The Binchois Consort: From Windsor Castle to The Cloisters To Haverford

The Early Music experts gave a performance, workshopped pieces with student singers, and visited a class to sing from a newly acquired manuscript.

Some of Haverford’s singing students got to learn from experts when the Binchois Consort, a UK-based six-man a cappella group, came to campus last month. The group, which specializes in Renaissance music, visited Haverford on its current North American tour one day after their performance of their 15th-century program, “Henry V and the House of Lancaster,” at The Cloisters in New York City to celebrate the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt. Not only did the master singers come to campus to perform—they presented their Henry V program again in Founders Great Hall as part of the Music Department’s Concert Artist Series—but they also came to listen, attending a Bi-College Chamber Singers rehearsal and helping them learn about the challenges of singing this repertory.

“The Binchois Consort are one of the very best ensembles specializing in Early Music, anywhere,” says John C. Whitehead Professor of Music Richard Freedman, who has worked with the group before and helped bring them to campus. “Based at Birmingham University in the U.K., [conductor] Andrew Kirkman is a leading authority on the music of the 15th and 16th centuries. The rest of the singers are from England’s finest choral establishments—two of them are singers at Windsor Castle—and they have a world of experience with these and other repertories.”

The Bi-Co Chamber Singers, a 30-voice mixed choir under the direction of Professor of Music Thomas Lloyd, perform many types of music, often a cappella and always in the original language. Currently the group is working on Ave regina coelorum by British composer Leonel Power, and it was that piece that they workshopped with the visiting professionals.

“During the workshop, Andrew and others listened to the Chamber Singers performing … then offered advice on interpretation and performance—everything from tone and pronunciation to phrasing and counterpoint,” says Freedman, who is also the associate provost for curricular development. “Andrew and the others were most impressed with the group.”

While in town, the Binchois Consort also worked with the eight students in Freedman’s “Ritual and Representation in Renaissance Music” class, joining them in the Bryn Mawr College Library to view and sing from a newly acquired 15th-century manuscript of processional prayers from the French royal convent at Poissy.

Says Freedman: “The Chamber Singers and the students in my course learned a great deal from the visit—about particular pieces, about the cultures of Renaissance music, and about world of professional music-making.”

The Binchois Consort’s on-campus performance was recorded and will be broadcast on WWFM early next year.

Watch the Chamber Singers rehearse with the group: