Sacred music, Christmas and Kodō drumming – Gabriel Crouch in conversation

Gallicantus will be making their Spitalfields debut this Winter so we sent Marketing & Communications intern Niharika to chat with Gabriel Crouch, the Director of Gallicantus and find out a bit more about how the group was formed, plans for the future and what makes him tick.


Gallicantus (From Left to Right: William Gaunt, Mark Chambers, David Allsopp, Gabriel Crouch, Nigel Short and Christopher Watson)

Niharika Jain: How did the idea of forming Gallicantus come into being?

Gabriel Crouch: My memory is slightly hazy on this, as I was convalescing from a rather nasty car accident at the time (early 2008) and was on some potent medication. I think it was my friend Nigel Short who persuaded me to get the group going – in my state I was too weak to resist. Not that I’m complaining – I’m incurably smitten with the process of researching, rehearsing and performing this music – and I’m lucky enough to have some friends who feel the same way.

NJ: So what do you most enjoy about performing as a group?

GC: The feeling of a small vocal ensemble whose singers are locked in to each other – it beats any solo singing, as far as I’m concerned. We’re all involved in so many other projects that we don’t get to work together as much as we’d like, so we’ve learnt to value those moments and keep striving for them.

NJ: It’s great that you are all together again this year at the Winter Festival where Gallicantus will be making their debut at Spitalfields – can you tell us more about ‘Dialogues of Sorrow’ and what the music represents?

GC: ‘Dialogues of Sorrow’ is the title of a partially lost work by the composer Robert Ramsey, composed as a lament on the death of Prince Henry in 1612. Henry was the eldest son of James the First, and though still a teenager he was seen as a monarch-in-waiting who would restore the pride of Elizabethan England. ‘Dialogues…’ was just one work in a huge body of music – madrigals, sacred works and solo songs, by composers familiar and forgotten – written in memory of the young prince; no other figure in British history has attracted such an outpouring. It is a fascinating moment in our music history, distilling fashionable melancholy and a bit of continental melodrama, and the music is absolutely ravishing.

NJ:You lecture at Princeton University (USA) – what do you most enjoy about teaching?

GC: Being able to set a musical agenda which is driven solely by the quality of the music, and not by the need to sell it. Also I must put in a plug for the American ‘Liberal Arts’ system of teaching undergraduates – I wish I had been through it myself because I was in no fit state to specialize as an 18-year-old (and consequently made the bizarre decision to pursue a degree in Geography). I’m constantly surprised by how much nicer, more engaged and more cooperative my students are than I was at that age.

NJ: You have been singing since a very young age, how would you say you and your music have changed over the years?

GC: As a boy treble at Westminster Abbey I’m told I was known as ‘the robot’. I’m sure I was having fun somewhere deep within, but I struggled to show it. The only thing I really cared about was getting the notes right. I hope I have a better perspective on things now.

NJ: What do you most like your audience to take away from your performances?

GC: I can remember as a student getting so inspired by the sheer commitment of the performers at a Kodō drumming concert that I stood on my chair to applaud (the traditional standing ovation seemed inadequate at the time). That might be a bit of a stretch for Gallicantus, but if we can communicate what we find compelling about the music, its story and its context – perhaps it will resonate and linger, like my favourite concerts have done for me.

NJ: Do you get to attend a lot of music performances in America? Do they have a different style of performance in comparison to English ensembles?

GC: In the world of early music ensembles, there aren’t many in the USA, and I think some that do exist get a bit tangled up with trying to emulate a ‘British’ sound. There are sensational choirs here though – they have a bigger sound than English groups, especially at the top end, and I must say that they are often more adventurous commissioners of new music.

NJ: Other than the Kodō performance you mentioned before, what is the best music performance you have attended?

GC: I won’t forget my first Wagner – it was Die Walkure in Stuttgart, and I spent the whole show gripping the seat in front with tears streaming down my face. I was convinced I would hate it, and spent the whole day grumbling about it beforehand. Closer to home, I never miss I fagiolini if I can help it – I love their approach to music-making.

NJ: How do you like to celebrate Christmas – will you celebrating it in the UK this year?

GC: I was always away (at choir school) as a child, so it feels important to go home. But this year I’m going to be in America for the first time ever and I haven’t told my mum yet. This is as good a way as any for her to find out…

NJ: What’s next for Gallicantus?

GC: 2012 is the 400th anniversary of Prince Henry’s death of course, so it’s a big year for ‘Dialogues of Sorrow’ performances. Our next CD release is William Byrd – his Cantiones Sacrae of 1589 which reveal the anguish of the English Catholics with such passion and poignancy. I’m also amused to see that we are participating in an opera in Italy soon. Appropriately given our collective acting skills, we are playing the part of six trees.

Gallicantus will be performing Dialogues of Sorrow in Shoreditch Church on Thursday 15 December at 7.00pm. For more information and to book tickets click here


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