I am thrilled to be planning to record my first solo CD, and what better place to start, as an English countertenor, than with Purcell, the masterful composer of the Early Baroque. Purcell is integral to the countertenor tradition. He wrote a wealth of music for the voice type (although it was more similar to a high tenor back then), and then in the 1940s, Alfred Deller threw the modern countertenor (falsettist) into the spotlight with a radio broadcast of Purcell's Come Ye Sons of Art, and alongside the composer Michael Tippett, spend much of his life reviving Purcell's exquisite works.
I had considered recording works by Purcell's contemporaries, but the truth in my opinion, is that no-one really matches up to the great man. I have selected the most beautiful and exquisite Purcell songs, so this CD is designed to, in words set by Purcell, "charm the sense, and captivate the mind".
I am delighted to be recording this CD with Sounds Baroque, directed by the inimitable harpsichordist, Julian Perkins. The other instruments will be chamber organ, viola da gamba, and theorbo.
Musicians are going through such a hard time at the moment. Covid and Brexit are causing many to give up all hope of a career in music. We are going to give any profit that we make from the sale of CDs to the charity Help Musicians, so that hopefully more people will be able to continue doing what they love, and making music for us all.
Please help us to reach our fundraising goal and make this project a reality! The total cost includes audio and video costs, musician costs, instrument hire and venue hire. Everyone who supports us will receive a free copy of the CD!
We are extremely grateful for any contribution you make! Thank you!
Benjamin Williamson, countertenor
Winner of the Nei Stëmmen International Singing Competition in Luxembourg, Benjamin’s recent roles include Anführer in Toshio Hosokawa’s Erdbeben Träume with Opera Stuttgart, Seraphim 3 in John Adams’ The Gospel According to the Other Mary with Theater Bonn and Tolomeo in Handel’s Giulio Cesare with English Touring Opera. His other roles include Ottone in Monteverdi’s L’Incoronazione di Poppea with Ryedale Arts, Hamor in Handel’s Jephtha with Iford Arts, and three roles in the London Handel Festival with Laurence Cummings: Bertarido in Handel’s Rodelinda, Mirtillo in Handel’s Il Pastor Fido and Tassile in Handel’s Alessandro. Benjamin has created roles in contemporary operas in the Buxton, Grimeborn, and Tête à Tête festivals and has understudied Oberon in Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream with English National Opera, Polinesso in Handel’s Ariodante with Scottish Opera, and other roles with Glyndebourne & Opera North. Benjamin won 3rd prize and Audience prize in the CantateBach Competition in Griefswald, Germany, was a semi finalist in the Kathleen Ferrier Awards, and a finalist in the Royal Overseas League Competition.
Concert highlights include Handel’s Brockes Passion with Stephen Cleobury and King’s College Choir on BBC Radio 3, the World Premiere of Jonathan Dove’s Arion and the Dolphin, Purcell & Leveridge with Irish Baroque Orchestra in Dublin, Purcell’s The Fairy Queen with Matthew Halls at Wigmore Hall, Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms with Edward Higginbottom in Italy, Purcell’s Hail, Bright Cecilia with Josef Wallnig in St Petersburg and Handel’s Messiah in Poland and Qatar.
Benjamin’s parents both moved to the UK in the 60s to study Early Music. His mother, a Canadian soprano, and his father, a lutenist from New Zealand, decided Benjamin should have a quintessentially English education. He was Head Chorister at St Margaret’s Church, Westminster Abbey, a Choral Scholar at King’s College, Cambridge (where he read Philosophy), and then a postgraduate student at the Royal College of Music. During his studies, Benjamin won the RCM English Song Competition and was a finalist in the overall Lies Askonas Singing Competition.
Benjamin’s recital work includes ‘The Art of the Countertenor’ at Cadogan Hall, the Chelsea Arts Club in London, Gravetye Manor in Sussex, and with Corfu Arts in Corfu. He is also the Co-Founder and Vocal Consultant of Sloane Square Choral Society, as well as a committed singing teacher: his pupils have taken Postgraduate places at all the London music colleges. He runs Conservatoire Audition Preparation Studio (CAPS) with his wife, the soprano Paula Sides, which holds regular workshops and masterclasses.
Since its creation by Director Julian Perkins in 2005, SOUNDS BAROQUE has devoted itself to conveying the thrilling theatricality and intense passion of music in the 17th and 18th centuries. Comprising some of the finest period instrumentalists of our times, Sounds Baroque has collaborated with many eminent singers and actors including Simon Callow, Peter Capaldi, Rebecca Evans, Dame Emma Kirkby, Mark Padmore, Christopher Purves, Timothy West and David Wilson-Johnson, as well as an illustrious array of younger stars including Helen Charlston, Anna Dennis, Benjamin Hulett, Ashley Riches, Anna Starushkevych and William Towers.
Sounds Baroque is heard regularly on BBC Radio 3 and has appeared at London’s Southbank Centre, Kings Place and St John's Smith Square, and at international festivals in Bristol, Cheltenham, JAM on the Marsh, London, Northern Aldborough, Roman River, Ryedale, Tel Aviv, Two Moors and York. Beyond the baroque it has given world premières of works by Paul Ayres, Stephen Dodgson and Iain Farrington, and often undertakes educational projects and engages in pre-performance talks and debates.
Recent and ongoing projects include the opera pasticcio, Casanova, devised by writer and critic Stephen Pettitt and Julian Perkins and premièred at London's Kings Place in 2016. Praised by Opera magazine as 'a witty pasticcio', it features re-arranged and re-texted works by seventeen mostly baroque and classical composers (but including Bellini as well!) – and has what might well be the world's longest-held note in a recitative.
Sounds Baroque’s discs for Avie Records, CONVERSAZIONI I and CONVERSAZIONI II, explore the wealth of vocal and instrumental music conceived for artistic gatherings – or conversazioni – in Rome at the turn of the eighteenth century. Individual volumes have been praised for ‘stylish aplomb’ in The Sunday Times and described as ‘a winner’ by Early Music Review and ‘a model of clarity and warmth’ by International Record Review. 2019 saw an acclaimed disc of songs by Henry Purcell with soprano Anna Dennis for Resonus Classics.
2021 will see Sounds Baroque continue its partnership with Cambridge Handel Opera with a staged production of Handel's Tamerlano in April. Their acclaimed collaboration in 2018 saw group principals mentor and perform alongside the next generation of period instrumentalists in Handel's Rodelinda, with advanced students from Cambridge University, Guildhall School of Music & Drama, Royal College of Music, Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama and the Utrechts Conservatorium.