Preview: Garbarek/Hilliard- St Pauls Cathedral, 12th July

JanGarbarek (centre) and the Hilliard Ensemble. Photo credit Paolo Sorani/ECM

Preview: Jan Garbarek and the Hilliard Ensemble

ROBERT EDGAR spoke to City of London Festival Director Ian Ritchie, and previews the Garbarek/Hilliard Ensemble concert in the glorious expanse of St Paul’s Cathedral on Thursday 12th of July :


Norwegian saxophonist Jan Garbarek and the four singers of the Hilliard Ensemble are performing in London to mark the fifty-year anniversary of the City of London Festival. The programme will be a varied one, ranging from 17th Century Scottish laments to music by Arvo Pärt. The basis of the programme for this concert will be the group's most recent CD Officium Novum on the ECM label.

The Hilliard Ensemble/Jan Garbarek collaboration first started in 1993. Manfred Eicher of ECM has been involved in the project from its inception. The group has been described by the label and the group themselves, as an entirely unprecedented bringing-together of voices and the saxophone. With Garbarek becoming almost a fifth voice in the texture of the music. Indeed, Garbarek’s playing is very warm, subtle and human.

The group have recorded all of their albums in the Austrian monastery of St Gerold, but Garbarek and the Hilliard Ensemble are no strangers to St Paul’s (they have played there three times before - LondonJazz reviewed the 2009 concert). City of London Festival Ian Ritchie described them to me as a group in a constant state of development, “in the way that wine matures in a bottle, and what’s so wonderful each time is the prospect of 800 years of music covered by what the Hilliard sing, and yet, there is something completely connected about all of it. It is all time and no time together”.

The way in which the ensemble performs changes, depending on the venue and the audience. St Paul’s is famous for its long echo, which lends itself well to what Ian Ritchie calls the “slow, spiritual, reflective kind of atmosphere and that is precisely the style and quality that these musicians make together. From their different perspectives, they come together and meet somewhere wonderfully in the middle”, says Ritchie. In this sense, the group actually uses the resonance of the building as a sixth instrument ensuring what promises to be a unique performance in Wren's unique masterpiece.

Past audience reactions have been extremely positive. As Ian Ritchie explained to me, people "seem increasingly drawn over the past ten or fifteen years towards music that has a spiritual dimension and atmosphere, a lot of people are looking for something that is more rewarding than in-your-face modern music”.

This is the first time that the ensemble will play music from their critically acclaimed 2010 release Officium Novum at the cathedral. It is a very exciting album that looks towards Russia, Byzantium, France and Spain to the liturgical music of Armenia and even Native American texts. The Hilliard ensemble adapt traditional pieces for their own needs whilst Garbarek improvises over them creating music that is modal, contemplative, and very delicate.

In the aftermath of the protests at St Paul’s, perhaps this concert can help in some way to restore the image of the cathedral as a cultural icon. As Ritchie expresses it, "thinking of everything that St Paul’s has been through and the protesters present in the city, what is needed more than anything, at the present time, is a fantastic musical experience in that cathedral, right in the heart of the city."

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