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Byrd Ensemble Honors Namesake's 400th in New Album 'Penitence & Lamentation' and Nico Muhly Premiere

September 21, 2023 | By Katy Salomon
Primo Artists | VP, Public Relations

Katy Salomon | Primo Artists | VP, Public Relations 
katy@primoartists.com | 212.837.8466 

Byrd Ensemble Releases New Album, 
Penitence & Lamentation

Celebrating the Ensemble’s 20th Anniversary
and the 400th Anniversary of the Death of
Namesake William Byrd, with a 
World Premiere by Nico Muhly

Watch the Penitence & Lamentation Trailer

Nico Muhly Conducts Premiere 
Performance in Seattle, October 21
(Available to Stream Oct. 28 - Nov. 12)

Out November 3, 2023 on Scribe Records
Physical Copies Available Upon Request

First Single, Gombert’s Lugebat David Absalon, Out October 13
Pre-Order Penitence & Lamentation

“The clear, fresh voices of the Byrd Ensemble, an American group with a strong 
background in Renaissance music, mean that the dissonances and their consequent
resolutions are brought into focus in a truly remarkable way” – Gramophone


New York, NY (September 21, 2023) – On Friday, November 3, 2023Scribe Records releases Penitence & Lamentation, the Byrd Ensembles new album marking 400 years since the death of its namesake, William Byrd, and coinciding with Byrd Ensemble’s 20th anniversary season. Praised for their “rich, full-voiced, and perfectly blended” (Early Music America) sound, the Byrd Ensemble’s new project focuses on the unifying theme of guilt and grief, forming a collection of songs by Byrd and his contemporaries; Thomas Tallis’s monumental 40-part motet, Spem in alium; and the world premiere recording of Nico Muhly’s Fallings (2023), based on Byrd's motet, Ne irascaris Domine. The album’s first single, Nicolas Gombert’s Lugebat David Absalon, will be released on all streaming services on October 13. 

To coincide with the album release, the Byrd Ensemble, directed by Markdavin Obenza, will perform the world premiere of the program and Muhly’s piece, conducted by the composer, on Saturday, October 21, 2023 at 8:00pm at the St. James Cathedral in Seattle, Washington. Portland-based choral ensemble In Medio presents the Muhly Meets Byrd program on Sunday, October 22, 2023 at 3:00pm at The Madeline Parish in Portland, Oregon, opening with a set by In Medio and continuing with a combined performance of Tallis's Spem in aliumMuhly Meets Byrd will be available as a virtual concert through the Byrd Ensemble’s website from Saturday, October 28 to Sunday, November 12, 2023. 

Composed in two sections, Byrd’s motet Ne irascaris Domine uses chords that ring out with emptiness and aching, weaving the theme of penitence and lamentation into a single text, culminating in the closing line “Jerusalem desolata est,” repeated over and over in an unbroken chain of overlapping entrances that lasts well over a minute. Of his new companion piece, Fallings, Muhly says, “Fallings takes small melodic fragments and large harmonic building-blocks from the second part of Ne irascaris Domine — Civitas Sancti Tui, and explores them through repetition and mutation: sometimes quite subtle and other times dramatic. I tried to imitate Byrd’s contrasting textures of imitative counterpoint and hymn-like chords. The ‘burning of fire’ uses traditional word-painting, and the end obsesses over Byrd’s chords on Sion deserta (Zion has become a wilderness) on the words ‘O Lord, thou art our father.’”

The new album opens with Nicolas Gombert’s Lugebat David Absalon, expressing David’s lamentation for his son whom he loved dearly despite his decision to lead a rebellion against him. The close weaving of text and music becomes more impressive as the work is a contrafactum whose music was originally composed as two secular chansons.

In jejunio et fletu is distinctive for its very low ranges as Thomas Tallis gives uses a deep voiced, guttural texture meant to evoke an image of the priests pleading with God with the greatest solemnity. 

For Pater Peccavi, Thomas Crecquillon sets the penitent words of the son and makes the sweet sound of this lush eight-voice texture somewhat unexpected to emphasize the earnestness of the words, or how sweetly they fell on the ears of a father who dearly misses his son. 

Next, Robert Ramsey’s How are the Mighty Fallen is a mourning piece composed in relation to the death of his best friend Jonathan and draws heavily on the different stages of grief through mood changes.  The album closes with Robert Carver’s O Bone Jesua twelve minute plea to Jesus for mercy, scored for nineteen voices and by far the largest-scale work of the disc. The writing alternates between tutti sections of towering, slow-moving chords and reduced sections that are more lyrical. It is believed that this piece was written to express the real-life penitence of Carver’s patron, James IV of Scotland, who spent his entire life weighed down by guilt for his role in the death of his father James III.

Penitence & Lamentation Album Tracklist

1. Nicolas Gombert – Lugebat David Absalon [8:20]
2. William Byrd – Domine secumdum actum meum  [6:52]
3. Thomas Tallis – In jejunio et fletu  [4:06]
4. Thomas Tallis – Absterge Domine  [5:33]
5. Thomas Crecquillon – Pater paccavi  [8:36]
6. Robert Ramsey – How are the mighty fallen  [5:14]
7. William Byrd – Emendemus in melius  [3:17]
8. William Byrd – Ye sacred muses  [3:09]
9. William Byrd – Ne irascaris Domine  [7:56]
10. Nico Muhly – Fallings (2023) (World Premiere Recording) [7:00]
11. Robert Carver – O bone Jesu  [12:36]

Total Time: 72:39

Recording Credits
Byrd Ensemble, Directed by Markdavin Obenza
Scribe Records

*Tracks 3, 9, and 10 are still being recorded and are not yet available for preview in the electronic press kit.

Performance Details
Muhly Meets Byrd (World Premiere)
Saturday, October 21, 2023 at 8:00pm 
St. James Cathedral | Seattle, Washington
Link: www.byrdensemble.com/oct21muhlybyrdorderform

Muhly Meets Byrd*
Sunday, October 22, 2023 at 3:00pm 
The Madeline Parish | Portland, Oregon
Link: https://inmedio.ticketleap.com/in-medio-presents-the-byrd-ensemble-muhly-meets-byrd/dates/Oct-22-2023_at_0300PM

Muhly Meets Byrd - Virtual Concert
Saturday, October 28, 2023 - Sunday, November 12, 2023
Link: www.byrdensemble.com/oct28muhlybyrdvirtual

Thomas Tallis – Candidi facti sunt
William Byrd – Quomodo cantabimus
Philippe de Monte - Super flumina Babylonis
Byrd – Tribue Domine
Byrd – Ne irascaris Domine
Nico Muhly – Fallings (World Premiere)
Thomas Morley – Domine Dominus noster
Byrd – Ye sacred muses
Thomas Tallis – Spem in alium

*Nico Muhly will not be present for this performance

About Byrd Ensemble
Described as “pure and radiant” (Gramophone), “immensely impressive” (Early Music Review), and “rich, full-voiced, and perfectly blended” (Early Music America), the Byrd Ensemble has been internationally acclaimed for its performances and recordings of chamber vocal music, particularly Renaissance polyphony. The Byrd Ensemble, directed by Markdavin Obenza, is a Seattle-based professional ensemble made up of 10 to 12 singers.

Since 2004, the ensemble has performed in the greater Seattle area and toured across the United States, presenting concerts for the Gotham Early Music Scene in New York with Peter Phillips (director of the Tallis Scholars), the Boston Early Music Fringe Series, and in Scotland at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. The Byrd Ensemble has also performed in London, where John Rutter described the ensemble as “a fine group that has achieved an enviable standard of tuning, blend, and ensemble.”

The Byrd Ensemble signed with the Scribe Records label in 2011 and has since produced six records which have been reviewed by major music publications: Early Music America, Gramophone, and Early Music Review. Our Lady: Music from the Peterhouse Partbooks (2011) featured reconstructions by musicologist Nick Sandon of music by lesser-known English Renaissance comp sers – Pasche, Merbecke, and Ludford – and included two world-premiere recordings. In the Company of William Byrd (2012), Music for the Tudors (2015), and Music of the Renaissance: Italy, England & France (2016) featured more mainstream Renaissance composers Tallis, Sheppard, Byrd, and White. The Byrd Ensemble's recording of Estonian composer Arvo Pärt was reviewed in the Gramophone Magazine in 2014 and was used in the French film L'apparition (2018). The Byrd Ensemble is named after Renaissance composer William Byrd. Learn more at www.byrdensemble.com.

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