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Choral - Early Music Vocal Ensembles and Choirs

Much of the early choral music was composed for the unaccompanied voice reaching a peak during the Renaissance when there was flowering of talented early music vocal ensembles. Many of these choirs worked with composers that were true musical geniuses and whose work is still vibrant and relevant today. We offer here a far ranging collection of these works performed by the top early music vocal ensembles from both Europe and the US. The very definition of music, and particularly, a cappella, has changed throughout the centuries. Here, with these groups, you can hear what a cappella sounded like in the days when it really was written to be performed in the chapel.

Displaying 1 - 18 of 18 items.


Alamire

One of the leading vocal consorts in the UK, Alamire has an enviable line-up of some of the finest consort singers under the charismatic directorship of David Skinner. Inspired by the great choral works of the medieval and early modern periods, the ensemble expands or contracts according to its chosen repertoire and often combines with instrumentalists, creating colourful programmes to illustrate musical or historical themes.

Alamire records exclusively for Obsidian Records and has given concerts regularly in the UK, USA and Europe. They have enjoyed varied and highly acclaimed projects including soundtracks for TV and film, sound installations for art galleries and most recently an exploration of the choral and song repertoire of the Tudor court to mark the 500th Anniversary of the accession of King Henry VIII.


Anonymous 4

Renowned for their unearthly vocal blend and virtuosic ensemble singing, the four women of Anonymous 4 combine musical, literary, and historical scholarship with contemporary performance intuition as they create ingeniously designed programs, interweaving music with poetry and narrative.

In addition to their unmatched medieval repertoire, Anonymous 4 has often reached out into the realm of contemporary music, and has premiered works by Peter Maxwell Davies, John Tavener, Steve Reich, and Richard Einhorn. The group has most recently expanded their repertoire to include traditional music of the British Isles and America.


Cardinall's Musick

Founded in 1989, The Cardinall's Musick is a highly successful and innovative ensemble. Taking its name from the 16th-century cardinal, Thomas Wolsey, the group is known for its extensive study of English Renaissance music. Although primarily a vocal group, The Cardinall's Musick also has its own period instrumental ensemble, and now embraces a wide range of styles and periods: from complete reconstructions of historical events (the Field of the Cloth of Gold) to world premieres of commissioned music from composers such as Michael Finnissy, Simon Whalley, Matthew Martin and Judith Weir.

One of the group's main strengths lies in the combination of solid academic research and the singers' ability to perform as soloists within a team, 'preserving their vocal personalities rather than striving for a mellifluous blend ... resulting in a vibrant texture of timbres' (The Daily Telegraph). Add a sincere love of the music and a deep personal commitment in performance, and 'the voices of Andrew Carwood and his eight cohorts could probably start a blaze in the Antarctic!' (The Times). Their thoughtful, themed programmes are designed to stimulate and enlighten, to broaden horizons and bring a fresh approach to standard repertoire.


Ex Cathedra

Ex Cathedra is a British choir and early music ensemble based in Birmingham in the West Midlands, England. It performs choral music spanning the 15th to 21st centuries, and regularly commissions new works.

Ex Cathedra was founded in Birmingham in 1969 by Jeffrey Skidmore, who is its artistic director and conductor. Originally conceived as a chamber choir, it now comprises a full choir of about 20 to 40 singers, the Ex Cathedra Consort made up of ten young professional singers who feature regularly as soloists, and a Baroque ensemble/orchestra.


Hilliard Ensemble

Unrivalled for its formidable reputation in the fields of both early and new music, The Hilliard Ensemble is one of the world's finest vocal chamber groups. Its distinctive style and highly developed musicianship engage the listener as much in medieval and renaissance repertoire as in works specially written by living composers.

The group's standing as an early music ensemble dates from the 1980s with its series of successful recordings for EMI (many of which have now been re-released on Virgin) and its own mail-order record label hilliard LIVE, now available on the Coro label; but from the start it has paid equal attention to new music. The 1988 recording of Arvo Part's Passio began a fruitful relationship with both Part and the Munich-based record company ECM, and was followed by their recording of Part's Litany . The group has recently commissioned other composers from the Baltic States , including Veljo Tormis and Erkki-Sven Tuur, adding to a rich repertoire of new music from Gavin Bryars, Heinz Holliger, John Casken, James MacMillan, Elena Firsova and many others.


Huelgas Ensemble

The Huelgas Ensemble was founded by Paul Van Nevel in 1970 at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis, Basle; it was named after a Cistercian monastery near Burgos. Initially it specialized in contemporary music but soon concentrated on the music of the Middle Ages and Renaissance, drawing closely on primary sources and making a vital contribution to the study of early music through its published research. The ensemble presents a surprising programme, with often unknown works from composers like Nicolas Gombert, Claude Le jeune, Johannes Ciconia, Pierre de Manchicourt...


Lionheart

Lionheart is one of America's leading ensembles in vocal chamber music. Acclaimed for its "smoothly blended and impeccably balanced sound" (Allan Kozinn, The New York Times), Lionheart (Jeffrey Johnson, Lawrence Lipnik, John Olund, Richard Porterfield, Kurt-Owen Richards, and Michael Ryan-Wenger) is best known for its interpretation of medieval and Renaissance a cappella music, with Gregorian Chant as the keystone of its repertoire. The ensemble also collaborates with instrumental ensembles, dance companies, and contemporary composers, and was recently selected for inclusion on the Star Spangled Touring Roster, the first year of an initiative by Early Music America.


Mediaeval Baebes

Mediaeval Baebes' exquisite storybook opened its pages in 1996, when a group of friends broke into a North London cemetery and sang together, clad in flowing white gowns and crowns of ivy.

Pulling lyrics from medieval texts and setting them to original scores using mediaeval and classical instruments, whilst singing in an impressive array of long forgotten languages, the Baebes offered a unique musical beauty and outstanding talent. Their choice of mediaeval texts were dramatic, obscure and dark in topic and remarked upon the inevitability of death, the pointlessness of material possessions, the horror of unrequited love or the dangers of imbibing too much alcohol. Some themes are timeless!


Orlando Consort

Formed in 1988 by the Early Music Centre of Great Britain, the Orlando Consort has established itself as one of Britain's most important chamber music ensembles, performing to the highest standards and renowned for its imaginative and innovative programming. Working with leading academics on music that has often never been performed in modern times, they have set new standards of performance, particularly with regard to the pronunciation and tuning of this fascinating repertoire. In recent times the Consort has also attracted praise for its bold programmes of contemporary music, jazz and world music, and for their outstanding education projects which are specifically designed to involve amateur musicians of all ages and abilities.


Oxford Camerata

Oxford Camerata was founded by Jeremy Summerly, David Hurley, and Henrietta Cowling and gave its first concert at the Maison Francaise in Oxford on 22 May 1984. Since then the choir has given concerts throughout Europe and has made almost thirty CD recordings. The core group comprises twelve singers with or without keyboard accompaniment, but for certain projects the choir has been made up of as few as four singers and as many as twenty. After a performance of Bach's St Matthew Passion in the Snape Maltings on Good Friday 1986, Sir Peter Pears, who was at the performance, agreed to become the Oxford Camerata's first patron: sadly Sir Peter died within days but his place was immediately taken by Philip Ledger. Not long afterwards Lord Bullock also agreed to become patron to the choir; the Camerata was saddened to learn of Lord Bullock's death on 2 February 2004.


Pomerium

Pomerium was founded by Alexander Blachly in New York in 1972 to perform music composed for the famous chapel choirs of the Renaissance. (The name-medieval Latin for "garden" or "orchard"-derives from the title of a treatise by the 14th-century music theorist Marchettus of Padua, who explained that his Pomerium in arte musice mensurate contains the "flowers and fruits" of the art of music.)

Widely known for its interpretations of Du Fay, Ockeghem, Busnoys, Josquin, Lassus, and Palestrina, the 14-voice a cappella ensemble has performed for numerous international festivals, including the Festival di Musica Sacra Bressanone e Bolzano (Brixner Initiative), the Tage Alter Musik festival in Regensburg, Germany, the Flanders Festival Antwerp, and the Holland Festival Oude Muziek Utrecht. In fall 1998 Pomerium performed in Osaka, Nagoya, and Tokyo, Japan.


Sixteen

The Sixteen is one of the jewels in the musical crown of Britain. Internationally recognised as one of the finest choirs of our time, it is admired for performances combining clarity and precision with beauty and dramatic intensity. It concentrates on the heritage of early English polyphony, masterpieces of the Renaissance and Baroque, and a diversity of twentieth century choral work. The choir is complimented for larger scale works by its orchestra, The Symphony of harmony and Invention, and through it Harry Christophers brings fresh insights to the music of Purcell, Monteverdi, JS Bach and Handel. Many prize-winning recordings reflect the quality and inspiration of the group's work. Recent years have seen the group's debuts at the Vienna Musikverein, the Brisbane, Covent Garden, Halle, Istanbul and Lucerne festivals, and at the Lisbon Opera in a new production of Monmteverdi's "Il Ritorno d'Ulisse". In 2000 The Sixteen made a Choral Pilgrimage to the finest English cathedrals, returning pre-reformation music written for these buildings to its home. This met with a huge public response. In coming months the group makes major tours of Japan and the USA, returns to the Covent Garden Festival, New York's Lincoln Center, Manchester's Bridgewater Hall and London's Barbican Centre, and makes debuts at the Scarlatti Festival, Italy, Theatre des Champs-Elysees, Paris, and the Belfast, Brighton, Chicester, Norwich and Three Choirs festivals.


Stile Antico

Stile Antico is an ensemble of young British singers, now established as one of the most original and exciting new voices in its field. Much in demand in concert, the group performs regularly throughout Europe and North America. Their recordings on the Harmonia Mundi label have enjoyed great success, receiving the Diapason d'Or de l'annee, the Preis der deutschen Schallplattenkritik and twice attracting GRAMMY nominations. Their recent release Song of Songs won the 2009 Gramophone Award for Early Music and reached the top of the US Classical Chart.


Suspicious Cheese Lords

The Suspicious Cheese Lords was founded by Clifton "Skip" West in 1996. Skip had the typical American dream of wanting to sing Thomas Tallis' Lamentations of the Prophet Jeremiah. To accomplish this goal, he enticed a core group of five amateur singers, friends who were current and former members of the Cathedral Choral Society, by promising a home-cooked dinner to those who would come and bellow.

Since then, the Cheese Lords have consisted of between 10 and 15 members. They still gather in Skip's dining room once a week to sing, drink, talk, eat, drink, sing, and did we say drink? In spite of this-or perhaps because of it-this male a cappella ensemble has been able to prepare and perform high-quality and heart-felt music throughout the Washington, D.C. area.


Tallis Scholars

The Tallis Scholars were founded in 1973 by their director, Peter Phillips. Through their recordings and concert performances, they have established themselves as the leading exponents of Renaissance sacred music throughout the world. Peter Phillips has worked with the ensemble to create, through good tuning and blend, the purity and clarity of sound which he feels best serve the Renaissance repertoire, allowing every detail of the musical lines to be heard. It is the resulting beauty of sound for which the Tallis Scholars have become so widely renowned.

The Tallis Scholars perform in both sacred and secular venues, giving around 70 concerts each year across the globe. In 2009-2010 the group will tour the USA twice and appear at festivals and venues across the UK and Europe including in their own Choral Series at Cadogan Hall. In 2011 the group will be returning to Japan and plans include a return visit to Australia. The Tallis Scholars team up with the National Centre for Early Music and the BBC in a now annual nation-wide composition competition, designed to encourage young people to write for unaccompanied voices. The winning entry will be part of the concert which will open the 2010 Chester Festival, alongside Palestrina's spectacular Missa Papae Marcelli.


Tapestry

Tapestry, a vocal ensemble founded in 1995 by Laurie Monahan, Cristi Catt, and Daniela Tosic, has established an international reputation for its bold conceptual programming which combines medieval and traditional repertory with contemporary compositions.

Tapestry has won numerous awards, including WQXR and Chamber Music America's Recording of the Year and, most recently, the prestigious Echo Klassik Prize for their recording Sapphire Night.

Based in Boston, the ensemble made its concert debut in its hometown with performances of Steve Reich's Tehillim at Jordan Hall; additional Boston appearances include the Celebrity Series, Harvard, Radcliffe, and Sanders Theater.


Trio Mediaeval

The mesmerizing voices of Oslo's Trio Mediaeval have captivated the concert world with their breathtaking performances and recordings of a diverse polyphonic repertoire that features medieval music from England and France, contemporary works written for the ensemble, and traditional Norwegian ballads and songs. Founded in 1997, the Grammy nominated Trio Mediaeval developed its unique repertory during intense periods of work at the Hilliard Summer Festivals in England and Germany between 1998 and 2000, and subsequently with Linda Hirst and John Potter. "Singing doesn't get more unnervingly beautiful," wrote Joshua Kosman of the San Francisco Chronicle, who declared their San Francisco debut "among the musical highlights of the year." He added, "To hear the group's note-perfect counterpoint - as pristine and inviting as clean, white linens - is to be astonished at what the human voice is capable of."


Voices of Ascension

Voices of Ascension Chorus and Orchestra, founded and directed by conductor Dennis Keene, is one of the world's premier professional choral ensembles. The ensemble's annual series of concerts in New York City, now in their 20th season, and recordings on Delos International have received unalloyed critical acclaim. The singers of Voices of Ascension are among the finest ensemble singers in the United States. Most are active as soloists as well. Artistic Director Dennis Keene has blended this group of New York's finest professional singers into a richly satisfying ensemble, unique in its flexibility and artistic command of choral music of every period and style. The number of singers in the ensemble varies according to the works performed, usually ranging from 20 to 40.

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