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.
In 2011, Fretwork celebrates 25 years of performing music old and new, and 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 30 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 will be 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 the United States every year, 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
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, is hosting a competition for young composers to compose a four-minute piece for Fretwork. They will workshop the shortlisted pieces at the NCEM in York in October, and then premier the winning entry in Kings Place in December.
In 2012 they will be premiering a new piece for The Hilliard Ensemble & Fretwork from one of today’s most exciting young composers – Nico Muhly – in the Wigmore Hall and then touring this programme around Europe.
And in 2013 they will be playing a series of concert at London’s two top chamber music halls: The Wigmore Hall and Kings Place. They will also be touring with Ian Bostridge, celebrating the 450th anniversary of John Dowland’s birth.
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.
Liam Byrne took up the viol at the age of 18 under the expert tutelage of Fretwork founder-member Wendy Gillespie, with whom he completed a BMus and a Performer’s Diploma at Indiana University. In 2006 he moved to the UK to read for an MPhil in Musicology and Performance at Magdalen College, Oxford University, where he studied viol with Laurence Dreyfus and counterpoint and early notation with Margaret Bent.
Liam currently lives in London and enjoys a busy career as a soloist and chamber musician, working with groups like The Dunedin Consort, Le Concert d’Astrée, The City Musicke, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, The Feinstein Ensemble and the viol consorts Phantasm and Concordia. He also frequently collaborates with artists and musicians outside the realm of early music, most recently working with Damon Albarn on his new opera Dr Dee for the Manchester International Festival and ENO.
He is professor of viola da gamba at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London and teaches viol consort at Oxford University and West Dean College. Liam plays a treble viol by Dietrich Kessler, very graciously on loan from Marc Soubeyran.
Tokyo born Reiko read musicology at Kunitachi College of Music where she started playing viols. After she studied with Yukimi Kanbe and Tetsuya Nakano, she came to the UK to pursue her study with Richard Boothby at the Royal College of Music. She now has established herself as a one of the leading viol players in the UK, regularly performing with many leading early music ensembles and orchestras. She joined Fretwork in 2008.
Reiko lives in London and is a professor at the Royal College of Music.
His discography is extensive, ranging from early 17th century music for solo cello to contemporary solo and chamber works. In particular, his recent recording of Bach’s Cello Suites has met with extensive critical acclaim.
In addition to his playing work, Richard teaches at the Royal College of Music, London, and has given classes, seminars and lecture-recitals in many parts of the globe. He will be taking up a one-year visiting fellowship at Oriel College, Oxford in 2013-14.
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.