Small ensemble makes classical music TV with the “wow factor”

Leading early music group The Telling has been punching above their weight to wow audiences with a “visually stunning” show, the first in their #HomeTour series. 

The Telling’s #HomeTour is the early music world’s answer to the National Theatre at Home and takes place most Wednesday evenings. The first film, which is available to view for free, is an online adaption of the group’s live Vision: the imagined testimony of Hildegard of Bingen, directed by award-winning BBC TV director Nicholas Renton. It has received rave reviews from audiences.

“Despite the challenges faced by small organisations and freelancers in the face of the pandemic, there are opportunities for the agile” says The Telling’s Artistic Director, singer and playwright, Clare Norburn.  “As I saw it, we had a choice, stand still and do the same thing – or be agile and innovate. No TV or radio would put on a piece in which music and drama collide about a medieval nun.  So we decided to take control of the situation and make our TV with an extraordinarily skilled production and artistic team.  Our audiences tell us: “That was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen….thank you so much!” and “IT IS BEYOND WONDERFUL!” (their capital letters).

The Telling should have been running residencies and mini festivals and premiering a new concertplay in the next few months. Lockdown may have called time on those plans but, undaunted, The Telling, whose last CD reached No. 25 in the classical charts in December and who gave 28 concerts in the UK last year, launched their #HomeTour series on Wednesday 12th August. The first show was the premiere of an online adaption of Clare Norburn’s critically acclaimed concert/play Vision: the imagined testimony of Hildegard of Bingen. The series is funded by Arts Council England, Ambache Charitable Trust and Sylvia Waddilove Foundation.

The concert/play (where music and drama collide) is directed by BBC TV director Nicholas Renton (BAFTA nominated Mrs Gaskell’s Wives and Daughters, Musketeers, Lewis, Silent Witness). It features actor Teresa Banham (a several time RSC member, with guest roles on Dr Who, Call the Midwife, Silent Witness) as the extraordinary abbess as she revisits painful visionary experiences she suffered throughout her life. The drama is accompanied by Hildegard’s mesmerising chants performed by Clare Norburn (soprano), Ariane Prüssner (mezzo) and Jean Kelly (medieval harp) of The Telling.

Singer and playwright Clare Norburn explains: “The production was filmed over two days during lockdown at the haunting church crypt of St Mary Magdalene’s Church Paddington (one of Betjeman’s favourite London churches).  We had to think about how best to film this kind of show – which was going to be a challenge at the best of times, to which we had to add in worries about singing (although chant is arguably the most gentle and “least produced” form of singing out there!)  No one has really filmed a show quite like this for camera before. We found the solution was to pre-record the sound – the recording process is naturally socially distanced as you want distance between each microphone – and then lip sync to playback, getting away from the need for our singers to sing on film and therefore from needing to be 3 metres distant from anyone when filming! 

“Vision features music by the extraordinary abbess and gives an insight into her life, with an intimate, dramatic narrative. She was, in many ways, an ordinary girl taken from her parents at the age of 8 and bricked into a cell. She was extraordinary in how fought her doubts and the strictures imposed upon women in the Middle Ages to go on to found her own convent, oversee the writing down of her visions – and then in her last years to go out and preach.”

The film premiered at 8pm on Wednesday 12th August on The Telling’s Facebook and YouTube pages and received nearly 1000 views within 36 hours. The Telling also held a pre-show singing workshop to learn a number from the show as well as a post-show Q&A and Meet the Artists session via Zoom.

The film is available to watch on Facebook and YouTube until 26th August, 8pm where it will be replaced by a new film featuring The Telling’s harpist and storyteller Joy Smith.

Watch Vision on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/thetellingmusic/videos/289575628772404

Watch Vision on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LaDKGP6iKdo

Vision is part of The Telling’s Empowered Women trilogy. Another show from the trilogy, Unsung Heroine: the secret life and love of 12th century troubadour Countess Beatriz de Dia (the Amy Winehouse of medieval times), is also being adapted for an online premiere on 23rd September which will be available to watch for one week. Filming took place over two days earlier this month at a shabby chic chapel turned venue in Peckham. The production will include the only surviving song written by the Countess as well as other troubadour and trouvère music, including by other women, e.g. Blanche de Castille.

The Telling #HomeTour will take place most Wednesday evenings from 12 August to 28 October 2020 (excepting 19 August and 2 Sept) – with the main event at 8pm. Each show will be available to screen for a week (Vision: 2 weeks). Some events have a Zoom pre-workshop at 7.15pm. Some have post-show events, also on Zoom.

Visit www.thetelling.co.uk/home-tour for full details.

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