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York Early Music Festival collaboration with the University of York

Arakaendar Bolivia Choir

I Fagiolini with University of York Chamber Choir and others

Robert Hollingworth

University of York Baroque Ensemble

The 2012 York Early Music Festival, which took place from 5 - 14 July, celebrated the 'crossing of borders' and reflected the Olympic ideals of excellence, aspiration and international harmony with a stunning programme of international concerts.  True to the Olympic ideal, it also set out to inspire the next generation with a series of educational projects and opportunities for young people. 

The opening concert of the festival celebrated a unique cross-cultural collaboration between two young choirs from very different backgrounds and musical educations.  Under the direction of Ashley Solomon, who described the concept as "inspired", students from the University of York Chamber Choir and the remarkable Arakaendar Bolivia Choir had the chance to meet, work and perform together, the first time that the Bolivians had collaborated with singers outside Latin America. 

The programme featured 17th century sacred music in both Latin and Spanish from archives which had only recently come to light in the Bolivian Missions of the Moxox and Chiqitos Indians.  The Jesuit missionaries encouraged indigenous people to use their own music, instruments and culture to celebrate the Catholic liturgy and the result was a blend of European and South American musical styles with its own unique identity.  This treasure-trove of thousands of musical manuscripts is only now being recovered, largely thanks to the work of the Polish Jesuit priest Dr. Piotr Nawrot who was present in the audience.

The concert followed a lecture recital by Ashley Solomon, with musical illustrations performed by the University of York Chamber Choir, given in June 2012 as part of York Festival of Ideas.  Ashley, who is Head of Historical Performance at the Royal College of Music, explained how he became involved with Bolivian baroque music in 2002 and had since trained vocalists and instrumentalists in Bolivia.  He established the Arakaendar Bolivia Choir in 2005 to work exclusively with his ensemble Florilegium on music from the Bolivian archives. 

Director of the University of York Chamber Choir, Peter Seymour, remarked that it had been an extraordinary experience for both choirs.  He explained: "The Chamber Choir members had a great time and thoroughly enjoyed working with musicians from another continent and musical background. There was a clear inner-influence between the two ensembles in terms of style and vocal colour. It was also very exciting to explore a repertoire completely new to the York singers."  A choir member added, "It was thrilling to stand intermingled with members of Arakaendar during the rehearsal and performance and to learn how they sing early music. I made many friends."

The young singers impressed the audience with their exuberance, vitality and sheer enjoyment.  One listener summed up the experience, remarking: "It makes me realise the importance of music in bringing people together.  It's an international language."

The University of York Chamber Choir was also invited to take part in a once-in-a-lifetime event devised by Robert Hollingworth which took place in York Minster. 33 members of the student choir were invited to join an 80-strong team of singers and instrumentalists from six early music ensembles led by I Fagiolini in a performance of music by Tallis and Striggio in 40 and 60 parts.  The event was commissioned by imove, the Cultural Olympiad creative programme in Yorkshire. 

In a highly imaginative concept which combined music, architecture and creative lighting, the audience were invited to move around and among the performers or to explore the spaces of the Minster in order to experience different textures of sound.  The students coped admirably with the unusual and exacting performance conditions and the result was a powerful and unforgettable experience for all involved.

It was the first performance by I Fagiolini of these works which featured a university choir.  Robert Hollingworth enthused: "As well as my professional work, I've always worked with amateurs too and I wanted to put amateurs together with professionals because the higher the level they perform at, the more they'll get a kick out it and it will affect their music-making." 

Robert will continue his association with the students when he takes up his post as a reader in music in the University of York Music Department from October 2012.

Students in the University of York Baroque Ensemble are regularly given the chance to perform in the Festival, providing an important opportunity for them on a national platform. 

Their 2012 festival concert continued the Olympic theme with a programme entitled 'A London Marathon'.  The capital's 'track record' for organising celebratory events was illustrated with music by the city's most popular and distinguished composers: Boyce, Handel, Purcell, J.C. Bach and Arne.

28 student instrumentalists took part, playing in historically informed performance style on a mixture of modern and baroque instruments.  They were directed by Compagnia d'Istrumenti, one of the Music Department's Ensembles in Residence, who work closely with the students, coaching them and performing with them on a regular basis.
The University of York Baroque Ensemble provides a solid training ground.  Many of the students gain invaluable experience by becoming involved in wider activities with the NCEM, going on to become tutors with the Minster Minstrels, volunteering to assist with educational projects or working in the NCEM office.

Next year the Baroque Ensemble will take part in an exciting educational project with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment for the Beverley and East Riding Early Music Festival.  They will work alongside the OAE with children in schools in Beverley in a project which will culminate in a performance as part of the festival.