Interview with Chris Parsons
Baroque music ensemble Eboracum Baroque and award-winning York Gin are teaming up to present ‘Heroic Handel’, a lockdown concert celebrating Handel’s music and the gin craze of his time. Recorded and filmed in isolation, Eboracum Baroque’s musicians from across the UK and Europe will bring virtuosic arias from Handel’s operas Rinaldo and Giulio Cesare to life, as well as characterful instrumental music, concluding with the magnificent Coronation anthem, Zadok the Priest.
Ahead of this ambitious digital event, I caught up with Eboracum Baroque’s Artistic Director, Chris Parsons, to talk about the event and the ensemble:
1) How did Eboracum Baroque form?
Eboracum formed back in 2012 when I was a music student at the University of York – it was part of my dissertation and I needed a choir to record some french baroque pieces I’d edited and from there we decided to keep it going! We did quite a few performances in our final year at York (including at the Edinburgh Fringe) before lots of the group moved down south to continue musical study at the London conservatoires. But I was always keen to keep the group going and there’s still a strong core of York alumni still involved across the group!
2) What are the group’s favourite works to perform together?
A tough question! We are such a flexible ensemble – some concerts we’ll do chamber music with just 3 performers and others will be 25 performers doing big scale pieces. We love performing Handel, particularly Messiah at Christmas and doing that to a packed out church with candles and a Christmas tree always gets me in the Christmas spirit! But at the same time, we love visiting National Trust properties and giving intimate chamber recitals to smaller audiences so the connection with the audience and performer is really close!
3) What has been the most challenging thing about bringing this ambitious project together?
Yes it’s been quite a process bringing everything together, but an exciting one! We began planning this at the start of May so it’s been a great way to keep musicians busy. The main thing has been making sure we get all the tech side of things ready so that everyone knows how to do it. Click tracks have become a staple part of a musicians life at the moment with our headphones! David Sims who is a fellow graduate of the University of York has been the tech whizz making this all happen!
The main thing is keeping everyone together with everyone sending their recordings in separately from wherever they are (mostly all across the UK but some in Serbia and Spain!!) The main thing is a click track and a pair of headphones – I choose the tempo of the piece (Handel wouldn’t have known what a metronome was!) and that is then sent in the form a click track and the players and singers have to stay exactly in time so that it can be stuck together using software.
As he put it ‘his job is sticking it all together and making sure if people have recorded in their bathroom/garage/box room – he can make it sound like everyone is actually in the same place! It’s quite a strange process recording your part all by yourself and not bouncing off the other players/singers. We actually had the cello and harpsichord record their parts first and then people could have some instruments to play along to (along with the click!) Quite a new experience for many of us, but one we’ve embraced it if it means we can get to perform together.
4) Why Handel for this online event?
His music has everything! It can be so dramatic (all the grandeur with trumpets and timpani) but also so beautiful and expressive – he can just write a great tune and knows how to make it work for every situation. The opera arias you will hear in this concert are pieces that people in England would have heard nothing like till then and I’m sure they must have been blown away by it. He knew how to write for a big occasion too – Zadok the Priest just builds the tension before the glorious entry of the choir and the trumpets – a perfect piece for the Coronation of a King.. We’re really keen to be accessible to all audiences too and I think all this music in this programme is a great starter for getting into baroque music too – lots of great tunes!
5) Can you sum up the event in three words?
Tough! Uplifting, Ambitious and Exciting!
For further information, see www.eboracumbaroque.co.uk.
This event will premiere on 18th July 2020: