Echo Vocal Ensemble -  ‘Listening to Lassus’

On 25th May 2021, Echo Vocal Ensemble premiered “Listening to Lassus,” our most ambitious project to date, at Chiltern Arts Festival at St Mary’s Church in Henley-on-Thames. It was devised collaboratively with dramaturg Miriam Sherwood and vocal artist Aminita Francis, and took the form of a theatrical exploration of the work of Orlandus Lassus (1532-1594). It brought his music to life by combining historical and analytical discussion with musical experimentation, all presented in an informal and immersive style.

With the assistance of our two artistic collaborators, conductor Sarah Latto gave insight into Lassus’s musical life and the genres in which he composed. This was illustrated with a number of his pieces, including the sacred motet Musica Dei donum, the secular madrigal Hor vi riconfortate and the chanson Paisible Domaine, as well as some specific shorter excerpts. It also focussed on the experience of performing this music, achieved through semi-scripted interviews of our singers, led by Miriam. This created a sense of open discussion about the music and how it felt to perform it, and gave our audience insight into the lives and creative values of the performers as individuals. This translated into the musical performance of Lassus’s music itself: for example in our deconstruction of Lassus’ beautiful chanson Toutes les nuits. We sang this piece twice: once as written, and then a second time, with Aminita improvising over the ensemble, using our own words inspired by the original text. The performance ended with an original piece that the group created together during our workshops. It was performed as if it was being improvised ‘live’, in homage to the creative processes of Lassus himself, where he and his friends and colleagues would perform together and exchange creative ideas in the Italian salons of the 1550s.

This part-theatre, part-concert style of performance was a completely new approach for us and indeed for our audience. It placed Lassus’s music in the most contemporary context possible: performing his works while simultaneously presenting a unique and comprehensive exploration of that performance. By incorporating the perspectives of the singers themselves, there was a sense that the typical barriers between audience and artist were taken away. Historical and musically significant figures such as Lassus are so far removed from us in time that there is often a sense of distance between us and their work. Listening to Lassus was designed to bring this sublime music firmly into the present, and showcase his talents alongside that of each of the performers. It was a hugely personal project for us as an ensemble and as individuals, which made it all the more rewarding. 

We are so grateful to Angel Early Music for their support of this project that helped us to develop us so much as an ensemble and that brought Lassus' music to life in an exciting and thought-provoking way.





Sam Cobb

Co-Artistic Director



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