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James Wood

Gesualdo: Sacrae Cantiones II - An analysis towards reconstruction
James Wood Gesualdo: Sacrae Cantiones II - An analysis towards reconstruction

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Gesualdo: Sacrae Cantiones II - An analysis towards reconstruction
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Conductor, composer, musicologist, instrument designer and formerly virtuoso percussionist, James Wood’s multi-faceted career has led him into an extraordinarily broad spectrum of musical activities. He was conductor of Schola Cantorum of Oxford before founding the New London Chamber Choir, with whom he pioneered the work of many contemporary composers, including Xenakis, Scelsi, Kagel, Harvey, Viñao and Wood himself, as well as much little-known music from the Renaissance. In the 1990s he also founded the Centre for Microtonal Music and its ensemble, Critical Band, and was active in the dissemination of microtonality on many levels. In 2007 he left England for Germany, where he pursues a free-lance career as conductor, composer and musicologist. His highly acclaimed reconstruction of Gesualdo’s Sacrae Cantiones Liber Secundus occupied him for over two years from 2008 until 2010, and his recording of the complete set with Vocalconsort Berlin for Harmonia Mundi was awarded the ECHO-Klassik Prize for Choir Recording of the Year in 2013. Major works include the operas Hildegard (2002-2006) and Gulliver (2011-2014), as well as the percussion sextet Cloud-Polyphonies (2011), and Lamentations (2015) written for Vocalconsort Berlin.

A whole of strand of Gesualdo's finest sacred music has long been obscured through the loss of two original part-books from 1603. Stravinsky famously lent his own 20th-century voice to three short items, but now James Wood has triumphantly rescued the entire collection with a very different approach. After a long and intense involvement with the music, and digging far deeper than anyone before in order to understand the underlying principles of Gesualdo's very particular technique, James Wood has employed his own considerable compositional skill and experience to create an utterly convincing reconstruction of all the incomplete works. This is scrupulous and painstaking musical scholarship at its imaginative best; I would even happily wager that, should the two missing part-books ever turn up again, any differences would turn out to be entirely inconsequential. A truly major achievement.

Andrew Parrott

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Composer James Wood
Year of Composition 2014

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