanier’s Eve’s Apologie. But the laurels went to a sermon by Lancelot Andrewes, its wit and wisdom about the Magi (including “a cold coming they had of it”) delivered here with supreme clarity. None of the readers was identified.
The conductor-less choir was arranged in two semi-circles, eight on the outside, four inside, socially distanced. This meant that, for the first time that I recall, it was possible to spot one singer keeping time with a gentle nod.
Needless to say, ensemble remained impeccable, matched by tuning that surely heaven will not better. The sopranos were particularly stunning. I recall just one occasion when a very high entry was slightly misjudged, though instantly rectified.
The tone of the evening was nicely set by an extract from the Piae Cantiones of 1582, that Finnish collection rediscovered by our man in Helsinki in the early 19th century.
Victoria was the only composer to feature twice, once with an eight-voice Agnus Dei, once with a gorgeous O Magnum Mysterium, partnering Donne’s Nativity. In between these two came the starker harmonies of a graceful Ave Maria by Des Prez, alongside Donne’s Annunciation, another clever pairing. Byrd’s Rorate Coeli had reminded us of his matchless counterpoint.
A very peppy Angelus Ad Pastores by a Ferrara nun, Raffaella Aleotti, in madrigal style, reminded us of how many such ladies are only now being brought to light, not before time. Guerrero’s villancico – nowadays synonymous with Christmas carol – A Un Niño Llorandowas cleverly shaped by five soloists.
It remained for a beautifully sustained account of John Sheppard’s Verbum Caro Factum Est, which was written for Christmas matins, to remind us of the reason for the festival. If you’ve never heard Stile Antico, make a beeline for them: you won’t be disappointed.
Review byMartin Dreyer
Both concerts are still available to buy online from the York Christmas At Home programme at ncem.co.uk until December 21 to watch on demand until January 6 2021.
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.
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 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.
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;
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/
MUSIC For Our Time, the Director’s Cut download of highlights from this month’s inaugural York Early Music Festival Online, is available from today.
Festival administrative director Dr Delma Tomlin has chosen her festival favourites, ranging from York countertenor Iestyn Davies and theorbo player Elizabeth Kenny’s opening concert on July 9, A Delightful Thing, Music and Readings from a Melancholy Man, to vocal ensemble Stile Antico’s closing performance on July 11.
Taking part in the 2020 festival too were lute and theorbo player Matthew Wadsworth, harpsichordist Steven Devine, lyra viol player Richard Boothby and Consone Quartet.
All the concerts were recorded by digital producer Ben Pugh at the empty National Centre for Early Music (NCEM), at St Margaret’s Church, Walmgate, York.
Iestyn Davies provides an exclusive introduction to the £4.99 download celebration of “the extraordinary success of the very first York Early Music Festival Online, which attracted a huge audience from across the UK and as far afield as Australia, Japan and the United States”.
Delma, director of the NCEM, says: “I’d like to say a huge thank-you to all those who joined us online. We have been overwhelmed by the warm wishes we received from our worldwide audience, which inspired me to choose a selection of my favourite highlights from the weekend to share with you, so that the wonderful music can be enjoyed time after time.
“The enthusiastic response shows the voracious appetite for early music and the power it has to engage and excite audiences far and wide.”
Festival favourites Stile Antico, who presented Breaking The Habit: Music by and for women in Renaissance Europe, say: “Such a delight to be able to perform from York: there is nothing quite like live music-making! Many thanks to the wonderful York Early Music Festival for the invitation and for all the technical wizardry. We hope that you all enjoyed watching as much as we enjoyed singing.”
Among comments shared on social media by online audiences, one enthused: “Great music and really liked the commentary which builds a bridge to the (remote) audience.”
Another said: “Thoroughly enjoyed everything this year. The internet presentation, while necessary under the circumstances, has made the festival much more accessible.”
A third exclaimed: “An absolute delight! So glad the festival was able to come into our homes this year.” A fourth concluded: “What a collection of talented performers! A wonderful couple of days.”
Looking to combine the early with the cutting edge, the NCEM was among the first British arts organisations to use digital technology to live-stream concerts during the Covid crisis.
The series began with recitals by Steven Devine and the Brabant Ensemble, filmed at St Margaret’s Church shortly before lockdown and broadcast live to an audience of over 60,000 people. Since then, the fortnightly series of streamed concerts has reached a worldwide audience of more than 70,000.
YORK Early Music Festival administrative director Dr Delma Tomlin is compiling a video of “personal favourites” from last week’s online event.
“We had a blast,” she says, reflecting on the success of the three-day virtual festival of four pre-recorded and two live concerts, streamed from the National Centre for Early Music from July 9 to 11.
“It was fabulous to be able to host musicians at the NCEM from across England – and to welcome online audiences from as far afield as Australia, Japan and the United States.”
Concert recordings were in the hands of digital producer Ben Pugh, filming the socially distant musicians at an otherwise empty St Margaret’s Church, the NCEM’s home in Walmgate.
Artists and audiences alike have given positive feedback to a digital event arranged once the Covid-19 lockdown enforced the cancellation of the Method & Madness-themed live festival from July 3 to 11.
“It was such a success that we’re now pulling together a compilation video of my personal favourites from 2020 Online. Details very soon!” promises Delma.
The revised remote festival of concerts and talks was headlined on July 9 by York countertenor Iestyn Davies – lockdown hair in need of a cut, by his own later admission – and theorbo player Elizabeth Kenny.
Streamed live last Thursday, they presented A Delightful Thing, Music and Readings from a Melancholy Man, combining song and music by Elizabethan lutenist John Dowland with Davies’s extra string to his bow: his rendition of readings and poems by Dowland, Leo Tolstoy and Rose Tremain, among others.
In a surprise encore, they mined the modern-day melancholia of a Mancunian man, Morrissey, digging deep into the pit of The Smiths’ There Is A Light That Never Goes Out.
Performances recorded over ten days ensued, by lutenist Matthew Wadsworth, harpsichordist Steven Devine and lyra viol player Richard Boothby last Friday and BBC New Generation artists Consone Quartet last Saturday afternoon.
Vocal ensemble Stile Antico closed the festival with a live streamed concert, Breaking The Habit: Music by and for women in Renaissance Europe, that evening.
“We’d purchased more video and sound equipment, so it was more like a TV studio environment for the recordings,” says Delma. “It’s fortunate that the NCEM is a big space, being a church building, which helped with social distancing.”
The NCEM was one of the first arts organisations to stream live concerts online during the Covid-19 crisis, beginning with performances by Steven Devine and The Brabant Ensemble. Since March, the fortnightly series of streamed concerts has reached a worldwide audience of more than 70,000.
CAN it be as long as 15 years ago that Stile Antico burst onto the scene by copping the audience prize at this festival’s international competition? Indeed it can.
This crack group of 12 singers, without a conductor, seems to have been part of the festival’s fabric ever since. Certainly it was the perfect choice to bring this year’s online festival to a stunning close.
Breaking The Habit was the punning title of a programme exploring Renaissance music by and for women, many of the former being nuns. Since most belonged to closed orders, there was some affinity between them and our own recent isolation.
The choir stood in a wide circle, facing inwards and exactly distanced, apparently performing for the first time together since lockdown, after a series of Zoom-style rehearsals. Remarkably, the singers went straight into full stride; it was as if they were simply in the middle of the season. Impeccable tuning and a blend that never faltered marked music that showed remarkable breadth of character, both sacred and secular.
Raffaella Aleotti, daughter of the court architect in Ferrara, revealed notable rhythmic flair in two motets she published in 1593, while in her mid-twenties. Two eight-voice motets showing equally nimble counterpoint were the work of Sulpitia Cesis, a nun in Modena, who published them in 1619.
Maddalena Casulana, though not a nun, was the first woman to have madrigals printed; working out of Vicenza, she produced three books – 66 madrigals in all – between 1568 and 1583. Her word-painting and daring harmony combine infectiously: Stile Antico had their measure, in fact a mere two madrigals left us wanting more.
Finally, another nun from Ferrara, Leonora d’Este, tested the group’s high sopranos in three motets for five female voices. Needless to say, discipline was maintained, to thrilling effect.
The remainder of the programme explored music written for female rulers. Margaret of Austria, who governed the duchy of Burgundy in the early 16th century, commissioned an exceptionally dark, mysterious motet from Pierre de la Rue to commemorate her brother’s death, while herself writing a three-voice piece in both French and Latin.
Music for Queen Mary included John Sheppard’s mighty Gaude, Gaude, Gaude Maria, with several wordless plainsong interludes, delivered with exceptional smoothness. Byrd’s motet for Elizabeth I, O Lord, Make Thy Servant Elizabeth, boasted an exquisitely controlled Amen, kept prayerful. Two madrigals from The Triumphs of Oriana illuminated the spicier side of the Elizabethan court.
Finally, Dialogo and Quodlibet, written last year by Joanna Marsh, contrasted scholarly theorising by the six men with the flightier disruption intended by the six ladies, until finally they agreed to unite and entertain. The style harked back to the Renaissance and fitted wittily into this context.
A lunchtime concert by the Consone Quartet included two of Beethoven’s Op 18 quartets, Nos 1 and 3. I cannot comment on the first since it was disfigured by transmission problems, except to say that it was tackled cautiously and with introspection. The group appeared to abandon this approach in No 3, which was altogether more relaxed, reaching a peak in a finale full of energy and joie de vivre.
The online festival has not been without technical difficulties, but we may be extremely grateful for the huge effort put into it both by the performers and by the Early Music Centre staff. It has lightened everyone’s mood to be able to see music “live” again at long last.
THE 2020 York Early Music Festival will be streamed online from this evening until Saturday.
Replacing the Covid-cancelled Method & Madness-themed live event from July 3 to 11, the revised remote festival now combines performances and talks by a line-up of performers based in England.
The virtual festival will be headlined by York countertenor Iestyn Davies and theorbo player Elizabeth Kenny in a concert streamed live tonight at ncem.co.uk, complemented by performances recorded over the past ten days by Steven Devine, Richard Boothby, Consone Quartet and Matthew Wadsworth.
Stile Antico will close the three-day event with a live concert on Saturday, performed, like all the rest, with no live audience at the National Centre for Early Music, at St Margaret’s Church, Walmgate.
Since the decision was taken to cancel this year’s live festival, under the Coronavirus lockdown, organisers have been working hard behind the scenes to deliver the weekend-long programme of music.
To bring the online festival together, the NCEM has linked up with digital producer Ben Pugh, who has brought his ubiquitous expertise to the concert recordings and will be on hand, at a distance, to stream the live Davies & Kenny and Stile Antico concerts.
“We’ve purchased more video and sound equipment, so it’s more like a TV studio environment now,” says festival administrative director Dr Delma Tomlin. “It’s fortunate that the NCEM is a big space, being a church building, which will help with social distancing.”
Tonight, at 7.30pm, Davies and Kenny present A Delightful Thing, Music and Readings from a Melancholy Man, combining song and music by Elizabethan lutenist John Dowland with Davies’s extra string to his bow: his rendition of readings and poems by Dowland, Robert Burton, Samuel Daniel, Michael Drayton, Barnabe Googe, Ben Jonson, William Leighton, Henry Peacham, Leo Tolstoy and Rose Tremain.
“To place John Dowland’s artistic output squarely in the frame of ‘Elizabeth melancholia’ is to strip away a richer layer of biography that lies within his crafted lines of music and words,” says Davies.
“Rather, by embracing the songs and solo lute airs as the expressions of a man seeking to find words to say how we fail, we engage in a dialogue that enriches both us and the artistic subject of John Dowland himself.”
Tomorrow, John Bryan begins the day with an illustrated introduction to the festivities at 10.30am, highlighting how each concert is linked by a theme of fantasy. This will be followed at 1pm by lute and theorbo player Matthew Wadsworth playing works by Kapsperger, Piccinini, Dowland and Francesco da Milano, plus Echoes In Air, a piece written specially for him by Laura Snowden.
“In a world where live music is in a very fragile place, I am grateful to have the opportunity to share this programme, while being sensitive to the fact that so many artists and arts organisation are in very difficult circumstances,” says Wadsworth.
“I have put together a programme of some of my favourite 17th century music, ending with a wonderful new piece written for me in 2019 by guitarist and composer Laura Snowden.
“When I was asked in 2019 to give a concert in the 2020 festival, I, along with everybody else, had no idea that we would be facing a pandemic together. As we adjust to a new normal, and start to find our way again, I am ever more convinced that music and the arts are an absolute necessity, not a luxury.”
Wadsworth continues: “I am reminded how, when I moved abroad for the first time in 1997 to study in The Hague, I felt very lost and out of place.
“Music and the lute were a constant, and I realised I could take this source of security anywhere with me. I feel that same comfort and sense of reassurance today, knowing that live music – that most precious shared listening experience between artist and audience – has a past, present and a future.”
At 3.30pm, harpsichord player Steven Devine performs JS Bach’s The Well-Tempered Clavier, Preludes & Fugues, from Book 1: Nos. 13 to 24. At 7.30pm, lyra viol player Richard Boothby plays music by Ferrabosco, Jenkins and Lawes, alongside William Corkine’s virtuoso settings of popular tunes such as Come Live With Me and Be My Love.
The BBC’s New Generation artists Consone Quartet open Saturday’s online programme at 1pm with Beethoven’s String Quartets Opus 18, Nos 2 & No 3.
“Performing Beethoven’s music is both an exciting and an exhausting experience,” says violinist Magdalena Loth-Hill, who plays alongside Agata Daraskaite, violin, Elitsa Bogdanova, viola, and George Ross, cello.
“The abrupt changes of dynamic, key and direction require the musicians to be alert and adaptable, both musically responsive and elastic in technique. This opus is particularly fascinating because it marks an important turning point in the history of the string quartet.
“It is clearly influenced by the classical form and structure of ‘Papa’ Haydn’s work, yet the listener can sense the winds of change blowing, and a new musical language on the horizon.”
At 3.30pm, York Early Music Festival luminary Peter Seymour, a titan of the York classical music world, will introduce the story behind his recording of Bach’s St Matthew Passion.
The festival closes with vocal ensemble Stile Antico’s 7.30pm programme, Breaking The Habit: Music by and for women in Renaissance Europe, featuring works by Raffaella Aleotti; Sulpitia Cesis; Maddalena Casulana; Pierre de la Rue; Margaret of Austria; Leonora d’Este; Thomas Tallis; John Sheppard; William Byrd; John Taverner; John Bennett and Richard Carlton.
“The 16th century saw an unprecedented number of female rulers,” says Delma, setting up the concert’s premise. “From the powerful Medici women of Italy to the great Tudor queens of England, women across Europe held more power than ever before.
“Many of these monarchs used their patronage to facilitate the production of music of exquisite beauty by the finest composers of the day, extravagant showcases of their power contrasting with intimate and personal compositions.
“The century also saw the first publication of music by female composers, often Italian nuns, whose convents supported musical groups of astonishing ability.”
Drawing attention to BBC Radio 3’s festival broadcasts, Delma says: “As an added treat, Radio 3 is presenting its Early Music Show from the festival on Sunday at 2pm, as we celebrate 35 years of supporting emerging ensembles through the York Early Music International Young Artists Competition.
“Radio 3 then completes our celebrations with two magnificent performances from our archive: The Sixteen, directed by Harry Christophers, on July 14, recorded in York Minster in 2015, and Jordi Savall’s Hesperion XX1, recorded in 2014 and now broadcast again on July 15.”
The NCEM was one of the first arts organisations to stream live concerts online during the Covid-19 crisis, beginning with performances by Steven Devine and The Brabant Ensemble. Since March, the fortnightly series of streamed concerts has reached a worldwide audience of more than 70,000.
It is not too late to book tickets for the latest batch at tickets.ncem.co.uk and firstname.lastname@example.org, with a festival package costing £30, individual concert tickets at £10 each and illustrated talks at £3.50 each.
“At this complicated time, it’s a great joy to be able to share music with our audiences once again,” says Delma. “The digital festival is a first for the NCEM and we look forward to people’s reactions. Whatever else, everyone gets a front row seat!”
“I would also like to thank Arts Council England, City of York Council, JWP Creers, Shepherd Group and Creative Europe for their invaluable support.”
Did you know?
AFTER Saturday’s concert, Stile Antico will stay on at the NCEM for three days of recordings for their Mayflower project, now put back to 2021.
MARTIN Dreyer’s reviews of tonight’s opening concert by Iestyn Davies and Elizabeth Kenny and Saturday’s closing concert by Stile Antico will run on the CharlesHutchPress website.