Thursday 3 February will see the London album launch of Adorna (Ulysses Arts) at St Martin in the Fields. The concert and the new album bring together the atmospheric Gregorian plainchant of Opus Anglicanum with improvisations from Jason Rebello, who have been performing concerts together since 2018.
“It is all about mood and atmosphere… The plainchant has this hypnotic effect. It’s meditative and contemplative, especially in a big space,” says Rebello. This is a collaboration where the music of 800 years ago lives alongside music being created in the moment.
The concert in the main church will be followed by a performance in the crypt by Jason Rebello’s stellar trio with Orlando Le Fleming and Troy Miller. Feature by Sebastian Scotney:
Jason Rebello describes his work with the five singers of Opus Anglicanum as “one of those projects which has just come together naturally and organically.” And its appeal? “The idea of having something that is so old alongside something that is completely spontaneous and new… I really like those kind of extremes.”
That theme of juxtaposing eras is there right from the start, and does indeed feel very natural. The plainchant sung at the opening of the sequence on Adorna, “Deus, in adiutorium meum intende” (O Lord, make haste to help me, from Psalm 70) is the same as that used at the opening of Monteverdi’s Vespers from 1610. When I mentioned that to Roland Robertson of Opus Anglicanum, his response was remarkable for the way it carried such a strong sense of following in a tradition: “When Monteverdi used that plainchant, it was already three hundred years old….”
Opus Anglicanum is a five-piece male, unaccompanied vocal ensemble. Often, but not on this occasion, it works with a narrator (BBC newsreader Zeb Soanes) to ensure that their concerts tell stories and have a dramaturgy to them. As their publicity material states: “We give performances of our own intriguing and audience-friendly story-telling sequences.”
The placing of very old music in the context of the music of our time has been a strong part of what Opus Anglicanum has done ever since it began in 1988. Since the early days of the group, it has spanned the centuries and performed works from Gregorian chant and Tudor polyphony right up to works by John Tavener – and Noel Coward. And it has also commissioned contemporary composers from older generations, such as Gordon Crosse, Sally Beamish and Judith Bingham, through to the newer generation of Dobrinka Tabakova and Owain Park.
And yet the work with Jason Rebello is something different for Opus Anglicanum. His improvisations to some extent replace a narrator. Working with the group, and with Robertson in particular over the past few years, various permutations of playing in alternation and playing simultaneously have been developed, always with the aim of constructing a sequence that works.
How did it start? The first link came about through a catholic school in Bath where Jason Rebello was a parent and Roland Robertson is a teacher. And if, at the outset, neither Rebello nor the singers knew how it would work, or whether it would work, as Rebello says: “We did a concert at Wells Cathedral, and it was just magical.”
There is certainly a major difference to one group with which it has been compared: Jan Garbarek working with the Hilliard Ensemble. And that difference is the fact that in this pairing, the piano has all the freedom harmonically. Indeed, because the plainsong is a single line, the piano is the only source of harmony. Robertson enthuses over the sheer breadth of musical language that Rebello brings to the collaboration: “I hear a lot of 20th century composers in these improvisations. I hear Messiaen… and Duruflé… and Arvo Pärt. He has such a broad range of influences, and also a capacity to surprise.” Robertson also admires the spirituality, the gentleness that Rebello instinctively brings.
For Rebello it has also been a new and very fertile atmosphere. “It’s like nothing else I have ever done – and I like it!” He likes the fact that no flashiness or ostentation is required. “The point of it for me is not like a jazz gig. It is all about mood and atmosphere, you can sink into it. The plainchant has this hypnotic effect. It’s meditative and contemplative, especially in a big space.”
The collaboration has prospered, developed and deepened since its first outing in 2018. It has taken leaps of the imagination with an open mind and a shared belief that different music enhance each other. And it is the fruit of this work which the audience will enjoy on 3 February at St Martin in the Fields.
pp features are part of marketing packages.
LINKS: BOOKINGS FOR “ADORNA”
3 Feb – Jason Rebello/Opus Anglicanum: Adorna
A seamless spiritual blend of plainchant and jazz piano, followed by crypt late-night jazz session with the Jason Rebello Trio.
Jason Rebello piano; Opus Anglicanum
SELECTED FURTHER DATES:
9 Apr Easter Festival – Tenebrae & Christian Forshaw: Drop, slow tears: A Meditation for Choir and Sax
Sacred choral music and plainchant, including pieces by Tallis, Gibbons and Hildegard of Bingen, with reflective saxophone improvisation.
Tenebrae/Nigel Short (Director): Christian Forshaw (saxophone)
23 Jun – Baroque meets Minimalism: James McVinnie plays Bach & Glass
Programme drawn from James’s new album Counterpoint to include music by J.S. Bach, Philip Glass and Nico Muly.
James McVinnie (organ)