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17 September 2021
Counter-tenor Iestyn Davies and and the viol consort Fretwork present a new recording of works for viol consort and voice drawn from 17th-century Germany, following their critically-praised 2019 album of works by Michael Nyman and Henry Purcell
Featuring performances from organist Silas Wollston and counter-tenor Hugh Cutting, the recital ranges widely over the 17th century – from the early years with three curiously similar sounding friends: Schein, Scheidt and Schütz, to the most significant member of the Bach family before Johann Sebastian, Johann Christoph Bach. From their they travel down North Sea to the foothills of the Alps, including Buxtehude’s predecessor at the Marienkirche in Lübeck – Franz Tunder (whose daughter Buxtehude was to marry) and another north German composer who worked in Copenhagen, Christian Geist. Giovanni Felice Sances is an outlier here: he was born in Rome, but spent the second part of his life working for three successive Emperors in Vienna, where viol playing was still very much in vogue.
In 2021, Fretwork celebrates its 35th anniversary. In the past three and a half decades they have explored the core repertory of great English consort music, from Taverner to Purcell, and made classic recordings against which others are judged. In addition to this, Fretwork have become known as pioneers of contemporary music for viols, having commissioned over 40 new works.
Iestyn Davies is a British countertenor widely recognised as one of the world’s finest singers celebrated for the beauty and technical dexterity of his voice and intelligent musicianship. Critical recognition of Iestyn’s work can be seen in two Gramophone Awards, a Grammy Award, a RPS Award for Young Singer of the Year, the Critics’ Circle Award and recently an Olivier Award Nomination. He was awarded the MBE in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours List 2017 for services to music.
Iestyn Davies is a British countertenor widely recognised as one of the world’s finest singers celebrated for the beauty and technical dexterity of his voice and intelligent musicianship. Critical recognition of Iestyn’s work can be seen in two Gramophone Awards, a Grammy Award, a RPS Award for Young Singer of the Year, the Critics’ Circle Award and recently an Olivier Award Nomination. He was awarded the MBE in the Queen's New Year's Honours List 2017 for services to music.
Although blessed with a Welsh name, Iestyn hails from York, born into a musical household, his father being the founding cellist of the Fitzwilliam String Quartet.
He began his singing life as a chorister at St John’s College, Cambridge under the direction of Dr.George Guest and later Christopher Robinson.
Later, after graduating in Archaeology and Anthropology from St John’s College, Cambridge Iestyn studied at the Royal Academy of Music, London of which he is now a Fellow.
In 2015 he delighted London theatre audiences singing the role of Farinelli in the play, Farinelli and the King with Mark Rylance at the Globe Theatre. The hugely successful project transferred to the West End this season and was nominated for a number of Olivier Awards.
His operatic engagements have included Ottone (L’incoronazione di Poppea/Monteverdi) for Zürich Opera and Glyndebourne Festival Opera; Arsace (Partenope/Handel) for New York City Opera; Oberon (A Midsummer Night’s Dream/Britten) for Houston Grand Opera, English National Opera and The Metropolitan Opera, New York; Apollo (Death in Venice/Britten) for English National Opera and in his house debut at La Scala, Milan; Hamor (Jephtha/Handel) for Welsh National Opera and Opera National de Bordeaux; Steffani’s Niobe at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden; his debut at The Metropolitan Opera Unulfo (Rodelinda/Handel) where he has also appeared as Trinculo The Tempest; the Lyric Opera of Chicago in Rinaldo; Bertarido Rodelinda for English National Opera; his debuts at the Opéra Comique and the Munich and Vienna Festivals in George Benjamin's Written on Skin and the title role Rinaldo for Glyndebourne Festival Opera. He returned to Glyndebourne in 2015 for David in Handel’s Saul.
His concert engagements have included performances at the Teatro alla Scala, Milan with Dudamel, the Concertgebouw and Tonhalle with Koopman and at the Barbican, Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, Lincoln Centre and at the BBC Proms in the Royal Albert Hall with orchestras that include the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, London Philharmonic, Britten Sinfonia, Concerto Köln, Concerto Copenhagen, Ensemble Matheus, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Academy of Ancient Music and Scottish Chamber Orchestra. He recently made his debut, in recital, at Carnegie Hall, New York. He enjoys a successful relationship with the Wigmore Hall, where, in the 2012/13 season, he curated his own residency.
Recent highlights have included two Bach recitals at the Edinburgh International Festival, Britten's 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' at the Aldeburgh Festival and Schubert's 'Die Schöne Müllerin' with Julius Drake at Middle Temple Hall, London. Future plans include Thomas Adès's "The Exterminating Angel' at the Metropolitan Opera New York and Farinelli & the King with Mark Rylance on Broadway, New York.
His recordings include two versions of Handel’s Messiah (New College Oxford, AAM/Naxos) and (Polyphony, Britten Sinfonia/Hyperion), Handel’s Chandos Anthems on Hyperion, Handel’s Flavio for Chandos with The Early Opera Company and Christian Curnyn, Bach’s Easter Oratorio with Retrospect Ensemble, his debut solo recording Live at the Wigmore Hall with his own Ensemble Guadagni, a disc of Porpora Cantatas with Jonathan Cohen and Arcangelo, an award winning disc of works for Guadagni for Hyperion and a disc of Handel arias with The King’s Consort for Vivat. 2014/5 saw the release of The Art of Melancholy, a recital of Dowland songs for Hyperion, Flow my tears, songs for lute, viol and voice on the Wigmore Live label and Arise my muse for which he received the Gramophone Recital Award. He has added recordings of Bach Cantatas with Arcangelo, Faure Songs with Malcolm Martineau andlooks forward to the release of Bach's Magnificat and B Minor Mass in the coming months both for Hyperion.
He is the recipient of the 2010 Royal Philharmonic Young Artist of the Year Award, the 2012 & 2014 Gramophone Recital Award, the 2013 Critics’ Circle Awards for Exceptional Young Talent (Singer).
In 2021 Fretwork celebrated its 35th anniversary. In these last three and a half decades, they have explored the core repertory of great English consort music, from Taverner to Purcell, and made classic recordings against which others are judged.
In addition to this, Fretwork have become known as pioneers of contemporary music for viols, having commissioned nearly 50 new works. The list of composers is like the role call of the most prominent writers of our time: George Benjamin, Michael Nyman, Sir John Tavener, Gavin Bryars, Elvis Costello, Alexander Goehr, John Woolrich, Orlando Gough, Fabrice Fitch, Peter Sculthorpe, Sally Beamish, Tan Dun, Barry Guy, Andrew Keeling, Thea Musgrave, Simon Bainbridge, Poul Ruders, John Joubert, Duncan Druce & Nico Muhly.
In 2010 they also curated a week-long concert series of concerts at Kings Place which culminated in the world premier of The World Encompassed by Orlando Gough, a 70-minute piece describing in musical terms Drake’s circumnavigation of the globe in 1577-80.
In 2011, The National Centre for Early Music, in collaboration with the BBC, hosted a competition for young composers to create a four-minute piece for Fretwork. They workshopped the shortlisted pieces at the NCEM in York in October, and then the winning entries were premiered in Kings Place in December 2011. In 2014 they concentrated on the music of John Dowland with a major tour of the UK with one of today’s greatest tenors: Ian Bostridge. They also spent a week in the Britten Studio in Aldeburgh re-working The World Encompassed to incorporate a spoken narrative drawn from contemporary accounts.
Slow: an In Nomine by Nico Muhly was premiered in 2015 at Kings Place in London, and they collaborated with celebrated actor Simon Callow in the revised version of The World Encompassed and recorded it for Signum Classics.
They celebrated their 30th anniversary with a star-studded concert at Kings Place in June 2016. They also recorded four new albums, including The World Encompassed, and later that year they made their longest tour of America, taking in the USA, Canada and Colombia.
In 2018 they performed and recorded a programme celebrating the music of Michael Nyman – who turned 75 in 2019 – with the exceptional counter-tenor, Iestyn Davies. In 2019 they toured North America with this programme.
That year they also began a series of concerts at Wigmore Hall, called Musick’s Monument, presenting the greatest English consort music from the Golden Age – six concerts ranging from Taverner to Purcell. The 2020 pandemic curtailed most groups plans and activities, and Fretwork saw its fair share of cancellations; but it was fortunate to receive support from Arts Council England’s Emergency fund, and then to be able to present a live-streamed concert with Iestyn Davies from the National Centre for Early Music in York, a programme of Dowland’s Lachrimae from Wigmore Hall and premier a new work by Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones in the Early Music Festival in Blackheath. They also pressed ahead with more recording once lockdown restrictions were eased.
They performed at Wigmore Hall twice in 2021, including a performance on Good Friday, the first from Wigmore on that date for many decades, of Johann Sebastiani’s St Matthew Passion. They have also been awarded a substantial grant from Arts Council England to continue and maintain the continuity of their work.
They premiered their new project, Albion, in Kings Place in November 2021. It is a reflection on English identity as seen through the musics of various ages and ethnicities. They invited ten composers – Orlando Gough, Yfat Soul Zisso, Sally Beamish, Gabriel Prokofiev, Sarah Dacey, Talvin Singh, Blasio Kavuma and others – to arrange iconic pieces of English music. This included works such as Overload by the Sugababes, Land of Hope and Glory, London Calling by The Clash, Sailing By by Ronald Binge and When All Is Said and Done by Napalm Death. These are then linked and amplified with live electronics, creating an impressionistic tableau that explores and questions English identity. While they used to fly all over the globe, they have now committed to reducing their carbon footprint by travelling in Europe only by train or electric cars - this year they have toured Germany, France & Spain, Austria & Slovenia in their two Teslas.