After a busy and rewarding two weeks performing in Cambridge, Germany’s Black Forest and the now familiar rolling green hills of the Herefordshire borders, Joseph and I set off early for Bristol airport to meet up with our Italian friends Odhecaton in Naples. In-between rehearsals and the performance in Wagner’s garden in Ravello, we managed to sneak in a little sightseeing in Campagna… Odhecaton’s concert featured music by contemporary Italian composer Mirco di Stefani and Carlo Gesualdo alongside works by Tallis and John Tavener, and was very pleasing it was too to see a little British influence on our European friends’ repertoire!
A spare morning provided an opportunity to visit Carlo’s house and tombstone at Gesù Nuovo in Napoli. I was particularly keen to visit Carlo Gesualdo’s hometown in the hills near Avellino and the morning after the concert Joseph and I jumped in a tiny Neapolitan hire-car and headed for the hills, weaving through the infamous Italian traffic. We stopped first in Pompeii, having driven around the foothills of Vesuvius, and we enjoyed a flying visit of the Roman ruins, including Joseph’s impromptu debut in the amazing acoustics of the Amphitheatre.
Feeling a little toasted by the midday Mediterranean sun, we hopped back in our battered Toyota and whizzed past the Amalfi coast to Salerno for a spot of lunch. Spurred on by what may well have been acute sunstroke, it occoured to us to hire a little boat from the nearby marina and (once Joseph had been satisfied that our rental acquisition had an impressive enough turn of speed) the next three hours we spent very happily dipping in and out of the Mediterranean just below the cliffs that supported the concert venue the night before in Ravello. Finding the bluetooth connection on the way back to Salerno, we skipped across the waves to Joseph’s choice of a mix of Supertramp and Gerald Finzi.
Taking encouragement in rumours of a festival happening in the small town of Gesualdo, we plumped for the more direct, much more winding road from Salerno. We were both completely astounded by the journey. Rounding one of many breath-taking corners, we finally spotted a sign for the town and, looking that way, saw the hill-top castle of our namesake. Our first stop under the setting sun was the Cappuccin Monastery which we had been told housed the only known portrait of Carlo, Il perdono, which he commissioned near the end of his life. Seeing the small chapel from afar, we were very pleased to find it still open at 8pm and it was particularly moving to see the dark portrait above the main altar in the dim light from the doorway.
Having read a few things about the man and his life it was very moving to see his image and feel so connected to the over 400 years since the picture was painted. Charging back the short distance to the castle, we saw that the Saperi e Sapori festival was getting into full swing. We were amazed to find a drama taking place in the gardens of the castle, and a man being referred to as ‘Principe’, in renaissance garb plucking a lute.
Gesualdo is normally a quiet town of around 3000 people, but we learnt that the weekend festival attracts over three times that number. Wondering the castle’s exhibitions of reconstructed instruments and outfits from Carlo’s time we met the extremely helpful and friendly Alberico, who very kindly adopted us for the evening and showed us round the town. We were treated to davvero Southern Italian hospitality! It was amazing to see the Castle’s ruined chapel, and see the space that the Carlo’s famous Tenebrae Responsories were first performed in.
Having sampled a few of the festivals many culinary delights and feeling extremely fortunate and more than a little overwhelmed, it was soon time to get the car back to Naples. A flying visit this time, we hope to return to the town to stay and hopefully perform one day!
We’re very excited to be taking part in the inaugural Muswell Hill Music Festival! Tomorrow evening The Gesualdo Six and friends will be performing a service of compline in St. Michael’s Church, Highgate at 9:30pm. The compline follows directly on from a concert at 8pm of music by Tavener, Pärt, Hildegard and Scelsi by newly-formed group Chapel Perilous, which is directed by our countertenor Guy James.
Entrance to compline is free and it will feature works by Gerda Blok-Wilson, our own Owain Park, and Allegri’s famous Miserere. Do come along to support these wonderful new ventures and for a chance to hear The Gesualdo Six performing liturgically for the first time!
We are delighted to be Ensemble in Residence at St Andrew’s Voices, Scotland’s only festival dedicated to the voice and vocal music.
As part of our residency this coming October, we will take part in a range of performances, services and workshops.
We will be joining forces with award-winning light-projection artists Luxmuralis in sound and light installations that will transform the interior of some of St Andrews’ most beautiful spaces.
Our repertoire includes music by Hildegard von Bingen, Cristóbal de Morales, Owain Park, Alison Willis and Veljo Tormis.
A Festival Evensong alongside University of St Andrews’ renowned choir of St Salvator’s Chapel will feature the world premiere of Emma Wilde’s ‘Light is Withheld’ alongside music by Benjamin Britten, Owain Park and Paweł Łukaszewski.
Tickets for our events, which include two concerts, a vocal masterclass, a workshop on Haydn’s Creation and two Festival services are available here: Ticket Link.
We are looking forward to returning to Herefordshire to give two concerts at the end of July. We will be performing two different programmes at two historic venues: St Clydawg’s Church in Clodock on 30 July, and Dore Abbey on 31 July. We hope you can join us for our fourth visit to this beautiful part of the world.
Clodock: Tuesday 30 July at 7.30pm
Mother Earth The natural world has always proved to be a plentiful source of inspiration for composers. ‘Mother Earth’ brings together many of these delightful works, featuring music by Palestrina, Monteverdi, Vaughan Williams and Alison Willis.
Passion and Polyphony Exploring a relationship between old and new, sacred and secular, ‘Passion and Polyphony’ is an exhibition of some of the finest consort works from renaissance and modern-day composers.
We are looking forward to giving our debut performances in three European countries this month. We begin in Lausanne, Switzerland with our Passion and Polyphony programme, followed by a concert of atmospheric Fading music in Ljubljana, Slovenia. Finally, we will visit Italy to perform our English Motets programme in the beautiful city of Belluno.
We are looking forward to our debut at Cadogan Hall on Thursday 7 March. Tickets for this concert, which coincides with our fifth anniversary, are available here.
Passion and Polyphony
Exploring a relationship between old and new, sacred and secular, our programme juxtaposes Tallis with Talbot and Tormis in an exhibition of some of the finest consort works from renaissance and modern-day composers.
Ligeti’s astonishing Nonsense Madrigals are set against the equally astounding harmonic language of Carlo Gesualdo, picking up one movement from each of his three settings of Tenebrae Responsories for Holy Week.
The winning compositions of The Gesualdo Six’s second Composition Competition will be premiered as part of the performance, which also features works by Sarah Rimkus and Joanna Marsh.
Owain Park, Director of The Gesualdo Six, writes: We were all thrilled with the standard of the entries, 307 in total, which arrived from six continents in a variety of interesting styles. Singing through the pieces has been an immensely enjoyable experience, and it is heartening to see composers writing so well for the ensemble’s specific requirements. Alongside the winners, the judges decided to award two further prizes in each category. We are delighted to reveal the results of our 2019 Composition Competition.
22 years and above winner: Alison Willis (UK) 22 years and above highly commended: Ryan Malone (USA) and Karen Lemon (Australia)
21 years and under winner: Jacob Beranek (USA) 21 years and under highly commended: Aleksander Jan Szopa (Poland) and David Nunn (UK)
‘The Wind’s Warning’ by Alison Willis and ‘Abendgebet’ by Jacob Beranek were premiered by The Gesualdo Six at Cadogan Hall on Thursday 7 March 2019.
In addition, ‘Evening Prayer’ by Ryan Malone, ’Abendgebet’ by Karen Lemon, ’Ave Regina Caelorum’ by Aleksander Jan Szopa, and ‘Da pacem Domine’ by David Nunn, will be performed by The Gesualdo Six in their 2019-20 season.
Young Composers’s Workshop
We look forward to running two composition workshops for entrants in the 21 years and under category with composers Cheryl Frances-Hoad and David Bednall later in 2019.
Feedback from the judges
Cheryl Frances-Hoad It is incredibly heartening to see such interesting choral writing from all over the world in 2019! The winning and highly commended entries stood out for us because of their idiomatic word setting, excellent command of vocal line, harmonic colour, and suitability for the Gesualdo Six’s voices and programming style. As judges, we were delighted with the huge number of entries this year, many of which we think could easily garner many performances by choral groups all over the country and beyond. Read More The composers of the winning and highly commended pieces have obviously taken great care to think carefully about the text before setting words to music, and we would urge all the composers who entered the competition to do the same: we felt that occasionally the rhythmic stresses of the text were ignored, leading to an awkwardness in the music that no amount of melodic invention or dynamic interest could hide. Whilst very grateful to see a wide range of harmonic language in the submissions, we would also urge composers to combine innovative choral writing with a real command of melodic and harmonic line: too often interesting chords were arrived at in a way that seemed unprepared or unthought about, which lessened the intended impact of the material.
Nigel Short I was very impressed with the overall standard and quality of the writing. I would ask composers to try and make their scores as easy as possible to read: whenever possible, include key signatures rather than relying on the notation software to add in all the accidentals. If you include a piano reduction, make sure that the notes are the same as in the score – otherwise it’s impossible to tell which is correct! It saves musicians a huge amount of time if they can assimilate information quickly when they pick up a new score. Read MoreI’d also encourage composers to think about the journey before they begin composing. There were numerous good ideas but in too few cases were those ideas really explored and developed, which led to many pieces lacking some sense of structure. Rather than simply stopping a piece altogether to start up with a new idea, whether it be harmonic or rhythmic, try to create something that carries the listener and performer throughout.
Kate Johnson It was greatly encouraging for the future of choral music to know that there were over three hundred entries for this year’s Gesualdo Six Composition Competition, supported by Music Sales. A generous number of the submissions were of a high enough standard to be seriously considered: they encompassed a real effort on the part of the writers in one or more of the areas of composing to the brief, faithful text setting, thoughtful development of compositional ideas, clear and accurate presentation on the page and a promising grasp of harmony and counterpoint. In particular I felt that the entries in the ‘21 years and under’ category showed aptitude in originality of style. I hope that the winners can learn a great deal from the live performances given by the group.
John Rutter CBE I thought the standard of presentation of the entries I saw was higher than I ever remember in any comparable competition, and there was plenty of imagination in evidence as well as great stylistic diversity. Most of the composers got to the heart of their texts and showed a real understanding of writing for The Gesualdo Six. The winning entries ‘worked’ especially well, being memorable for the performers and audience alike.
About the winning pieces
The Wind’s Warning – Alison Willis
The composer writes: “The Wind’s Warning is a setting of what is believed to be the last poem – ‘The Wind’ – written by Ivor Gurney. According to the editor of the collection in which the poem appears, it was written on the back of an Oxford University Press letterhead dated 6 March 1929 and signed ‘Valentine Fane’ by Gurney. (He frequently used different names on his later manuscripts.) The poem is a bleak reflection on the passing of time and lost opportunities. Musically the piece uses vocalisations to create the sound of the wind against which are set gently dissonant clusters. Melodic motifs drift in and out until the middle section, ‘At dawn a thin rain wept’ which becomes more lyrical and tonal. The piece finishes with a return to the opening soundscape.”
Abendgebet – Jacob Beranek
The composer writes: “While setting ‘Evening Prayer’ by the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, I realised that these words were not only a prayer for the evening, but also the prayer of one in the evening of his earthly life. Bonhoeffer, who had been imprisoned for plotting the assassination of Adolf Hitler, wrote this prayer in jail, only months before his execution. Therefore, as I wrote the end of the composition, I wanted to conclude it in a manner fitting Bonhoeffer’s own perspective on death and life. It occurred to me that a powerful yet peaceful ‘Amen’ was necessary to complete this image, and the idea suddenly struck me to set the ‘Amen’ to the tune of the Lutheran chorale ‘Ein’ feste Burg ist unser Gott’ (A mighty fortress is our God). For me, this allusion would perfectly represent Bonhoeffer’s hope amidst death and strength amidst evil. It was not until later that day that I happened to learn the circumstances before Bonhoeffer’s death: the day before his execution, Bonhoeffer conducted his final Sunday service inside the Flossenbürg concentration camp. As the Gestapo entered to escort Bonhoeffer to his ‘trial’, Bonhoeffer concluded the service and led the congregation with one last hymn: ‘Ein’ feste Burg ist unser Gott.’”
About the winners
Alison Willis – winner, 22 years and above
Alison Willis (b.1971) is an award-winning composer whose works have been performed and broadcast internationally. She studied composition with Alan Bullard (Colchester) and George Benjamin (RCM).
Her music has been described as, ‘Intensely moving’, ‘Beautiful yet pragmatic’ and ‘Saying what you have to say and then stopping’. She finds particular inspiration in historical sources and events, social issues and enjoys working collaboratively with both young people and adults. Alison is also an experienced pianist, organist, folk musician and Musical Director, enjoys composing music for theatre and is a Trustee of the Martin Read Foundation, supporting young composers.
Recent works include ‘Do Not Stand At My Grave And Weep’, released on Blossom Street’s album ‘This Day’ (January 2019), ‘The Ballad of the Harp Weaver’, released on Juice Vocal Ensemble’s ‘Snow Queens’ CD (December 2018) and ‘Non Omnis Moriar’ premiered by the BBC Singers (September 2018). Her work for Hampshire County Youth Choir, ‘Pax Vobis’ was performed as part of the Remembrance service at Winchester Cathedral (June 2018) and ‘A Light Not Yet Ready To Go Out’ for the London Concert Choir, raising awareness of and money for Breast Cancer Now, premiered at Holy Trinity Sloane Square in March 2018.
Jacob Beranek – winner, 21 years and under
Jacob Beranek (b.1998) is an American composer and pianist. He currently serves as the first-ever Composer-in-Residence of the Midsummer’s Music Festival, which has commissioned two new pieces to date, Death’s Door (2017) and Partita melodica (2018). Other recent performances of Jacob’s music have occurred in Illinois, Minnesota, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Wisconsin, as well as the Czech Republic and Switzerland.
His work has garnered national recognition in several competitions, including the Edwin Fissinger Choral Composition Prize, Steven Stucky Young Composers Competition, NFMC Jr. Composers Competition, and Project 21 Prize; honorable mention in the ACF NextNotes Competition and American Prize in Composition; and Finalist in the ASCAP Morton Gould Young Composer Awards. Besides self-publishing, Jacob has eight works published by Alliance Publications, Inc. (distributed by Hal Leonard).
In addition to composition, Jacob is a serious pianist and devotee of Czech music due to his heritage. He has had the privilege of studying music in Prague during visits in 2015 and 2017, and returned in November 2018 for the European premiere of his Památník at Prague Castle by the Band of the Castle Guards & Czech Police.
Jacob has served as a Composition Fellow at the Talis Festival & Academy in Saas-Fee, Switzerland, and has also studied at the Curtis Institute of Music Young Artist Summer Program. He is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Music in Composition at Vanderbilt University’s Blair School of Music. You can learn more about Jacob and his musical endeavors at www.beranekmusic.com.
Ryan Malone – highly commended, 22 years and above
Ryan Malone (b. 1976) is music director for Herbert W. Armstrong College (a four-year liberal arts college) and Imperial Academy (a private K-12 institution), both sponsored by the Philadelphia Church of God in Edmond, Oklahoma. Read MoreThere he has written and produced four full-length musicals, two oratorios, plus he has produced eight inspirational vocal/choral albums that included dozens of original works, arrangements of traditional hymns and show tunes. Throughout his composing career, Malone has also composed a variety of works, including instrumental works (three commissioned for weddings), art songs for his wife, soprano Paula Malone, as well as compositions for his many students and ensembles that he teaches. In 2010 he served as composer in residence for the Norman High School string quartet. His transcription of Richard Strauss’s Four Last Songs for soprano and piano trio was premiered by the Eroica Trio along with his wife in 2011 and recorded in 2018 on the Xolo label by Tess Remy-Schumacher, Hong Zhu and his wife Paula.
Karen Lemon – highly commended, 22 years and above
Karen Lemon is an Australian composer and musicologist whose qualifications include a PhD in Musicology from the University of Sydney (on Schoenberg’s post-tonal music c.1910) and a License in Dalcroze Eurhythmics from Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, USA. Read MoreThough a pianist by training, in performance she has been most active as a chorister and vocalist. Despite studies in composition in her undergraduate days, it has only been in recent years that Karen has focussed more intently on composition; her works have received small international performances and have been prizewinners in composition competitions. Karen has worked as a lecturer in Musicology at the Universities of Sydney and Tasmania. She currently divides her time between Australia and France.
Aleksander Jan Szopa – highly commended, 21 years and under
Aleksander Jan Szopa is a Polish-American organist, pianist and composer. He started composing at the age of 15 and has amassed a portfolio of over sixty compositions, focusing on writing for organ, piano, a cappella choir, and orchestra.
David Nunn – highly commended, 21 years and under
David Nunn is a London-based composer studying with Helen Grime at the Royal Academy of Music, having previously studied with Julian Anderson and Christian Mason. Read MoreHe has recently completed his undergraduate degree at the University of Cambridge. His music is often characterised by textures which seem to revolve and rotate as if in a kaleidoscope, and a rich, vivid harmonic palette. Recently, his projects have included a work for a mixed quintet drawn from the BCMG, a concert of new music for chamber orchestra by a collective of Cambridge undergraduate composers, and a work for the choir of St. John’s College with live electronics. Upcoming projects include an installation at The Hepworth Wakefield and collaborations with The Hermes Experiment, Psappha, and ensemble recherche.
The astronomer who saved his mother from being burned as a witch.
In January 2019, we visited the beautiful university town of Tübingen in southwest Germany to perform excerpts from Kepler’s Trial alongside a new work written for us by British composer, Tim Watts, ‘Kepler-Motetten’.
In 1615, when Johannes Kepler was at the height of his career, his old, widowed mother Katharina was accused of witchcraft in a Lutheran town in Germany. The proceedings led to a criminal trial, with Kepler conducting his mother’s defence to fight for legal justice – assisted by Tübingen University.
Premiere of Kepler-Motets and the presentation of a book about Kepler’s mother at the Pfleghofsaal. By Martin Bernklau 19.01.2019
“…the phenomenal a cappella ensemble Gesualdo Six who, inclusive of two countertenors, represent the best in English singing.”
“Not only was Tim Watts’ music framed by historical pieces sung by the Gesualdo Six – such as a drinking song by Johann Hermann Schein or a wonderfully intoned motet by Orlando di Lasso – but sound world and techniques of the Renaissance and Early Baroque have also been incorporated into the Opera and the Motets.”
“Excerpts from the Opera, sung by Cerys Purser and accompanied by the Gesualdo Six and, at times, by the composer on the piano, were highly impressive and dramatic.”
Since we first performed this repertoire in 2014, we knew that we wanted to make it into a CD recording. Over the past few years, we have been developing the tracklist, cultivating a unique and exciting festive album that explores the mystery and joy of the Advent and Christmas seasons.
We plan to release this CD in November 2019 on Hyperion Records, and would be incredibly grateful for any support, no matter the size.
To thank those who support this project, we have a series of rewards which you can see listed on our Crowdfunder page.