srijeda, 15. svibnja 2013.

Exaudi Vocal Ensemble - Exposure (2013)

Crtanje prostora glasovima, od srednjeg vijeka do avangaede.

Adoramus te, Christe
by Claudio Monteverdi (live perf.)
Merce grido piangendo
by Carlo Gesualdo (live perf.)

by Alvin Lucier (live perf.)
Tre Canti Sacri (3rd mvt)
by Giacinto Scelsi (live perf.)

Hortus conclusus from Mala Punica
by James Weeks (studio recording)
Missa Brevis (Kyrie and Gloria)
by Brian Ferneyhough (live perf.)

Palm-Sunday (extract)
by Michael Finnissy (NMC D110)
Open the Gate
by Christopher Fox (from NMC D114)

Verses of Love
by Elisabeth Lutyens (NMC D124)
Four by the Clock
by Howard Skempton (mode 226)

Newly available this week from the thoroughly ambitious Huddersfield Contemporary Records is Exposure, a collection of choral works performed by contemporary music’s most adventurous cluster of vocalists, Exaudi Vocal Ensemble, directed by James Weeks. As with all of HCR’s releases (the rest of which are well worth exploring – details here), the featured composers are an eclectic mixture, demonstrating well the range of Exaudi’s interests & skills. It is by far the most radical disc of vocal music i’ve encountered in a long time, an exploration that takes real risks both in terms of choice of repertoire as well as the pressures brought to bear on the singers themselves.
Of course, going out on a limb is fraught with dangers, & there are pieces on this disc that work far better in theory than practice. Not many, thankfully, but Joanna Bailie‘s three-part Harmonizing—seeking to tease out pitched material from field recordings & meld it into corresponding vocal parts—lacks conviction in the attempted correlation, & the method (somewhat hackneyed in any case) only seems to emphasise its subjectivity & arbitrariness, narrowing the scope of these ‘artificial environments’. The second of the three succeeds best, but the other two are forced & boring respectively. Bryn Harrison‘s eight voices suffers in similar fashion, the twists of its repeating material (rather like a convoluted isorhythm) sound marvellous as an idea, but the piece displays minimal result from maximum effort, rapidly losing its ability to command attention. Here, though, Exaudi’s deeply impressive control & consistency frequently distract one from the work’s shortcomings.
The rest of the disc is very much more successful & thought-provoking. The processes at the heart of Richard Glover‘s Corradiation—lines moving up/down with almost infinite slowness—are also not in themselves terribly new, but the constant harmonic flux is fascinating, even hypnotic. It’s hard to think of another work that has so successfully pitched camp in the no man’s land between consonance & dissonance. James WeeksNakedness is just as focussed on pitch, here emerging from the mouth of a soloist, directed towards an effort that Weeks’ describes as “impossible – an ever-quieter, longer, purer, single tone – that reveals the naked self”. Juliet Fraser’s rendition of this aim is mesmerising, her lines & indeed her entire self becoming like a sonic laser beam. The work comes across as a sequence of ‘attempts’, projecting an earnestness & vulnerability that at times feel almost intrusively personal. Stephen Chase‘s five Jandl Songs (settings of the Austrian poet Ernst Jandl) offer an interestingly abstruse relationship to their texts. If their focus & substance occasionally seem to drift a bit, this is more than made up for by the songs’ best moments, which are more to do with the interactions of the singers than anything else. There’s a nice ambiguity in ‘lied/song’—are the pair of voices working together or independently?—while ‘why can i not’ is like an oblique manifestation of Delius, the homophonic lines slithering semi-indeterminately into delightfully unexpected progressions that somehow seem just right.
Pitch is of far less importance in the disc’s remaining two works. Aaron Cassidy‘s A painter of figures in rooms, composed for last year’s Cultural Olympiad, extends into vocal territory his rigorous examination of music as the result of notated physical action. As such, the piece contains an incredibly diverse array of sound production & projection methods; the nature of these & their juxtapositions is what the ear cleaves to. As with Cassidy’s instrumental music, there are incipient dangers in this kind of material, & again the question of what constitutes ‘substance’ rears its head. Does this piece represent something being said? or, rather, is it a proclamation on the possibility of things being said in an entirely new way? Put another way: is it a message, or is it the messenger? This inner conflict in Cassidy’s music is almost too easy to set aside when confronted by such beguiling, multi-faceted material, Exaudi’s performance of which may well constitute the most technically outrageous demonstration of choral virtuosity ever recorded. Its implications remain debatable, but the piece is certainly heraldic. If Cassidy’s approach can be likened to advanced creative thought inviting a reimagined future, Claudia Molitor‘s lorem ipsum comes from the other end of the continuum, an enthralling sequence of episodes that practically discovers choral music as if from nowhere. She refers to a “sincere frivolity”, which is a perfect description for a work that is both primitive & utterly ingenuous. Above all, it revels in the sounds the body can make, exploring whistles, pops, sniffs & grunts in addition to sung pitches. The occasions when it sounds faintly familiar feel the product of serendipity more than anything else, but more telling is the gleeful sense of experimentation that pervades the work, presenting a group of individuals discovering together what sounds their voices & bodies are capable of.
Which is also a pretty good summary of the Exaudi Vocal Ensemble themselves. Their fearless forays into choral hinterlands have become the stuff of legend in recent years, & Exposure is a powerful, provocative testament to what composers can achieve in the hands—& mouths—of such courageous performers.


EXAUDI ¦ Howard Skempton Bolt From The Blue (2010)
EXAUDI's second CD devoted to the music of British experimentalist Howard Skempton focuses on his jewel-like miniatures for vocal consort and for solo piano. Skempton's unerring ear for the grain of vocal textures yields ravishing results in pieces like the Five Poems of Mary Webb, for three female voices, and the Two Poems of Edward Thomas. As a counterpoint to the vocal items, pianist Daniel Becker offers a varied selection of recent piano pieces as well as the ever-popular Durham Strike and Well, well, Cornelius. Taking his cue from both The Beatles and Morton Feldman, from experimentalism and folk, Skempton's music is a unique phenomenon
Track listing and reviews
EXAUDI ¦ Christopher Fox Catalogue irraisoné (2009)
In 1998 leading contemporary British composer Christopher Fox began work on a new commission, a piece that was to be 'evening-long, and not a concert'. The result was the quasi-dramatic 'installation piece' Everything You Need to Know – a body of musical material which can be deployed in many different ways. Fox realised that the work needed a guide – a parallel version of the same ideas in a different form, rather like the 'catalogue raisoné' at an art exhibition. Thus was born a series of pieces for solo voice, as recorded here for the first time under the supervision of the composer and with his appearance as narrator. The sections are based on a series of multiligual texts from various sources including Virgil, Dante, tourist guides and essays. The 'catalogue' is about ideas, remembrance and the possibility of improbable connections. In itself as a sound work it is absolutely and positively unique.
EXAUDI performers: Julia Doyle and Juliet Fraser, sopranos; Tom Williams, countertenor; Jimmy Holliday, bass; Christopher Fox, speaker; James Weeks, speaker and director
Track listing and reviews
EXAUDI & BCMG ¦ Howard Skempton Ben Somewhen (2007)
This collection contrasts Skempton's choral works – including the dancing setting of Shelley’s The Voice of the Spirits and spiritual Rise Up, My Love – with chamber music ranging from the Suite from Delicate, for 2 cellos and percussion, to the exuberant (yet very English), Chamber Concerto. The title piece, Ben Somewhen, for solo double bass and ensemble, and was inspired by Ben Hartley's drawings of rural life.
Track listing and reviews

EXAUDI & Endymion ¦ Elisabeth Lutyens (2006)
A tribute to this radical and influential composer in the centenary of her birth, this CD presents a selection of Lutyens' varied and inspirational choral works – including the Motet setting of excerpts of Wittgenstein's Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, and the Chaucer setting The Country of the Stars – with a series of instrumental pieces including the fearsomely difficult String Trio and the lyrical Presages for solo oboe; it is performed by EXAUDI and Endymion.
Track listing and reviews
EXAUDI ¦ Christopher Fox A Glimpse of Sion’s Glory (2006)
EXAUDI's second recording for NMC features choral works by Christopher Fox with the common theme of Puritanism, Liberty and dissent. American Choruses is one of the composer’s earliest works, exploring his relationship to an American tradition which includes Ives, Cage and the poetry of Walt Whitman. In A Glimpse of Sion’s Glory, conflicting lines voice the idealisms of protestors including the histoical Levellers' movement and John Milton; and the monolithic Missouri Harmony for solo organ evokes the meditative aspect of Shaker worship. Rendered Account, setting Ian Duhig’s lively political verse on the nature of walls and boundaries, and Open the Gate, with its basis of plainsong, complete the disc.
Track listing and reviews
EXAUDI ¦ Michael Finnissy Maldon & other choral works (2005)
EXAUDI’s debut CD on NMC is a thrillingly intense disc of music by Michael Finnissy. Maldon sets Anglo-Saxon texts of battle for an impressive ensemble of voices, trombones, organ and percussion; other works feature Michael Finnissy as part of a piano duo (in Vertue) and Howard Skempton on accordion (in the setting of Scots poet William MacGonagall's travels, Descriptive Jottings of London).
Track listing and reviews


TENTH ANNIVERSARY at Wigmore Hall, 21/10/12
Ten years of singing by James Weeks and Juliet Fraser's group EXAUDI were celebrated on Sunday. No birthday cake: the excitement lay in forthright voices scaling pitches where only supersonic jets should fly and treating all complexity as a stroll in the park. The occasion marked the opening of an EXAUDI madrigal book: new commissions from composers asked to deliver an Italian madrigal suitable for performing alongside those by Monteverdi and others. A splendid aim, but none of the first tranche had the expressive experimentalism of the old boys. Harmonies in Gesualdo's Merce! piangendo grido  had the venom of a poisonous snake, while Monteverdi's Vattene pur, crudel had enough drama for a three-act play. In everything, the clear unaccompanied voices were unprotected if difficulties arose. None did.
The Times
It's a decade now since the conductor and composer James Weeks and soprano Juliet Fraser brought together a group of young singers, a consort rather than a choir, to perform contemporary music. Exaudi have gone on to build an international reputation, with a steadily increasing list of important premieres to their credit, and have marked their anniversary by guaranteeing themselves a lot more, inviting composers to contribute short settings to a 21st-century book of madrigals.
The first results of that initiative were presented in Exaudi's 10th-birthday concert. Typically, the programme juxtaposed old and new, with madrigals taken from the third and fourth books by Monteverdi, and the fifth and sixth by Gesualdo, performed with the same fastidious attention to detail, one singer to a part, that the group brought to each contemporary work.
The Guardian
The first rule of music marketing is “Don’t give yourself a Latin name; it will reek of elitism.” Not a bad rule of thumb, but it hasn’t applied to EXAUDI, the vocal ensemble which this year celebrates a decade of marrying the richness of ancient musical styles to the complexities of contemporary music.
This birthday concert accordingly juxtaposed Italian Renaissance madrigals with modern pieces, including four new works, the foundations of what will become EXAUDI’s own modern madrigal collection. Throughout, the singers, sometimes directed by Weeks, sometimes not, demonstrated that vocal purity needn’t override expression, while precision doesn’t preclude individuality: every voice made its presence felt within the group identity.
In madrigals by Monteverdi and Gesualdo, we could hear intimations of the birth, not only of opera, but of everything we know as modern music, classical or otherwise: tunes making songs, songs telling stories, stories laying bare our emotions. Among the premieres, Michael Finnissy’s contribution built a direct bridge between his own language and Gesualdo’s, allowing each to infect the other, while Evan Johnson’s Three in, ad abundantiam unfolded just this side of the point where music and language disintegrate.
The most impressive of the modern pieces, though, was not an EXAUDI commission; Salvatore Sciarrino’s Three Madrigals, dating from 2008, makes three cultures clash: the work pays tribute to the Italian madrigal tradition by setting Sciarrino’s own Italian translations of Japanese haiku in a musical language that is both archaic and hyper-modern. Certain vocal sounds resembled birdsong or simian ululation, others evoked the wind. This was music stripped back to prehistoric basics. In certain circumstances, nearly two hours of madrigals, sung mostly in Italian, would be considered a cruel and unusual punishment. Not here.
The Evening Standard
Exaudi means “Hear!”, and it’s a fine name for this eight-voice vocal group, which approaches its twin loves of new music and Renaissance music with the same missionary zeal. James Weeks, the group’s director, wants to show both can seize our hearts and minds with the same immediacy. To prove it, he’s conceived the idea of a brand-new “madrigal book”, containing newly written madrigals by living composers. At the group’s 10th anniversary concert on Sunday, we heard the first four of them, alongside madrigals by Gesualdo and Monteverdi…
…So did those old Italians knock the moderns clean out of the ring? Not quite. Salvatore Sciarrino’s Tre Madrigali (actually not part of Exaudi’s madrigal book) conjured poetically telling vocal sounds to illustrate its fleeting Japanese texts. The most moving of the new works was Michael Finnissy’s adaptation of a Gesualdo madrigal, his three added vocal parts adding a mournful commentary to Gesualdo’s original. Here, as elsewhere, the performances were a marvel. At Exaudi’s previous concerts I’ve sometimes felt their focus on pinpoint accuracy got in the way of other musical values. Here correctness was swallowed up in riveting emotional engagement.
The Telegraph
'Exposure 2011' at Kings Place, 3/10/11
Having 'completely missed' the Boulez love-in at the Southbank this weekend, I thought I might try EXAUDI's premiere-heavy programme of contemporary choral music at Kings Place. I have to say that it has been some of the best money I have spent on a concert all year. The group manage the wild frontiers of avant garde choral music with a mix of good singing, fearsome musicianship and (very English, this one) wit – if the music fails to stun or seduce then the audience laughs with the musicians, not at them. There is no chance of being bored… I think part of the appeal of this concert was watching the group perform: the discreet clatter of tuning forks in particularly awkward chicanes; sideways glances, usually for synchronisation, occasionally in fear or fun; the rigorous beat of James Weeks maintaining the structure. It must surely be a very different experience simply hearing the music on record or in broadcast. Either way the singing would be just as fine.
Quincena Musical, San Sebastian, 27/8/11
En Donostia la música contemporánea sigue siendo para una minoría, aquélla que o bien está sumergida en áreas de composición, estudio o interpretación vanguardistas o, por contra, mantiene un interés por estas líneas actuales de expresión. Está claro que a menudo esta música cuesta digerir, pero lo que es indudable es la complejidad que habitualmente encierra su correcta ejecución. Esta dificultad se mantiene y enmuchos casos se incrementa cuando hablamos demúsica vocal. En el concierto que cerró este ciclo, el laureado coro Exaudi tuvo que trabajar de lo lindo para sacar todo el jugo expresivo a las obras que presentó, lamayoría de temática religiosa. Partituras ciertamente difíciles que, aun a riesgo de generalizar, compartieron complejas texturas polifónicas,matices variables y sorpresivos, interválicas exigentes, momentos de impacto sonoro, grandes desafíos vocales, dinámicas exprimidas al límite y largas notas mantenidas hasta lo imposible. Con unas sonoridades siempre afines al significado de los textos, el coro causó una gran impresión, salvando con nota todas estas dificultades en un repertorio que incluyó una obra de Erkoreka, muyagradable, y un estreno por encargo de Quincena; ‘Vocem Flentium’ de Alberto Posadas. Una pieza también exigente, con músicamuy acorde a la letra y fuertes pasajes de tensión que exigió un buen control de la respiración y gran expresividad.
El Diario Vasco
Arvo Pärt with Endymion at the Wigmore Hall, 8/7/11
A plain and potent late-night concert… One Arvo Pärt work followed another, from the chord sequences of Fratres to the measured sorrows of his Stabat Mater setting: music of rapturous, daring simplicity, vigorously etched by a string quartet drawn from Endymion and three of Exaudi’s fearless voices… The tenor Simon Wall stood his ground, mostly on one note, in the Wallfahrtslied (Pilgrim’s Song) of 1984. Other Exaudi colleagues joined him in the moving Stabat Mater, a work where time seems to stand still. The spellbinding sound of Juliet Fraser’s soprano beaming in, laser-like, from on high will remain for a long time.
The Times
Everlasting Light' at Aldeburgh Festival, 24/6/11
Strange things happen at Aldeburgh. On Friday evening I was sitting with around 100 intrepid souls on a grassy sand-dune outside Sizewell nuclear power station, trying to ignore the wind-blown rain, while a choir sang (among many other things) the Requiem Mass of Jean de Ockeghem, written around 1461… And why were we listening to choral music in the evening rain? Because this was the musical component of a new site-specific multi-media event, evoking the excitement of nuclear power in its early days. So of course it had to take place in the shadow of a potent symbol of that age. Everlasting Light was conceived by the designer and film-maker Netia Jones, and as with her previous Aldeburgh events it was a conjunction of film and performance artfully placed in a landscape. It began at the Sizewell Refreshment Cafe, where we watched nostalgic 1950s film of Arthur C Clarke predicting a future where everyone would communicate instantly. Then we were guided past dilapidated boat-sheds to another spot in the dunes, where the choir [sic] Exaudi appeared, looking just like characters out of Mad Men. They sang fascinating Renaissance madrigals about cosmography and the Sybilline prophecies, and eerily apt modern music by Ligeti. Finally we and the choir pitched up in front of Sizewell, sinister in the violet evening gloom. Suddenly Jones's film projections of scientific imagery magically appeared on its blank wall, and what was all-too-solid and grim seemed to melt into air. The strange haunted atmosphere and the romance of that far-off age came together in the most magical way.
The Telegraph
Howard Skempton portrait with BCMG, 27/02/10
EXAUDI performed four choral pieces with stunning purity of sound, which allowed the music’s radiance to shine out with full force. Skempton sometimes disarms by being deceptive and surprising. But there’s nothing so disarming as being straightforwardly ecstatic, as his lovely setting of Shelley’s ’Voice of the Spirits’ proved.
The Telegraph
Poppe Interzone with EIC, Festival d’Automne, 4/12/09
La conception plastique imaginée par les deux artistes de la soirée dans l’espace modulable de la Cité de la musique était déjà un spectacle en soi ; dans Interzone. Lieder und Bilder, fruit d’une collaboration entre la vidéaste Anne Quirynen et le compositeur allemand Enno Poppe, les sons vont agir en interaction avec l’image grâce à l’installation de huit écrans vidéo formant un cercle lumineux au-dessus de l’ensemble instrumental. Enno Poppe imagine un « Big Band » haut en couleurs (accordéon, saxophones, vents et percussions) cerné par deux synthétiseurs/orgues Hammond, un dispositif mixte dont il est coutumier pour sonder l’univers micro-intervallique – du quart de ton au sixième, voire huitième de ton! – servi ce soir avec une rare précision par l’Ensemble Intercontemporain rejoint par l’excellent Ensemble vocal anglais Exaudi.
…La précision vocale et la beauté sonore des cinq solistes de l’Ensemble Exaudi sont un plaisir en soi au-delà des méandres poétiques d’un texte en anglais difficile à assimiler au premier abord. Les voix sont pleinement en accord avec la finesse d’une musique aux attaques tuilées, aux intervalles jusqu’au huitieme de ton et aux raffinements sonores jusqu’alors insoupconnés. Leur musicalité est un ravissement.
‘Exposure’ in The Cutting Edge series, 29/10/09
In a back alley south of the South Bank and east of Waterloo East sits The Warehouse, a converted performance space that every autumn plays host to the Cutting Edge concert series. The programmes are dedicated to new and experimental music, music that would otherwise more likely go unperformed and unheard. This year the series was expertly launched by the vocal ensemble Exaudi, one of the most sensationally gifted vocal groups performing in the UK at the moment. Exaudi have swiftly gathered a dedicated following, and the concert started 20 minutes late as the organisers hurriedly arranged some extra seating to accommodate the unanticipated numbers of people turning up on the night. Most of the pieces were by young composers and were still very much at the “research and development” stage but the ideas showed a great deal of promise none the less. Encouragingly, some distinctive and original voices are starting to come through.
Gramophone Magazine
The vocal ensemble EXAUDI opened Sound and Music's The Cutting Edge series of concerts at The Warehouse last week with a typically enterprising programme of new and newish works by young (and youngish!) composers. Led by their director James Weeks, EXAUDI's performance exhibited technical poise alongside real elegance in interpretation that befitted their obvious passion for the music…
Cage and Machaut, fuseleeds Festival, 30/4/09
The week-long blitz of contemporary music that was fuseleeds09 offered many attractions, but nothing could match the intimate surprises of this early evening gig by Exaudi, the British vocal ensemble that delights in programming the unthinkable — such as John Cage and Guillaume de Machaut. On the surface, 20th-century music’s biggest smasher of traditions and the 14th century’s deftest polyphonic weaver of hymns to courtly love were never meant to co-habit. Yet by picking from Cage’s rambunctious catalogue only the simplest, sparest and in most cases shortest pieces, Exaudi’s director James Weeks made a triumphant case for letting the two lie side by side.
The Times
Fuseleeds is a festival that aims to expand the definition of contemporary music. The vocal ensemble Exaudi expand the definition to over six centuries, in a programme that interleaves work by the medieval master Guillaume de Machaut and the modernist icon John Cage. The pairing isn't quite as bizarre as it sounds. As the guiding spirit of ars nova, the 14th-century avant garde, Machaut's radical new harmonies must have seemed every bit as arresting as Cage's use of prepared instruments and the music of chance was in the 20th century…
The Guardian
Rihm and Lassus, Aldeburgh Easter Festival, 22/3/08
…a perfectly judged short concert, given by the outstanding vocal group EXAUDI. The centrepiece of the hour-long sequence was the first complete performance in this country of Wolfgang Rihm's Seven Passion Texts, settings of the Tenebrae Responsories for Holy Week, which he completed two years ago. Around them EXAUDI's director, James Weeks, had arranged two sequences of Orlande de Lassus's passiontide motets, some to the same texts that Rihm's cycle uses. It made a wonderfully contrasted and concentrated experience. Weeks' fascinating programme notes drew comparisons between the richness and occasional grandeur of Rihm's six-part writing and Bruckner's motets, but in fact the frame of reference is wider still, with an expressive control of dissonance and an emotional directness that are very much Rihm's own. EXAUDI conveyed all that with a confidence that belied the technical challenges the singers were meeting so effortlessly. It was hard to imagine this music better performed, and there could be no better context in which to hear it.
The Guardian
On a windswept, stormy Saturday afternoon above the swollen Blyth estuary there was to be found an hour of perfection. Weather patterns, musical patterns, a superbly attentive and almost cough-free audience with a group of superb singers in the incomparable setting of Blythburgh church – such were the ingredients of this golden hour. The singers of the justly celebrated EXAUDI compelled instant attention with their secure treading of the sometimes rocky harmonic paths of Orlande de Lassus…if Lassus is occasionally rocky then Rihm is often – vertiginous? To begin a devotional piece quietly with such grating dissonances requires musicianship of the highest order and nerves of the toughest steel…James Weeks and the members of EXAUDI will know from the atmosphere and the response that they delivered something special and this review can only hint at what those lucky enough to be present experienced. At the risk of repetition, perfection.
East Anglian Daily Times
‘NOW’ ['Exposure' prequel] at Edinburgh Contemporary Arts Trust, 28/11/07
On Tuesday, contemporary vocal ensemble Exaudi gave a startling object lesson in just how flexible the human voice is. They huffed, puffed, popped and even sang a programme that encompassed the extreme demands of such radicals as Luigi Nono, Wolfgang Rihm and Michael Finnissy… The microtonal eccentricities of reclusive Italian aristocrat Giacinto Scelsi's Tre Canti Sacri sent a chilling ring round the voluble Greyfriars acoustics, amplified by the mind-blowing dynamic range of this eight-piece ensemble… From the barely audible esotericism of James Saunders's #281107 to Finnissy and Nono, Rihm's Quo Me Rapis and onwards through the new works, Exaudi made this challenging repertoire seem easy and, more importantly, a thoroughly enjoyable experience.
The Scotsman
Italian programme at Aldeburgh Festival, 9/6/07
EXAUDI – 12 musically superb and technically accomplished singers, 4 women and 8 men, directed by James Weeks – first set a contemplative mood by singing plainchant. This was followed by Three Tenebrae Responsories by Gesualdo, the aristocratic composer of intensely chromatic vocal works…EXAUDI’s performances here were luminous and haunting. They captured the murky mood of the music, which, in the reverberant acoustics of the beautiful church, dating partly from Norman times, had a hallucinatory effect. Luigi Nono’s astringently beautiful Sarà Dolce Tacere (1960) concluded the program. Do all the singers in EXAUDI have perfect pitch? I doubt it. Yet how else to explain that they were able to find and hold the pitches during the skittish, leaping passages of this complex 12-tone score?
New York Times
In the afternoon the EXAUDI Vocal Ensemble returned to Orford Church, scene of their triumph at last year's festival. Following the Italian theme, they sang Gesualdo and Monteverdi, and then jumped feet first into the 20th century with pieces of mind-bending complexity by Sciarrino, Castiglioni, Scelsi and Nono. This is music that few people are likely to hear more than once, but if that one time is a performance by EXAUDI they are not likely to forget it. Where else are there sopranos like these, guaranteed to hit the notes other choral singers cannot reach?
The Financial Times
Spitalfields Winter Festival, 18/12/06
This Spitalfields Winter Festival concert kicked off with Tallis polyphony at its most exultant in the 20-minute Gaude gloriosa Dei mater. Four hundred years and one hour later, we ended with a cough — the final notated sound in the panoply of siren cries, shouting, whistling, and glissandi that make up the angry, fearsome Xenakis score Nuits, dedicated to political prisoners. To successfully combine both stylistic extremes in the same concert takes stamina, skill, bravery and cheek. No problem for EXAUDI: James Weeks’s young vocal ensemble, 12-strong in this manifestation, has never sought the easy life. A different aural jolt arrived with the selection from Michael Finnissy’s Seven Sacred Motets of 1991. We usually think of Finnissy as a fiendish creator of barbed-wire jungles; yet, driven by his faith, he stripped himself down in these marvellous pieces to several florid vocal lines arching over insistent drones. Music of contemplation, this; but music with teeth and sinews. EXAUDI easily found the eloquence and beauty in what on the page might seem spare, even arid. It was all over, without an interval, inside of 70 minutes. If only more concerts were like this: focused, no fat, risky and brilliant.
The Times
Michael Finnissy at 60, 23/8/06
EXAUDI's concert was a real highlight in a weekend of extraordinary performances. Rather than simply being a pastiche of sacred modal music Finnissy completely inhabits this sound world, and you do not have to share the composer’s faith to recognise the conviction in the music. On the evidence of this concert there cannot be many vocal ensembles around who can touch Exaudi.
New Notes
Ferneyhough Portrait, Aldeburgh Festival, 11/6/06
There are some performances that you know will be etched on your memory forever, such is their intensity and power. The EXAUDI Vocal Ensemble, a group of young singers conducted by their founder James Weeks, sang Brian Ferneyhough's 1969 Missa Brevis with thrilling commitment and immediacy, revealing this masterpiece of modernism to be among the great settings of these archetypal texts. As with all of Ferneyhough's music, the Missa Brevis teems with complexity and extremity: words were pulverised into syllables or atomised into screams and whispers. The Gloria ended with an existential shout and the Kyrie began with a vision of a musical abyss, the basses at the bottom of their register and the sopranos attempting to scale stratospheric heights. But Weeks and the EXAUDI singers somehow alchemised all this ferocious technical difficulty into music of shattering directness. The terrifying textures of the music created a sense of awe and wonder: by throwing out traditional ideas about how these texts should be put to music, Ferneyhough's piece created its own kind of transcendence. The final seconds of the work were astonishing, as one of the sopranos held an impossibly high note for an unfeasibly long time. It was a moment that symbolised the transfiguring power of this "short mass".
The Guardian
As for [Ferneyhough’s] Missa Brevis (1969), the chamber choir EXAUDI’s superconfident rendering under James Weeks at Orford Church was a bang-smash hit and left me feeling that this wildly uninhibited but cannily calculated work is as much a 1960s icon as Stockhausen’s vocal Stimmung from the previous year.
The Sunday Times
What looked in advance a heavy-duty programme of music ancient and modern – rapt unaccompanied choral works by Obrecht and Ockeghem alongside ferociously aggressive new pieces by Brian Ferneyhough – went exactly as one might have expected until the last 20 minutes. That was when the EXAUDI Vocal Ensemble launched themselves into Ferneyhough’s jaw-droppingly difficult Missa Brevis. As individual voices sparred with each other in complex combative groups and sopranos soared to stratospheric heights that one would have thought out of human reach, the adrenalin level reached fever pitch – and not just for the audience.
The Financial Times
If Irvine Arditti’s feverish playing of [Ferneyhough's] Unsichtbare Farben was gobsmacking, EXAUDI’s performance of the impossibly difficult and wonderfully effective Missa Brevis took the breath away.
Classical Music Magazine

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