Friday January 31, 2020 | 7:30PM (Pre-concert talk at 6:45PM)
Christ Church Cathedral | Map
An intense experience awaits us as we journey to medieval France to witness the trial of Joan of Arc: a silent movie classic, accompanied by intricately beautiful live choral music from The Orlando Consort. Condemned unseen in France on its release, vilified by the Catholic authorities and even banned outright in England, Carl Theodor Dreyer’s film, La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc (1928), is widely recognised as a masterpiece. The award-winning Orlando Consort have crafted a stunning soundtrack to transport us back to the 15th century.
Formed in 1988, the Orlando Consort rapidly achieved a reputation as one of Europe’s most expert and consistently challenging groups performing repertoire from the years 1050 to 1550. Their work successfully combines captivating entertainment and fresh scholarly insight; the unique imagination and originality of their programming together with their superb vocal skills has marked the Consort as the outstanding leaders of their field.
“Simultaneously ravishing and reverential.” – Los Angeles Times
This concert is generously supported by the Brennan Spano Foundation
We’re often asked what we’re doing, up there beneath the screen, earbuds in, heads down, reading from folders and consulting a laptop screen. This is something of an explanation.
In the early days of film scoring, composers wrote music to last a specific amount of time, achieving that by dividing the beat and ascribing metronome marks. Then, more often than not, it was down to a conductor to observe those instructions in the recording studio. The orchestra would be assembled beneath a large screen, with a view of both afforded to the conductor. The metronome mark would be a guide only, specific moments – ‘stings’, beginnings or endings – indicated by a streamer that ran across the film so that the conductor could co-ordinate that particular dramatic moment with his beat (it was, ubiquitously, a man conducting) or ‘punches’. On rare occasions the director would re-cut his movie to fit musical moments – I’m thinking here of Spielberg and John Williams recording E.T. when the specific ‘bumps’ of the score refused to align with those of the bikes as they hit ruts in the road – but essentially synchronisation between sound and image was down to the conductor.
These days the conductor, orchestra and singers all rely on a click-track. This is an audible click set at the required tempo and transmitted to all in the studio by headphones. The tempi these days are anally exact – it’s not uncommon to see a metronome marking of 66.2 bpm, for example – the occasional speeding and slowing no longer trusted to a human mediator. The conductor acts more like a referee than a conductor, relaying a tempo that can already by heard, signalling where the cue begins, a communicator between performers and the production box.
I’ve sung on too many film soundtracks to count and can vouch for its efficiency. But occasionally it’s obvious that one is singing too emphatically, the click of the beat transmitted unconsciously. When The Orlando Consort is in the recording studio or on stage it’s very different. Only when we rehearse for a recording do we ever use a metronome, and even then it’s by far from the exact instrument for which it’s well known. We use it as more of a marker, a rough indication of where we might start when we come to record it. It saves arguing all over again about the ideal tempo. It saves time. Sometimes, after a few run-throughs in a different acoustic, we’ll decide that it’s too slow or too fast and we’ll create a new tempo reference. That, though, is not so easy. The problem is that the tempo changes from bar to bar, even beat to beat. In other words, musical performances ebb and flow, though we’d all swear blind that we’re keeping perfect time. Perfect, of course, doesn’t always mean metronomic.
We wanted to keep that variation in our performances for the film project, but at the same time it was essential that we began and ended cues at specific points. All of that argued for some kind of click track, but singing as we do, a cappella and without amplification, headphones were inappropriate. [Incidentally, if you want a more academic argument about the differences between recording in the studio with headphones and without them in churches or other venues then you might want to read a chapter I wrote entitled ‘Performing for (and against) the microphone’ in The Cambridge Companion to Recording ed. Nicholas Cook, John Rink and Daniel Leech-Wilkinson (CUP, 2009)]. We opted for the beats marked on a screen. That allowed us both to see the movie and to respond to the emotional charge of the scene, but also to locate ourselves temporally. And, crucially, it provided flexibility. Whoever was conducting – a task we share out amongst ourselves – could move the tempo forwards and backwards, adding short accelerandi and ritardandi, approximating more closely our usual working practice, the requirement for exact synchronisation limited to the kinds of stings I mentioned earlier.
All of that meant that once the score had been roughly assembled then each beat needed to be marked onto a digitised version of the movie. That task fell to Eliot Lindsell, a resourceful Digital Media student at that time and, coincicentally, my nephew, who came up with several very useful suggestions and stuck to the (sometimes dull) task in hand. He laid out the movie first in Sony Vegas, then applied metronome beats and gave each of them a graphic representation.
What we see in the centre of the screen is the movie itself. In red on the right side of the screen are cues the beginning of the next piece, while in green on the left side numbers dictate what it is we’re actually singing. The name of the piece is given in both instances, as well as the number of the bar and the remaining beats, hence 1,2,3,2,2,3,3,2,3,4,2,3, etc. Most cues finish early, which is to say we don’t give the final few beats allowing for an organic finish. Sometimes there will be an additional cue to end the final chord, perhaps a spat-out consonant that coincides with something dramatic. At other times we simply judge it between ourselves in one of those seemingly impossible telepathic moments of communication. For sections of plainsong, where the ebb and flow is more obviously pronounced, we have a travelling bar that moves from left to right, showing us where we are and roughly how much time we have left.
As an audience you should be blissfully unaware of this, even if, should you choose, you could focus on what we’re doing, inevitably at the expense of the film. And that’s not our purpose, which is always to serve the film, our contribution secondary to, accomplished, like most film music, unheard and unnoticed.
Oh, and the earbuds? They’re there simply to give the very occasional pitch cue. Normally this would be done by one of us humming the note, but that would prove too distracting. As to the sound of the pitched note, well, that’s another long story for another day.
For a scene breakdown that describes the action and explains the music choices behind it, please click here.
Formed in 1988 by the Early Music Network of Great Britain, the Orlando Consort rapidly achieved a reputation as one of Europe’s most expert and consistently challenging groups performing repertoire from the years 1050 to 1550. Their work successfully combines captivating entertainment and fresh scholarly insight; the unique imagination and originality of their programming together with their superb vocal skills has marked the Consort out as the outstanding leaders of their field. The Consort has performed at many of Britain’s top festivals (including the BBC Proms and the Edinburgh International Festival) and has in recent years made visits to France, Holland, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Sweden, Poland, the Czech Republic, Estonia, the USA and Canada, South America, Singapore, Japan, Greece, Russia, Austria, Switzerland, Slovenia, Portugal and Spain.
The Consort’s impressive discography for Saydisc, Metronome, Linn, Deutsche Grammophon and Harmonia Mundi USA includes a collection of music by John Dunstaple and ‘The Call of the Phoenix’, which were selected as Early Music CDs of the Year by Gramophone Magazine in 1996 and 2003 respectively; their CDs of music by CompÃ¨re, Machaut, Ockeghem, Josquin, ‘Popes and Anti-Popes’, ‘Saracen and Dove’ and ‘Passion’ have also all been short-listed. Their 2008 release of Machaut’s ‘Messe de Notre Dame’ and ‘Scattered Rhymes’, an outstanding new work by the young British composer Tarik O’Regan and featuring the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, was short-listed for a BBC Music Magazine Award. Their most recent release is entitled ‘The Gentle Physician’. This is the sixth in a series for Hyperion exploring the polyphonic songs of Guillaume de Machaut, two of which have been Gramophone Editor’s Choice, and the first release (‘Le Voir Dit’) was selected by New York Times critics as one of their favourite classical CD releases of 2013.
The Consort’s performances also embrace the spheres of contemporary music and improvisation: to date they have performed over thirty world premières and they have created striking collaborations with the jazz group Perfect Houseplants and, for a project exploring historic Portuguese and Goan music, with the brilliant tabla player, Kuljit Bhamra. Recent concert highlights include a return visit to New York’s Carnegie Hall, a performance for the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., and numerous performances in North America of the ‘Voices Appeared’ project. In Europe, ‘Voices Appeared’ featured in 2018 at the Utrecht Early Music Festival and at the Salzburg Festival. 2019 sees them back in North America and Europe, and in London at the Wigmore Hall.
I was always into music – the usual school choirs, school orchestras, and so on – and was a very keen trumpeter, though I never saw myself going down that route full time. However, it was almost a spontaneous thought to give singing a go and, without fully realising the course I was setting out on, I managed to gain a choral scholarship to sing in the choir at St John’s College, Cambridge, where I read history. In fact, it was a good thing that I got a choral award as my A level results were so poor that no other university would have accepted me. Still, I very much enjoyed the work (honest!), specialising in American history, and I benefitted from a fantastic musical training from the director of the John’s choir, George Guest.
After that I undertook a post-graduate certificate in education, which sadly illustrated to me that I was not cut out to be a teacher, and the post-graduate vocal studies at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London studying with Ellis Keeler and, later on, the wonderful and much-missed tenor Anthony Rolfe Johnson. I was fortunate enough to be able to establish myself on the freelance singing circuit, working with some excellent groups (Monteverdi Choir, Taverner Consort, Tallis Scholars, Gabrieli Consort) and some top-rank conductors, and I have also done my fair share of solo work around the world. Increasingly my singing has focused on the Orlandos and I love the set-up: great music, much of it still undiscovered, and, through the one-voice-per-part format the responsibility for a quarter of the performance! I do think of this as chamber music and the rewards of participating in this will be familiar to anyone who has played in or listened to string quartets or other instrumental combinations.
I do a fair amount of the day-to-day administration for the group, but I am very happy that others look after all matters connected with the accounts. Chief amongst the pleasures is devising new programmes and I get immense satisfaction when a small nugget of an idea leads to a complete concert or recording programme. I love to connect music to other subjects – maybe this is my interest in history coming out again? – and our ‘Food’ project is a good example of this. The 350 years of music relates to fine dining, food production, shopping and double entendres of a dubious nature by the dozen, but the music itself is hugely varied and entertaining and provides a great entry point for audiences who may not necessarily have experience of our core repertoire period. It has also led to us having lots of post-concert, and sometimes even mid-concert meals hosted by generous promoters over many years!
Since late 2010 I have also been the Artistic Director of ‘Music in the Round’, a Sheffield-based organisation that presents chamber music on a local, regional and national basis. There is a very busy year-round schedule, with a Spring and Autumn series, a May Festival and masses of fantastic community and education work. Working closely with a great organisational and performing team I get to indulge my interests in furthering my musical horizons and devising concerts and projects. Without (hopefully) getting too philosophical about this, the portfolio of work that I am lucky enough to experience both as a performer and as an organiser reinforces my belief in the incredible communicative power of music and the conviction that this power is an immense force for good in the world in which we live.
With access to modern technology I can do a significant amount of my work from home and this allows me to spend lots of time with (keep tabs on?) my teenage daughters, Hannah and Megan. They are growing up so fast – I know, that’s a clichÃ© these days – and while we share loads of interests and tastes, they are individually developing into young women who I believe have exciting futures ahead of them. OK, so I am biased, I admit it. I am also proud.
I was born between Dunstable and Luton in England, a suitable location for someone who has ended up being an itinerant singer of early music; Dunstable is a famous C.15th English composer and Luton is infamous for its airport.
A rather predictable though by no means preplanned life for a singer of early music followed: Chorister at Westminster Abbey, Choral Scholar at Canterbury Cathedral.
After getting a First in English and Film Studies at the University of Kent at Canterbury followed by post-grad work in Film Theory and despite serious attempts to fly in the face of such an upbringing (taking in lecturing in Film Studies and Semiology, reviewing films, early acting promise squandered in walk-on roles), I ended up in the early music ‘scene’ in London.
More by luck than judgement, I was in the right place at the right time and joined Tallis Scholars in 1985. Similar good fortune followed in 1988 when I was a founder member of the Orlando Consort. Along the way there has been singing with Westminster Cathedral, Gothic Voices, Taverner Consort, Fretwork, Gabrieli Consort, Cardinall’s Musick and many choruses. Also active in the pop/session/musicals world and general “gun for hire”, I’m happy and eager to experiment with different vocal styles from pop to musicals. Hobbies include watching movies, TV (I’m a great fan of Deadwood), reading, listening to jazz, beer, shopping, sport, running, and following the unpredictable progress of the English cricket team. I also plan holidays and write.
My first novel, Time Will Tell (Thames River Press) was published in 2013. It’s set in the world of early music, both in the present day and in the C.15th where the behaviour of composers like Josquin and Ockeghem comes under close scrutiny. I have also published several academic articles – in Screen (on Hitchcock and sexual difference), Early Music, Tijdschrift van de Vereniging voor Nederlandse muziekgeschiedenis (on Ockeghem), Musical Times (on improvisation), book reviews for The Musical Times, a chapter in The Cambridge Companion to Recorded Music, and two forthcoming articles, one on the music in Carl Theodor Dreyer’s films (for the Dreyer Archive in Copenhagen) and one in The Oxford Handbook of Medievalism and Music.
Recordings with which I would be happy to be associated are the Tallis Scholars’ recording of Josquin’s Pange lingua and La sol fa re mi masses, anything by Gothic Voices I’ve been fortunate enough to be involved with, and all of the Orlando Consort’s recordings.
In the 80s I did some part-time lecturing at Goldsmiths, University of Kent, and University of Reading in Film and Semiology. I have given lectures and workshops in musicology at Harvard, Notre Dame, Peabody Institute, Vanderbilt University, Georgetown University, Boston University, and at two annual meetings of the American Musicological Society. Now I find myself studying for a PhD in music at University of Nottingham based around the soundtrack I designed for Voices Appeared.
Robert Macdonald began his professional musical career at an early age as a Chorister at Hereford Cathedral. From there he went on to be a Choral Scholar at Christ Church, Oxford where he read a rare combination of Biochemistry & Music.
After a brief period at The Royal Academy of Music, (where he studied with Mark Wildman) Robert has gone on to develop a diverse career as both a Consort Singer & a Concert Artist. In the former capacity he is a regular member not only of Alamire but also of The Cardinall’s Musick, (also founded by David Skinner in partnership with Andrew Carwood), The Tallis Scholars & The Sixteen. He is also a frequent guest with The Hilliard Ensemble & The King’s Consort. As a soloist Robert has sung for Sir John Eliot Gardiner, Raymond Leppard, Christopher Robinson, Nicholas Kramer & David Hill among others & has sung in such diverse venues as the Basilica of San Marco in Venice, Birmingham’s Symphony Hall, The Royal Festival Hall & Sydney Opera House.
Operatically Robert has sung the roles of Sarastro, (Die Zauberflote), Commendatore, (Don Giovanni), Il Tempo, (Monteverdi’s Il Ritorno di Ullisse) & The Abbot, (Britten’s Curlew River).
He also holds the singular distinction of having been employed at one time or another by all three of London’s major choral foundations & is currently a Lay Vicar of Westminster Abbey.
Robert lives in west London with his wife, the Soprano Rebecca Outram, & their young son.
Like many of my colleagues in the singing world, my path here has been at once the most natural and the most random thing in the world. I suppose I have been singing since I was very small (perhaps I should rephrase that – very young) in school choirs and so on. I even had a dabble at playing various instruments: my mother forced me to give up the violin, and I could only ever play ‘Happy Birthday’ on the saxophone, so I guess I discovered where my strength was pretty early on. Singing was still no more than a hobby when I found myself at Clare College, Cambridge, reading Classics. After three years as a choral scholar there, and unsure how best to use my Classics degree, I applied – successfully – for a job as a lay clerk at St George’s, Windsor. It was only then that I gave serious thought to the rather ambitious notion of making a living out of singing. A rent-free flat in a castle can be a deceptive thing.
Three years later I started a postgraduate course at the Royal Academy of Music. Highlights of my two years there include a very exciting – for me, at any rate – operatic debut as the Male Chorus in Britten’s Rape of Lucretia, and winning a prize for the best final recital. All the while I had been wheedling my way into various choirs and consort groups, as well as doing the almost statutory church work to make ends meet – the Brompton Oratory, followed by St Bride’s Fleet Street. And then one day my boss at the time, one Robert Jones, invited me to do an audition – correction, two long and difficult auditions – for the Orlando Consort. That was in 2002 and since then, well, I’ve learnt an awful lot about very early music!
I left St Bride’s in 2006 to take up a job at Westminster Abbey. When I’m not there or working with the Orlandos, I am usually to be found working with the Sixteen (you may be unfortunate enough to have seen me on tv in the recent BBC ‘Sacred Music’ series). I love to do solo work when I can, too, although it’s been a while since I’ve been able to find the time to do opera.
I live in Sussex with my wonderful wife Susan, who is also a singer, and my equally wonderful son James (3 years old at the time of writing). In what spare time I do get, I enjoy playing golf (badly) and doing cryptic crosswords (less badly). I dabble in the garden and I actually enjoy constructing flat-pack furniture. I will watch almost any televised sport (nothing involving horses or cars), but I am a social media refusenik. And that’s about all you need to know!
I have been singing for as long as I can remember, joining my father’s church choir at the tender age of six and then becoming a chorister at Westminster Abbey when I turned eight. From there, I went on to Bedford School where I carried on singing in the chapel choir and then I continued at university where I was a choral scholar at New College, Oxford.
My singing teacher at Bedford, Tim Jones, was (and still is) a Vicar Choral at St Paul’s Cathedral in London. When I was in my last year at Oxford, an alto job came up at the Cathedral. Tim got in touch and suggested I apply. I did, was lucky enough to be appointed, and all of a sudden found myself with the slightly scary prospect of singing for a living. The Cathedral job is a flexible one where we are allowed, encouraged even, to work and travel with other professional ensembles. In 2008, Robert Jones stepped down from his post with the Orlando Consort; I auditioned and was thrilled to be appointed.
I now combine singing with the Orlandos and being a Vicar Choral with other freelance consort and solo work. I sing regularly with the Monteverdi Choir and The King’s Consort and I travel to Poland several times a year to perform and record with the National Forum of Music in Wroclaw.
Away from work, I love spending time at home with my lovely wife Julia and our sons, William and Joshua. I can often be found doing Bootcamp sessions at our local park and I have become a keen but very amateur gardener. The Orlando’s touring life influences things at home too: I am now an HBO addict and have a dedication to sampling as many new American Pale Ales as I can find.