In Celebration of the Human Voice - The Essential Musical Instrument
The English choral conductor, Jeffrey Skidmore, Jeffrey read music at Magdalen College, Oxford, before returning to his native Birmingham when he was 18 to found and develop Ex Cathedra into the internationally-acclaimed choral group it has become today. He subsequently studied music with David Wulstan at Magdalen College, Oxford, where he was a Choral Scholar under Bernard Rose. As Artistic Director and Conductor of Ex Cathedra he has pioneered historically informed performances of Renaissance and Baroque music in Birmingham and the West Midlands, and directed the first performances of many new editions, including two French Baroque operas, Zaide by Royer and Isis by Lully. He has prepared his own editions of Monteverdi's Spiritual Madrigals and was recently awarded Honorary Fellowships from the University of Birmingham and the University of Central England.
Ex Cathedra is widely acknowledged as one of the finest ensembles in the UK, with a growing international reputation for its trailblazing performances of early music, and as a leading exponent of choral training and vocal skills education. Since its formation by Jeffrey Skidmore in Birmingham in 1969, Ex Cathedra has grown into a unique musical resource, comprising specialist chamber choir, vocal consort of 8-12 voices, period-instrument orchestra, and thriving education programme. The nurturing, development and showcasing of young local talent is an integral part of Ex Cathedra's artistic policy. In addition to its own subscription series - which spans music from the 15th to 21st centuries - in Birmingham and London, Ex Cathedra has performed in festivals across Europe including the BBC Proms, Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music, Spitalfields, Warwick, Lichfield, Festival d'Art Sacre in Paris, Festival du Vieux Lyon, York Early Music Festival, Lourdes International Festival of Sacred Music, Bruges Early Music Festival, Bremen, Leipzig, Lourdes, Lyon, Milan and Turku festivals, and festivals in Italy, Finland and Israel.
Ex Cathedra collaborates regularly with other Birmingham-based arts organisations, most recently with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra for a programme of Faure and Lalande in Symphony Hall and with Birmingham Royal Ballet on productions of David Bintley's ballet of Carmina Burana in Birmingham and Edinburgh, which was also recorded for BBC Television. Recent CD recordings include Music for the Sun King (Hyperion) and Christmas Music by Candlelight (on Ex Cathedra's own label). Antonio Vivaldi's Vespers, Lalande's Grands Motets, Lassus's Sacred Choral Music and Monteverdi's Madrigals 'made Spiritual' are available on ASV Gaudeamus label and A New Heaven is released on Ex Cathedra's own label.
Directing Ex Cathedra and its associated Baroque Orchestra and Consort, Jeffrey Skidmore has appeared in concert series and Festivals across the UK and abroad and made a dozen highly-acclaimed recordings. He regularly conducts other ensembles, most recently the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, the BBC Singers and The Hanover Band. In the last five years Jeffrey has commissioned more than ten new works and conducted many world premieres by both well-established composers and new, young talent. Composers include Hutchins, Jackson, Joubert, Runswick, Sculthorpe, Shepherd, Wiegold, and Williams.
In the field of opera Jeffrey Skidmore has worked with Marc Minkowski and David McVicker on the 2004 production of Semele at the Theatre des Champs-Elysees in Paris, and conducted La Calisto, Dido and Aeneas and Pygmalion at Birmingham Conservatoire. With Ex Cathedra he gave the first performances in modern times of the French Baroque operas Za´de by Royer and Isis by Lully.
Jeffrey Skidmore is a pioneer in the field of research and performance of neglected choral works of the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, and has won wide acclaim in particular for his recordings of French and Latin American Baroque music with Ex Cathedra for Hyperion. An honorary fellow at Birmingham Conservatoire, and a research fellow at Birmingham University, he has prepared new performing editions of works by Araujo, Charpentier, Lalande, Monteverdi and Rameau, and has been involved in the preparation of the French Baroque operas Zaide by Royer and Isis by Lully, and Monteverdi's Spiritual Madrigals.
Although Jeffrey Skidmore now concentrates on conducting and research, he is actively involved in music education. He is Director of Ex Cathedra wide-reaching education programme, Artistic Director of the Early Music Programme at the Birmingham Conservatoire and a Vocal Consultant for Walsall Education Department. He frequently gives choral training workshops and tutors at summer schools in the UK and overseas. He has regularly directed the choral programme at Dartington International Summer School and has been invited to be Classical Music Programmer for the 2005 Kilkenny Festival.
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Review: A contemporary of Lully and Lalande, Charpentier was something of an outsider to the French court of Louis XIV, something which helps to explain his comparative obscurity since his death in 1704. A period of study in Rome doubtless gave Charpentier exposure to the polychoral style long-established from the time of Gabrieli, and this spirited new recording from Ex Cathedra presents the triple-choir Salve regina alongside the opulent Mass - for four separate choirs. The possibilities opened up by such a wealth of musicians engender music which seems as close to the proverbial 'choir of the angels of heaven' as could be desired. The disc also includes Salut de la veille des 'O', a setting of the seven antiphons for Christmas imploring God to come and save the earth, and the dramatic mini-oratorio La reniement de St Pierre, telling of Peter's frantic denials of Christ before the inevitable crowing of the cock. Performances by the soloists, choir and orchestra of Ex Cathedra perfectly capture the lavish atmosphere of the period, fully living up to the enviable reputation the group's previous recordings have earned.
Review: Fire Burning in Snow, the third volume in Ex Cathedra's series of Baroque music from Latin America, is strong testimony to the vitality of the musical scene in South America in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. The bulk of this album is devoted to the sacred and secular choral music of Juan de Araujo (1648-1712), who was born in Spain, but whose family moved to South America when he was a child. He lived in Peru and Panama, but spent most of his adult life in La Plata, Bolivia, where he was the organist at the cathedral. The music recorded here is notable for its almost Monteverdian range of styles and expressiveness. This selection of Araujo's strongly rhythmic work includes a rigorously polyphonic motet for triple choir; a simple, lovely lullaby for women's voices; and many stylistically diverse choral villancicos. The standout work on the CD, though, is Hanacpachap cussicuinin, a 20-verse Peruvian hymn in the Quechua language that was the first example of choral polyphony published in the Americas in 1631. It's broken into four sections of five verses each, and performed with ensembles of differing sizes and varying accompaniments. The anonymous hymn has a startling grandeur, and even with 20 verses it's so compelling that it never wears out its welcome. Ex Cathedra Consort and Baroque Ensemble sing and play with high spirits and polish. Conductor Jeffrey Skidmore is to be commended for bringing this repertoire, much of which has never been recorded, to light, and for delivering such lively realizations and energetic and full-bodied performances. This SACD should be of strong interest to anyone who loves Renaissance and Baroque polyphony and fans of choral music with a Latin flavor.
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