Published: 31st October 2018
A nice review of our concert in Cleveland, Ohio last week!
To speak of our era as one of unlimited access to global cultures is to imply — often inaccurately — that availability necessarily leads to familiarity. In the cases of art forms with deep roots in a particular place, no amount of streaming audio or video can stand in for the kind of live exposure that knocks one backward with the full force and physical presence of the new. How fortunate for Northeast Ohioans, then, that the Cathedral of St John the Evangelist invited the Marian Consort to Cleveland as the penultimate stop on their first North American tour. Their concert of music inspired by the Virgin Mary spanned centuries of sacred music in the English choral tradition.
Founded as a sextet, the Consort appeared on Friday, October 19 as a flexible ensemble: founder, director, and countertenor Rory McCleery conducted, and the remaining eight singers split into groups of three or more for each piece.
Tenors Guy Cutting and Edward Ross sang in sweet harmony in Byrd’s Salve Regina, and first alto Helen Charlston’s powerful yet velvety tone lent a distinctive richness to the group sound, as it would all evening.
In her Magnificat for sextet, Roxanna Panufnik’s compositional voice held as much appeal as the literal voices of the singers. The Cathedral’s long echo did the audience a favor by keeping first soprano Charlotte Ashley’s crystalline voice ringing several seconds after the piece ended. Despite the clarity and quality of her sound, Ashley sang with restraint throughout.
McCleery aimed for productive contrast in his program order. Cornysh’s Ave Maria, a low-quartet showcase in which Charlston served as a natural leader, paired well with the sad, beautiful Dormi Jesu for high-voice trio by Dodgson that followed. Octets by Tallis and Tavener gave bass Nick Ashby a chance to lay out warm blankets of sound.
Second alto Hannah Cooke led with confidence in Ludford’s Ave cuius conceptio, which also found second soprano Rachel Ambrose Evans soaring in a duet with Ashby. Gabriel Jackson’s Salve Regina began and ended with chilly harmonies, arrayed around a warm center.
After an intermission, Ross sang the Salve Regina chant unaccompanied from the far end of the space, setting up a breathtaking performance of Howells’s 1915 Salve Regina by the remaining septet. The four men of the group blended well in Parsons’s Ave Maria, with Charlston adding wonderfully resonant commentary above. MacMillan’s Ave Maris Stella, though well sung, paled in comparison to Britten’s A Hymn to the Virgin, for which McCleery placed a quartet singing in Latin thirty feet behind a group singing in English, yet kept the two groups coordinated.
After the faraway group sang Tallis’s Euge Caeli Porta, six singers came together for Cecilia McDowall’s thoughtfully arranged Alma Redemptoris Mater. Sheppard’s Ave Maris Stella offered textural variety, but it took a piece by current Master of the Queen’s Music Judith Weir, her Ave Regina Caelorum, to properly cap the program. Full of fluttering rhythms and leaping intervals, this smart, captivating setting reminded all in attendance that the British choral tradition remains fiercely alive.
Published: 29th October 2018
After nearly two years of planning, on Friday 12 October nine members of The Marian Consort set off from Heathrow airport for the ensemble’s first ever tour of the USA. The tour had come about as a result of an invitation issued by the University of Dayton, Ohio, whose Marian Library was celebrating its 75th anniversary in 2018. In addition to workshops, masterclasses and a performance in Dayton, our tour schedule included concerts in Jackson Mississippi, Atlanta Georgia, Cleveland Ohio, and a short trip across the border into Canada for a concert in Oakville Ontario.
The Marian Consort performs in the chapel of the University of Dayton, Ohio
Our first stop (after nearly fourteen hours of travelling, and a very brief layover in Dallas Airport!) was Jackson, where we were met at the airport by representatives of the Mississippi Academy of Ancient Music, our hosts and the organisers of our concert the following evening. We were delighted to be driven to our hotel in two classic cars – the theme of luxurious transport was to continue the following day, when a limousine arrived to ferry us to our concert venue!
After a good rehearsal, which helped to shake off the cobwebs of the previous day’s travel, we headed out (again by limo!) for a healthy meal before our performance. Our programme for the tour was one based around our ‘Music for the Queen of Heaven’ CD, released in 2017 – the focus on specifically Marian repertoire by UK composers seemed entirely appropriate for our visit to Dayton, and allowed us to showcase a number of pieces which received their US and Canadian debuts in our concerts, among them the exquisite Dormi Jesu by Stephen Dodgson. These twentieth-century and contemporary works were juxtaposed with a selection of English Renaissance music by composers including Byrd, Tallis, Ludford, Parsons and Sheppard, providing both contrast and continuity for listeners.
Being met in style at Jackson Airport, and relaxing on the porch before breakfast
After Mississippi, our next concert was at the beautiful All Saints’ Episcopal Church in downtown Atlanta – we were wonderfully looked after over the two days that we were in Georgia, with the famous spirit of Southern hospitality very much alive and in evidence! This included dinner at a traditional, old fashioned Southern restaurant, where we were able to try a number of culinary specialities, and a visit to the Atlanta Aquarium, where a highlight was the choreographed performance by the resident team of acrobatic dolphins and dolphin trainers!
Following another internal flight (one of many on the trip!) we arrived in Dayton, the birthplace of aviation in the US! We were met at the airport by Eileen, the coordinator of the University’s performance series, and driven to our hotel on campus for a much-appreciated evening off, which gave the ensemble the opportunity to explore a little of downtown Dayton (including its excellent pizza!) and Rory time to finish off the lecture he was to present to the undergraduate music and religious history students the following morning.
The next day saw us up bright and early for the lecture, which included live performance excerpts from some of our Renaissance repertoire, taking the students on a whistle-stop tour through the music of the English Renaissance and tying the various changes in compositional style into the history of the Tudor Monarchs from Henry VIII to Elizabeth I. We then headed over to the University’s Marian Library, a fascinating collection of books, sheet music, works of art, and other assorted artefacts and objects (including an enormous number of nativity scenes from all across the world) related to the Virgin Mary, where Sarah Cahalan, the library’s director, and Samuel Dorf, lecturer and director of the University Early Music Ensemble, introduced invited guests to some of the musical items in the library’s collection. In the afternoon, we had an excellent workshop with the Dayton University Chorale, with Rory offering them some coaching on their Renaissance and contemporary repertoire before we sang two contrasting works from our concert programme. It was wonderful to see and hear such an energetic, committed group of young singers, and they had some fantastically insightful and interesting questions for us in the Q&A with which we finished our session. The concert we gave in Dayton was also very rewarding, as our venue, the college chapel, was filled to the brim with an enthusiastic audience of students, staff and local residents.
Our next concert in Cleveland was easier to reach by road than by plane, so we hired a people carrier for the three-hour drive, stopping off for lunch en-route: our chosen eatery turned out to be an authentic American diner inside an old train carriage! On arriving in Cleveland we were delighted to discover that our venue for that evening, The Cathedral of St John the Evangelist, was not only a beautiful building but also had an incredible (and very resonant!) acoustic. This allowed us to fully exploit the spatial possibilities offered by some of our repertoire, a fact commented on (favourably, we’re pleased to say!) in the review for ClevelandClassical.com. As with all of our performances on the tour, the audience was warm and welcoming, and it was lovely to chat to them after the concert, including a couple of familiar faces from early music singing workshops in the UK!
St John the Evangelist, Cleveland
Our final concert of the tour involved two flights and a border crossing as we ventured out of the US and into Canada: Oakville was, as we had expected, much colder than Mississippi, Atlanta or even Dayton, but more than made up for this with its handsome setting and scenic views across Lake Ontario to Toronto. Our venue was St Jude’s, a charming Victorian church built in 1883 which, with its stained glass portrait of Queen Victoria, was somehow more British than Britain! Here too, we were made to feel very welcome, and we were delighted to retire after the concert to the local Queen’s Head Pub for a well-deserved drink with our hosts. The following day saw us heading into Toronto for a spot of brunch and a little retail therapy before making our way to Pearson International Airport to start the long journey home. After ten days, seven flights, five concerts, two countries and one limousine, our first-ever North American tour had come to an end: we had a fantastic time performing brilliant music for some really lovely audiences across the US and Canada, and getting to know some wonderful people, and we hope to be back before too long!
Published: 3rd March 2016
We were invited to give a sneak preview of our exciting ‘Breaking the Rules’ project at the launch of this year’s Newbury Spring Festival this week: the launch took place in the Royal Box at Newbury Racecourse (fitting for music written by a Prince and heard by Dukes and ladies!), and was a wonderful opportunity to also launch our Breaking the Rules tour, which will begin at the Festival on May 19th, and run until November 2016.
Here’s The Marian Consort post-performance, along with Clare Norburn, the writer of Breaking the Rules, and representatives of Newbury Spring Festival (excellent reception cake and coffee out of shot!)
Published: 27th February 2016
We were delighted to be the featured artists on this Sunday’s ‘Early Music Late’ on BBC Radio 3: our concert of music by William Byrd and his contemporaries, recorded at last June’s Rheinvokal Festival, was broadcast and is now available on Iplayer.
If you’d like to listen again, just click on the link below!
Published: 9th January 2016
Looking back to the end of 2015, we undertook our first major UK tour, bringing our ‘Christmas with the Shepherds’ programme to audiences in Perthshire, Edinburgh, York, Oxford, Canterbury, West Somerset and London over the course of just under two weeks in December. Despite the best efforts of the weather and ensuing road and rail difficulties (not to mention a plastic bag on an overhead line!), we managed to make it to all of our intended destinations, and were met with wonderfully warm responses from friendly and welcoming audiences (some a little too warm, as an audience member fainted during one performance due to the heat of having so many people packed into the church!).
The Sunday Times’s Paul Driver attended our final concert of the tour, our debut at the Spitalfields Winter Festival in St Leonard’s Shoreditch, and had the following to say:
‘McCleery, a countertenor and academic as well as conductor, introduced the items with a lucidity combining boyish geniality with quite startling erudition … I felt a door was being opened on this historical period, and it was the very door of St Leonard’s. The singers were marvellous. Highlights were the opening Marian antiphon by Victoria, and his six-part Quem vidistis, pastores?, its imitative structure emerging with the most sublime clarity.’
Published: 10th November 2015
The Marian Consort featured as part of BBC Radio 3’s line-up for the 2015 Free Thinking: Festival of Ideas in Gateshead this weekend, performing in the wonderful acoustic of St Mary’s Heritage Centre. The concert we gave was recorded for the Early Music Show and took as its theme ‘Bending the Rules’, featuring works by Carlo Gesualdo, Jacob Handl, Giaches de Wert, Luzzasco Luzzaschi and William Byrd, with Rory discussing the music with presenter Lucie Skeaping.
The concert is now available on BBC Iplayer Radio and can be listened to by clicking here.
If you’d like to hear more Gesualdo, The Marian Consort will be performing his music throughout the UK in 2016: for more information, please visit our Concerts page.
Published: 10th November 2015
We’re delighted that our concert from the 2015 Rheinvokal Festival back in June, which was broadcast on SWR2 in Germany on November 1st, is now available to listen to online by clicking here. We performed our ‘Singing in Secret’ programme, featuring music by William Byrd and his contemporaries, in the amazing St. Severus church in Boppard. Appropriately, the November 1st broadcast coincided with the Feast of All Saints, as our programme contained Byrd’s magnificent Propers for All Saints from Gradualia, including the well-known Justorum Animae.
We’re very pleased to be returning to Germany in Autumn 2016 to perform ‘Singing in Secret’, along with Thomas Tallis’ monumental 40-part motet Spem in Alium: more information about this will be available in the new year!
Published: 20th October 2015
Although the weather didn’t look terribly promising on the morning of our final Swiss concert, we still ventured out into Lucerne for a walk and a spot of lunch, before heading to the Marianischer Saal to rehearse for our early evening concert. The hall, at the top of an old Jesuit meeting house, is quite spectacular, as were the views from our dressing room (see right!). Our concert was the first of the 20th Anniversary chamber music series, so we were treated to a drinks reception, at which we were able to meet and chat to many of our audience. They were a wonderfully friendly and enthusiastic group, and it was a lovely way to round off our Swiss debut!
Published: 20th October 2015
After an invigorating cycle round Kartause Ittingen and a hearty organic breakfast (which featured some delicious local strawberry juice!) we set off for Einsiedeln and our fourth concert of the tour. The views from the train window on our way up to the town were quite spectacular, and our concert venue, the Grosser Saal of the Kloster Einsiedeln, which we were told was similarly arresting, did not disappoint! The concert finished with a mad dash back down the hill to the station to catch our train to Lucerne (which we made with whole seconds to spare!) and on arrival we were treated to a delicious dinner at the home of Gerhard Pawlica, organiser of the chamber music series at the Marianischer Saal, before heading to our hotel for some well-earned sleep!
"Singing one person to a part, the Marian Consort give sublimely refined, spacious and impeccably tuned performances."
"The singers perform with a yearning intensity which is just exquisite."
"Exemplary one-to-a-part performances ... the singing is as impassioned as it is effortlessly elegant."
"The Marian Consort has built an enviable reputation for coolly poised and precisely balanced performances and indeed there are times here when the listener can only sit back and admire, seduced by the sheer beauty of sound."
"There’s earnest beauty in it and the instrumental playing on this recording is spot on – the Berkeley Ensemble under David Wordsworth clinches the balance of chaste, plaintive and urgent."
"You are left in no doubt of the agony of the crucifixion in the vocal and horn climax of the opening chorus of Stabat Mater ... intense and riveting."
"The Marian Consort’s performances deliver full value in terms of expressive range and sophistication. Pitch-perfect tuning and immaculately clean ensemble … add further to the attractions of this eminently listenable recital."
"The Marian Consort’s background in early music pays dividends in their superb precision of pitch, impeccable rhythmic placing and beautiful diction … the lush harmonies that open [Judica me] are sumptuously delivered and beautifully recorded."
"Little is known about the 16th-century composer, except that his beautifully smooth polyphony was much admired ... As revealed with pellucid clarity by Rory McCleery’s young Marian Consort on this first recording devoted exclusively to Maillard, he was a subtly expressive composer."
"With two women in the group, they make no pretence at emulating what might have happened in the 16th century; but that lets them sing out with more freedom. So this is no-nonsense musicianship, but for all that thoroughly musical ... The unfussy performance helps the music enormously."
"The motets are more adventurous, declamatory and cleverly nuanced, with a recognisable house style. The Marian Consort produces a very pleasing sound."
"The most striking feature of this entertainingly varied collection is the consistently fresh, fruit-ripe tonal quality of the Marian Consort's singing … poised and flexible, the text responded to with notable insight and maturity."