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Fretwork and Emma Kirkby



FRETWORK is: Richard Campbell, Julia Hodgson, Wendy Gillespie, William Hunt, Susanna Pell, and Richard Boothby.

Fretwork made their London debut at the Wigmore Hall in 1986 and since then have established themselves both as a leading force in early music and as a vibrant inspiration to contemporary composers.

This highly versatile consort of four, five or six viols perform with or without voice, lute and organ. Their repertory spans the entire viol consort tradition, from the first publication of instrumental music in 1501 by Petrucci, In Nomines and Fantasias by Tallis and Byrd, dance music by Dowland and the six-part consorts by Lawes, music by Locke and Purcell, Bach's Art of Fugue, to recently-commissioned music by living composers. The consort song repertory is frequently explored in collaboration with soprano or countertenor, such as Emma Kirkby and Michael Chance, while verse anthems are often performed with a four-part vocal group.

Fretwork has been prolific in commissioning new works for viols. Their twentieth-century programmes have featured new works written specifically for them by composers as diverse as George Benjamin, Michael Nyman, Sir John Tavener, Orlando Gough, Duncan Druce, Alexander Goehr and Thea Musgrave. In1995 the South Bank Centre commissioned a dozen more composers to write reflections on Purcell's Fantazias. These were performed by Fretwork - alongside the Purcell originals - as part of the tercentenary celebrations of Purcell's death and the project produced a rich variety of pieces from composers including Gavin Bryars, Paul Ruders, Simon Bainbridge, Tan Dun and Elvis Costello. Much of this new music was recorded on their acclaimed album 'Sit Fast', released by Virgin Classics. In 1995 they also took part in Elvis Costello's Meltdown Festival at the South Bank, performing with him his own composition for the group and arrangements of songs by John Dowland.

In 2001, together with Michael Chance (alto), Nicholas Daniel (oboe) and two dancers, they toured the UK with a major staged production for the Contemporary Music Network, performing new and old music, including the especially-commissioned "Birds on Fire" by Orlando Gough, with choreography by Ian Spink, and "Three Arias for Oboe & Six Viols" by John Woolrich. The tour included Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral, Bristol Cathedral, St Mary-in-the-Castle in Hastings & London's Union Chapel.

Their numerous recordings on the Virgin Veritas label include John Dowland's Lachrimae (1604), which won a 1997 Grand Prix du Disque award, William Byrd's Complete Consort Music and Henry Purcell's Fantazias & In Nomines. They have also recorded two CDs of the consort music of William Lawes, the 350th anniversary of whose death they celebrated with a three concert festival and international conference, promoted and organised by themselves in Oxford in September 1995. New works recorded by the ensemble include George Benjamin's Upon Silence with Susan Bickley (Nimbus) and Michael Nyman's Self-laudatory Hymn of Inanna and her Omnipotence with James Bowman (Argo). 'The mirrour and wonder of his age' presents a wide selection of the great consort music of John Jenkins. Fretwork's first contemporary CD, Sit Fast, was released in 1997. In March 1999, 'Celestial Witchcraft' was released, which includes music from the time of Charles I's reign.

They now have an exclusive contract with the dynamic record company, Harmonia Mundi USA. Their first recordings for this label (2001), 'The Hidden Face', with music by John Tavener & Henry Purcell and Petrucci's 'Harmonice Musices Odheacton', met with critical acclaim, as did their latest releases, Bach's 'Art of Fugue' (November 2002) and "Above the Starrs" (May 2003) featuring the anthems and consort music of Thomas Tomkins. They will record three more discs for HMU in the coming year, in addition to the recording of the music of Ludwig Senfl with Charles Daniels, which will be released in the new year.

In addition to their performing activities, they also produce their own publications under the name Fretwork Editions. These now include first complete editions of large areas of the consort repertory and a book on the composer William Lawes.

Fretwork performs and broadcasts regularly in the UK and the rest of Europe, and has toured in the USA, Russia, Australia and Japan.

This season they will perform in Switzerland with Michael Chance as well as UK dates at the Wigmore Hall (with Emma Kirkby), Durham, Stour, Cheltenham and Sheffield. They plan an extensive tour of the United States with Emma Kirkby in October 2004; followed by a tour of the Netherlands in January 2005.


Originally, EMMA KIRKBY had no expectations of becoming a professional singer. As a classics student at Oxford and then a schoolteacher she sang for pleasure in choirs and small groups, always feeling at home most in Renaissance and Baroque repertoire. She joined the Taverner Choir in 1971 and in 1973 began her long association with the Consort of Musicke. Emma took part in the early Decca Florilegium recordings with both the Consort of Musicke and the Academy of Ancient Music, at a time when most college-trained sopranos were not seeking a sound appropriate for early music instruments. She therefore had to find her own approach, with enormous help from Jessica Cash in London, and from the directors, fellow singers and instrumentalists with whom she has worked over the years.

Emma feels privileged to have been able to build long term relationships with chamber groups and orchestras, in particular London Baroque, the Freiburger Barockorchester, L'Orfeo (of Linz) and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment , and now with some of the younger groups - the Palladian Ensemble and Florilegium.

To date, she has made well over a hundred recordings of all kinds, from sequences of Hildegarde of Bingen to madrigals of the Italian and English Renaissance, cantatas and oratorios of the Baroque, works of Mozart, Haydn and J. C. Bach. Recent recordings include: "Handel - Opera Arias and Overtures 2" for Hyperion, Bach wedding cantatas for Decca, Bach Cantatas 82a and 199 for Carus; and four projects for BIS: with London Baroque, one of Handel motets and one of Christmas music by Scarlatti, Bach and others; with the Royal Academy Baroque Orchestra the first recording of the newly-rediscovered "Gloria" by Handel; and, with the Romantic Chamber group of London, "Chanson d'amour" - songs by the American composer Amy Beach, who died in 1944. Most recent of all is an anthology, "Classical Kirkby", devised and performed with Anthony Rooley, also on the BIS label.

In 1999 Emma was voted Artist of the Year by Classic FM Radio listeners, and in November 2000 she received the Order of the British Empire.

Despite all the recording activity, Emma still prefers live concerts, especially the pleasure of repeating programmes with colleagues; every occasion, every venue and every audience will combine to create something new from this wonderful repertoire.