Festival Firsts: The Marian Consort

This year we’re welcoming festival newcomers The Marian Consort to our Winter Festival. We’ve caught up with Rory McCleery, their founder and director to find out more about the group and what to expect when they come to Spitalfields this December. Find out more about their performance >>

Festival First: The Marian Consort

Festival First: The Marian Consort

You’re coming to Spitalfields for the first time this December. Who are The Marian Consort?

We’re a young ensemble specialising in Renaissance vocal music, most of which is ‘a cappella’ (which literally means ‘in the manner of the chapel’), so unaccompanied. We do sing later repertoire as well, including an increasing amount of contemporary music, and work frequently with instrumentalists, but it was discovering Renaissance music together at university that inspired the group’s formation. That seems a little while ago now, and it’s been wonderful that as The Marian Consort has developed, so too have the careers of our performers, who are now among the top rank of young professional singers.

Where does the ensemble’s name come from?

Necessity is the mother of invention. We realised when we were putting together the publicity for our first ever concert that although we had chosen the venue, repertoire and personnel, the one thing we hadn’t selected was a name, and once we’d picked one, it stuck! Over time though I’ve come to realise how appropriate it is, as so much of the music we perform, both sacred and secular, across the centuries, features Mary either literally or as an emblematic representation of women. She seems to have been a particular inspiration to composers through the ages, many of whom were at their most creative in response to Marian texts and iconography.

How would you describe what you do to people who haven’t heard you before?

We perform with a real focus on chamber music, which fundamentally so much of this repertoire is, and on engaging and involving our audience, which is why I tend to talk about the music in concert between pieces. The etiquette of the classical concert is sometimes construed as a potential minefield, tip-toeing between respect for convention and stuffiness, (and especially when performing sacred music!) but I think it’s important that audiences can relate both to the performers and the music that they’re hearing.

We also aim to give fresh insight into familiar pieces, and to introduce listeners to fantastic music and composers who, by historical accident, have faded into obscurity. We’re very passionate about all of these things, which is why we always try to balance well-known music and rarer gems of the repertoire (many of which we are the first people to perform in modern times!) in concert and recording, and why we perform with smaller forces (often one voice to a part) allowing the colours and intricacies of the music to shine through.

Can you tell us a bit about your Winter Festival performance?

We’ll be performing a programme of amazing festive music by composers who lived in the 15th and 16th centuries and who had connections with Rome and the Sistine Chapel. Many of the pieces we’ll be singing are also linked directly as composers at this time borrowed bits from their favourite pieces, often by musicians who had either taught or inspired them. They did this partly in tribute but also as a way of showing off, introducing extra voice parts or clever musical devices to display their virtuosity and skill. The piece at the heart of the programme, and which inspired so much of the other music, is ‘Quaeramus cum Pastoribus’ (‘Let us search with the Shepherds’) by the Frenchman Jean Mouton: this beautiful motet was copied out and passed between musicians as far afield as Aberdeen and Guatemala, and survived in the repertoire of the Sistine Chapel choir for over 100 years, which was almost unheard of at the time!

What do you hope the audiences will take away from your performance at the Winter Festival?

I hope that they’ll be moved, entertained, uplifted and inspired by this fantastic music, and maybe discover a few new favourite composers, as well as hearing pieces they may have heard before or know well in a new light!

Have a listen

The Marian Consort

Monday 14 December, 7.00pm
Shoreditch Church (St Leonard’s)
Find out more >>


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