Few other ensembles can match the range of Fretwork’s repertory, spanning as it does the first printed music of 1501 in Venice, to music commissioned by the group this year. Their recordings of arrangements of J. S. Bach have won particular praise, but they have recently issued a disc containing music by Grieg, Debussy, Shostakovitch, Warlock & Britten. This extraordinary breadth of music has taken them all over the world in the 25 years since their debut, and their recordings of the classic English viol repertory – Purcell, Gibbons, Lawes & Byrd – have become the benchmark by which others are judged. Their 2009 recording of the Purcell Fantazias won the Gramophone Award for Baroque Chamber Music.
The consistently high standards they have achieved have brought music old and new to audiences hitherto unfamiliar with the inspiring sound-world of the viol.
This year Fretwork will celebrate 30 years of performing music old and new, and will look forward to a challenging and exciting future as the world’s leading consort of viols.
In these last two and a half decades, they have explored the core repertory of great English consort music, from Taverner to Purcell, and made classic recordings against which others are judged. Their series of discs for Virgin Classics included CDs devoted to William Lawes, Henry Purcell, William Byrd, Matthew Locke, John Dowland and Orlando Gibbons; while their more recent work for Harmonia Mundi USA has produced two discs of J.S.Bach — Art of Fugue and Alio Modo — which have been exuberantly praised; and discs of the earliest instrumental music (Petrucci); Sir John Tavener’s The Hidden Face; Thomas Tomkins; Alexander Agricola & Fabrice Fitch; Ludwig Senfl with Charles Daniels and two collaborations with the choir of Magdalen College, Oxford. Their recording of concert songs by William Byrd with Emma Kirkby has received particular praise.
In addition to this, Fretwork have become known as pioneers of contemporary music for viols, having commissioned over 40 new works. The list of composers is like the role call of the most prominent writers of our time: George Benjamin, Michael Nyman, Sir John Tavener, Gavin Bryars, Elvis Costello, Alexander Goehr, John Woolrich, Orlando Gough, Fabrice Fitch, Peter Sculthorpe, Sally Beamish, Tan Dun, Barry Guy, Andrew Keeling, Thea Musgrave, Simon Bainbridge, Poul Ruders, John Joubert & Duncan Druce.
The group now frequently presents programmes consisting entirely of contemporary music, though most audiences find that the creative tension of juxtaposing old and new leads to a thrilling experience.
Another major area of interest is J. S. Bach. Initially, they performed and recorded ‘The Art of Fugue’ to rapturous notices; and more recently they have arranged many of his keyboard works, including ‘The Well Tempered Clavier’ and the ‘Clavierübung’, recently released on the HMU label under the title ‘Alio Modo’. Their arrangement of the Goldberg Variations was released in November 2011.
In 2001 they created something entirely new in the consort repertory: with the aid of the Contemporary Music Network they constructed a performance involving two dancers, choreographer Ian Spink, lighting, Michael Chance and music by Gibbons, Dun, Gough, Nyman, Woolrich and Keeling. This extraordinary event was toured around the cathedrals of Britain to great wonderment and applause.
2007 saw them visiting Russia (twice), Spain, France & Ireland, with visits to the Edinburgh International Festival, the Lufthansa, Spitalfields, and Aldeburgh Festivals. They also took part in a Festival of Evensong at five Cambridge Colleges — King’s, Trinity, St. John’s, Gonville & Caius and Sidney Sussex — as part of a residency at Sidney Sussex College, which included teaching and recording a CD of Tomkins. Another recording, of Gibbons, Tomkins and Weelkes with King’s College Choir, directed by Stephen Cleobury, has recently appeared on EMI.
In 2008, they recorded two tracks on Ryuichi Sakamoto’s latest album ‘Out of Noise’.
He wrote poems to accompany the tracks on the album, one of which is:
I listened to Fretwork’s In Nomine—16th C. English Music for consort of viols and Second Service & Consort Anthems.
Everyday, when I walk, before I sleep, I listen to music.
Recently, I have been listening to Gustav Leonhardt and Fretwork.
Although sometimes I do like to shuffle my library.
They now tour North America frequently and have won particular praise there for their programme of Jewish music for viols — ‘Birds on Fire’. In January 2009 they visited California & Texas with Clare Wilkinson, celebrating the 350th anniversary of Purcell’s birth.
Their recording of ‘Birds on Fire’ was Editor’s Choice in Gramophone Magazine and Julie-Anne Sadie commented:
This is demanding, wonderfully offbeat music inspired by Ashkenazi Klezmer (more cabaret than camera), which Fretwork brings off with a panache that astonishes and delights.
In 2010, they curated a week-long concert series of concerts at the dynamic new London concert hall, Kings Place. The culmination of this week, which saw performances with Emma Kirkby, Michael Chance & Clare Wilkinson, was the world premier of Fretwork’s latest commission: ‘The World Encompassed’ by Orlando Gough, a 70-minute piece describing in musical terms Drake’s circumnavigation of the globe in 1577-80. Drake took four viol players with him on his epic journey, and Gough’s piece incorporates original 16th century music into the fabric of this new work. They took this new work with them on a ten-concert tour of North America in November of 2010.
In February 2011, BBC Radio 3’s ‘Early Music Show’ devoted a whole weekend to Fretwork, interviewing founder-member Richard Boothby, playing several tracks from their many recordings; and then broadcasting a performance of The World Encompassed recorded at the York Early Music Festival, together with an interview of the composer Orlando Gough.
Also in 2011, The National Centre for Early Music, in collaboration with the BBC, hosted a competition for young composers to compose a four-minute piece for Fretwork. They workshopped the shortlisted pieces at the NCEM in York in October, and then the winning entries were premiered in Kings Place in December 2011.
In 2012, they gave their Carnegie Hall debut in February, and in October, they premiered ‘My Days’ for The Hilliard Ensemble & Fretwork by one of today’s most exciting young composers – Nico Muhly – in Wigmore Hall.
2013 was their busiest year for a decade, and they played no fewer than ten concerts in London’s major chamber music halls: Wigmore Hall, Kings Place, Cadogan Hall & the Royal College of Music. They also celebrated the 450th anniversary of John Dowland’s birth with many performances of his Lachrimæ with the eminent lutenist, Elizabeth Kenny.
In November 2013, they went on an extensive your of North America, taking them from Texas to Mississippi, from the Mid-West to New York, and from San Diego to British Columbia.
They celebrated Dowland so much, in fact, that they couldn’t stop in 2014, devoting two months to concerts of his songs and instrumental music with one of today’s most celebrated singers, Ian Bostridge.
They visited Carnegie Hall once again in 2015, and presented the revised version of The World Encompassed, which includes a spoken narrative drawn from contemporary accounts, with celebrated actor Simon Callow at the Dartington International Summer School.
They celebrate 30 years in June with a gala evening at Kings Place, and return to the recording studio for four new albums. They will visit North America again for their most extensive tour.
Asako was born in Takamatsu, Japan. She started playing viola da gamba when she was 13 years old, but studied violin initially in the Toho Gakuen Music High School in Tokyo. She then continued her studies at the Toho Gakuen School of Music as a student of viola da gamba with Tetsuya Nakano.
In 1988 she moved to Holland to further her studies with Wieland Kuijken at the Royal Conservatorium in The Hague where she received her Soloists Diploma in 1993 and then studied baroque violin with Thomas Albert at the Hochschule für Künste Bremen. As a baroque violinist she has played with Bremen Baroque Orchestra, Musicalische Campagney and Musica Fiata.
Since 1996 she has lived in London and is in demand as a viola da gamba soloist and continuo player throughout the United States, Canada, Europe, Japan and Australia, having played with Charivari AgrÃ©able, The English Concert, The King’s Consort, Ton Koopman and Phantasm. She has taught at Summer courses in Poland, Australia, Japan and Austria. In 2004 she has become a member of Fretwork and has since performed worldwide, broadcasting and making recordings.
Joanna Levine studied cello and viola da gamba at the Guildhall School of Music, studying with Raphael Wallfisch, Anthony Pleeth and Sarah Cunningham. She has many years of experience giving concerts in Britain and Europe and making recordings, on the cello, baroque cello and viol. Highlights include playing at the Proms, paying at international Early Music festivals and playing on pop and television soundtracks. She is a founder member of Concordia, with whom she has made recordings for Hyperion, Chandos, Metronome, Signum and Real World Records, as well as for BBC. She has played in many productions at the Globe Theatre, including ‘Farinelli and the King’, which transferred to the West End, and ‘All the Angels’, a play about Handel’s Messiah. She enjoys the creative processes involved and the chance to work with composers, directors and actors such as Mark Rylance and Gemma Arterton. She also enjoys playing the gamba solos in the Bach Passions, prompting the Times critic to write “For the power of sheer non-verbal expression Joanna Levine’s viola da gamba solo took some beating.”
Originally a Baroque cellist, Sam took up the viola da gamba under the tutelage of Susanna Pell while reading for his Master’s degree in music at the University of York. He has also benefitted from master classes and tuition from players such as Ibrahim Aziz, Richard Boothby, Christophe Coin, Alison Crum, Wieland Kuijken, Jonathan Manson, and Alison McGillivray. Sam has been a member of Fretwork since 2015 and appears regularly as a continuo player and soloist on viol and cello with a number of early music ensembles with whom he performs both early repertoire and modern compositions.
In addition to his performing work, Sam is an associate lecturer at the University of York and has lectured at the Royal Academy of Music in London. He has a PhD on the influences of poetry and declamation on the composition and performance of the pièces de viole in late seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century France. He is currently based in London and York.
Emily Ashton studied music at Clare College, Cambridge, and baroque cello and viola da gamba with Jonathan Manson at the Royal Academy of Music. Since then she has played with many of the country’s leading period instrument ensembles, including the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Academy of Ancient Music, Dunedin Consort, Orchestra of the Sixteen and Gabrieli Consort.
Emily is a member of the viol consort Chelys, who recently released their debut recording of Ayres and Divisions by Christopher Simpson. She has also performed around Europe and recorded discs of Lawes,
Tomkins and Ward with Phantasm. Emily has given solo recitals at the
Spitalfields Festival and Cotswolds Early Music Festival, and with various chamber groups has performed at venues including the Wigmore Hall, Handel House and St Martin-in-the-Fields.
After studying with Nikolaus Harnoncourt in Salzburg, he founded the Purcell Quartet in 1984 and was a founder member of Fretwork in 1985. Since then his career has been bound up with these two groups with whom he records and tours; and through whom he plays the broadest range of repertory for the instrument from the earliest music to the latest contemporary music commissioned for viols.
With the Purcell Quartet he has recorded nearly 50 albums with them for Hyperion and Chandos. He tours Europe, Japan and the United States regularly with both ensembles. In 1998 he directed performances of Monteverdi’s ‘L’Incoronazione di Poppea’ with the Purcell Quartet; and in 2001 directed them in a fully-staged production of ‘L’Orfeo’, with Mark Padmore in the title role.
As a soloist, he has given many recitals of the rich solo repertory, and in 1994 he recorded the three Bach sonatas for viola da gamba and harpsichord with Shalev Ad-El for Chandos Records, to critical acclaim. He has given many recitals of the great suites by Antoine Forqueray, with whose music he feels a special affinity. He is professor of Viola da Gamba at the Royal College in London.