“EXAUDI means “Hear!”, and it’s a fine name for this vocal group, which approaches its twin loves of new music and Renaissance music with the same missionary zeal.”

The Telegraph

“the outstanding vocal group EXAUDI…It was hard to imagine this music better performed…”

The Guardian

“It’s an old/new mix that characterises the EXAUDI repertoire — and the EXAUDI sound. This ensemble is pristine and passionate in early music and brings the same qualities to contemporary music.”

Profile by Kate Molleson (2017)

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Selected Concert Reviews:

Principal Sound Festival, St John’s Smith Square, 2018

This was an evening of silence and shadow, a chill, moonlit meditation, where each sound demanded forensic attention. Enter the world of Luigi Nono and his admirers.

As his compatriot Sciarrino wrote of Lo Spazio Inverso, which opened the concert, “Islands pulsating with sounds skim over lakes of silence… now we hear even the slightest tensions in the intervals as something new.”

Sunday’s concert at St John’s Smith Square completed the Principal Sound weekend, which focuses on music of the last half-century, this year Nono’s late works. Performed by crack contemporary vocal group EXAUDI and the enterprising young Explore Ensemble, this imaginative sequence (by Principal Sound’s curator Sam Wigglesworth) revealed the relationship between the Italian’s austere, fragmentary vision and those who followed, from Feldman, Cage and Kurtág to Rihm and Rebecca Saunders. It revolved around the twin pillars of Nono’s choral work Sarà Dolce Tacere and Wolfgang Rihm’s Quo me rapis.

These two starkly dramatic, fiendishly difficult eight-voice works made a penetrating impact. Nono’s was beautifully set up: first with Sciarrino’s delicate Lo Spazio Inverso, its barely-breathed tones on clarinet and strings periodically shattered by dazzling éclats on celesta. Then came Kurtág’s An…/A…, gentle oscillations of despair for solo baritone. In Sarà Dolce Tacere (“Silence shall be sweet”), Nono sets Cesare Pavese’s poetic evocation of a landscape of white light and rock, stripping all sense of syntax from the lines, each singer releasing precise peals into a void. Some collide, producing luminous harmony; often there’s a sense of naked shards raining down. It wasn’t until they came to rest “in flaming silence” that one fully appreciated the controlled power of the performance. Rihm’s Quo me rapis, written just as Nono was dying in 1990, has a clear kinship, with the addition of irrepressible ego. Two groups of singers faced each from the stage’s extremities, conductor James Weeks isolated between them: here we have distance, gaping pauses, fragmentary utterances gradually intensifying to an old-fashioned climax. This is, as the text reads, “no slight or humble song”, but a masterwork, realised with thrilling force.

Word-setting took a more conventional form in the premiere of Canadian Linda Catlin Smith’s Uncertain for 8 voices, Virginia Woolf’s pregnant, twilit phrases gently nudged into existence. Smith weaves a gossamer web of floating texture, deftly contrasted with the gleaming muscularity of Machaut virelai and John Cage’s commanding Five, realised by Explore’s performers with delicious poise.

Such juxtapositions were subtle, but crucial, as the players tip-toed through this frail, crystalline drift: in Feldman’s Voices and Cello, wondrously sung by members of EXAUDI with cellist Deni Teo, voices clashed, unified, twisted apart in a riveting mediation. What a relief, still, when violinist Oscar Perks broke the spell with Kurtág’s lusty little Carenza Jig. A bolt of colour in an icy world.

The Arts Desk

Principal Sound Festival, St John’s Smith Square, 2016

EXAUDI’s concert with their conductor James Weeks began with the earliest of Feldman’s published works, Only, a tiny solo-soprano setting from 1947 of a Rilke sonnet. Juliet Fraser perfectly shaped its seamless modal melody. It was followed by James McVinnie’s performance of Feldman’s only work for organ, Principal Sound, which hypnotically layered irregularly pulsing chords and far-flung constellations of notes over long-held dissonances.

The choral works in the lineup, as immaculately presented as we’ve come to expect from Exaudi, included the festival’s only world premiere. Jürg Frey’s Shadow and Echo and Jade created something quietly haunting out of a third-century Chinese text in English translation. Its stanzas were separated with unpredictable silences, and it occasionally blossomed into rich tonal harmony, though always using the full complement of eight voices frugally. Weeks’s own work, A Tear, in which small-scale organ solos separated increasingly elaborate treatments of a short Old English text, was a model of restraint. Aldo Clementi’s Im Frieden Dein, o Herre Mein was an exuberant tangle of close-packed canons.

The Guardian

Wigmore Hall, 3 February 2015

War in heaven tore the air asunder. The angelic harmony of the virtuous collided with the snarling of bickering backbiters. And then the music went backwards and forwards at the same time in a wild skirmish of musical and mystical warfare. This was Angelorum psallat by one Rodericus (c1400), the climax of a remarkable evening of vocal virtuosity in extreme music, very old and very new. No one does it better than the eight-voice ensemble EXAUDI and few other than their director James Weeks would have dared to perform three different editions of a medieval manuscript simultaneously.

Raw and resilient, the voices climbed out of Hell’s abyss and began a 17-minute ritual greeting to the ancestors of Tun Tedja Kauda Puala, Batara Gangga Wan Agong and their ilk. This was Michael Finnissy’s 1981 Kelir, inspired by the eponymous curtain on to which shadow puppets are projected in Javanese theatre. In the composer’s fertile imagination this becomes “a curtain on to which our interpretations of the world and our fantasies are projected”. The work, with its extraordinary vocal demands, tensions and textures, had not been performed since its 1982 premiere — and no wonder.

Not only did EXAUDI’s performance of this epic leave one stunned into silence, but their presentation of the UK premiere of Heinz Holliger’s songs from nicht Ichts — nicht Nichts, settings of the 17th-century German mystic Angelus Silesius, was no less outstanding with its skeins of close harmony, words dropping like scattered autumn leaves and time stretched into timelessness.

This unforgettable programme, devised by Weeks with Wigmore Hall’s composer in residence Julian Anderson, had begun with the wonders of Léonin’s 12th-century organum and Machaut’s Messe de Notre Dame framing an exquisite performance of Giacinto Scelsi’s 1958 Tre Canti Sacri.

The Times

Tectonics Festival Glasgow, 11 May 2014

[…] EXAUDI’s astoundingly well-sung programme included Christopher Fox‘s heady tangle of voices in Preluding and the mesmeric keening of Cassandra Miller‘s Guide. […]

The Guardian

‘O Tenebroso Giorno: Gesualdo Then and Now’ at Wigmore Hall, 6 November 2013

One emerges from an EXAUDI concert as if from a Finnish sauna, rigorously scrubbed and massaged, all lingering harmonic sludge swept away. You feel healthy, pure and courageous — though not as courageous as James Weeks’s vocal group in choosing their repertoire. Only the dangerously contemporary will do, or the prickliest old masters, sung unaccompanied with scorching force and no safety net.

Wednesday’s sauna returned to the expanding EXAUDI madrigal book, with new commissions slotted between nine madrigals by Gesualdo, whose crazy harmonic progressions and crunched chords can still make your hair stand on end after four centuries. Topped by Juliet Fraser’s stratospheric soprano, the singers steered steadily through every angular leap and chromatic scream before coming to rest in dolorous gravity with madrigals foreshadowing the composer’s death. Gorgeous music, bracingly delivered.

The biggest scrubbing came with the new acquisitions. Stefano Gervasoni’s madrigal of a tortured lover, Amor l’alma m’allaccia, was the most openly expressive, featuring syllable fragmentation, elaborate rolled Rs on the word “amor” and other old tricks from the 1960s. But they worked. That wasn’t so with Christopher Fox’s suo tormento, settings of Dante and Gramsci where the composer’s extreme ingenuity obliterated hope of hearing and feeling the words.

Johannes Schöllhorn’s settings of Pasolini poems offered the widest variety of textures, subtly sculpted. But it was left to Michael Finnissy to crown the night with three extracts from a group of six Gesualdo-inspired settings. In Quel ‘no’ crudel, Fraser and Amanda Morrison looped their vocal lines round each others’, like two snakes mating.Beltà poi offered the barest of intervals, bruising and clashing, then moving on. Finnissy brilliantly transported Gesualdo’s romantic agony into the 21st century.

The Times  

Tenth Anniversary at Wigmore Hall, 21 October 2012

Ten years of singing by James Weeks and Juliet Fraser’s group EXAUDI were celebrated on Sunday. No birthday cake: the excitement lay in forthright voices scaling pitches where only supersonic jets should fly and treating all complexity as a stroll in the park. The occasion marked the opening of an EXAUDI madrigal book: new commissions from composers asked to deliver an Italian madrigal suitable for performing alongside those by Monteverdi and others. A splendid aim, but none of the first tranche had the expressive experimentalism of the old boys. Harmonies in Gesualdo’s Merce! piangendo grido  had the venom of a poisonous snake, while Monteverdi’s Vattene pur, crudel had enough drama for a three-act play. In everything, the clear unaccompanied voices were unprotected if difficulties arose. None did.

The Times


It’s a decade now since the conductor and composer James Weeks and soprano Juliet Fraser brought together a group of young singers, a consort rather than a choir, to perform contemporary music. EXAUDI have gone on to build an international reputation, with a steadily increasing list of important premieres to their credit, and have marked their anniversary by guaranteeing themselves a lot more, inviting composers to contribute short settings to a 21st-century book of madrigals.

The first results of that initiative were presented in EXAUDI’s 10th-birthday concert. Typically, the programme juxtaposed old and new, with madrigals taken from the third and fourth books by Monteverdi, and the fifth and sixth by Gesualdo, performed with the same fastidious attention to detail, one singer to a part, that the group brought to each contemporary work.

The Guardian


The first rule of music marketing is “Don’t give yourself a Latin name; it will reek of elitism.” Not a bad rule of thumb, but it hasn’t applied to EXAUDI, the vocal ensemble which this year celebrates a decade of marrying the richness of ancient musical styles to the complexities of contemporary music.

This birthday concert accordingly juxtaposed Italian Renaissance madrigals with modern pieces, including four new works, the foundations of what will become EXAUDI’s own modern madrigal collection. Throughout, the singers, sometimes directed by Weeks, sometimes not, demonstrated that vocal purity needn’t override expression, while precision doesn’t preclude individuality: every voice made its presence felt within the group identity.

In madrigals by Monteverdi and Gesualdo, we could hear intimations of the birth, not only of opera, but of everything we know as modern music, classical or otherwise: tunes making songs, songs telling stories, stories laying bare our emotions. Among the premieres, Michael Finnissy’s contribution built a direct bridge between his own language and Gesualdo’s, allowing each to infect the other, while Evan Johnson’s Three in, ad abundantiam unfolded just this side of the point where music and language disintegrate.

The most impressive of the modern pieces, though, was not an EXAUDI commission; Salvatore Sciarrino’s Three Madrigals, dating from 2008, makes three cultures clash: the work pays tribute to the Italian madrigal tradition by setting Sciarrino’s own Italian translations of Japanese haiku in a musical language that is both archaic and hyper-modern. Certain vocal sounds resembled birdsong or simian ululation, others evoked the wind. This was music stripped back to prehistoric basics. In certain circumstances, nearly two hours of madrigals, sung mostly in Italian, would be considered a cruel and unusual punishment. Not here.

The Evening Standard


EXAUDI means “Hear!”, and it’s a fine name for this eight-voice vocal group, which approaches its twin loves of new music and Renaissance music with the same missionary zeal. James Weeks, the group’s director, wants to show both can seize our hearts and minds with the same immediacy. To prove it, he’s conceived the idea of a brand-new “madrigal book”, containing newly written madrigals by living composers. At the group’s 10th anniversary concert on Sunday, we heard the first four of them, alongside madrigals by Gesualdo and Monteverdi…

…So did those old Italians knock the moderns clean out of the ring? Not quite. Salvatore Sciarrino’s Tre Madrigali (actually not part of EXAUDI’s madrigal book) conjured poetically telling vocal sounds to illustrate its fleeting Japanese texts. The most moving of the new works was Michael Finnissy’s adaptation of a Gesualdo madrigal, his three added vocal parts adding a mournful commentary to Gesualdo’s original. Here, as elsewhere, the performances were a marvel. At EXAUDI’s previous concerts I’ve sometimes felt their focus on pinpoint accuracy got in the way of other musical values. Here correctness was swallowed up in riveting emotional engagement.

The Telegraph

‘Exposure 2011’ at Kings Place, 3 October 2011

Having ‘completely missed’ the Boulez love-in at the Southbank this weekend, I thought I might try EXAUDI’s premiere-heavy programme of contemporary choral music at Kings Place. I have to say that it has been some of the best money I have spent on a concert all year. The group manage the wild frontiers of avant garde choral music with a mix of good singing, fearsome musicianship and (very English, this one) wit – if the music fails to stun or seduce then the audience laughs with the musicians, not at them. There is no chance of being bored… I think part of the appeal of this concert was watching the group perform: the discreet clatter of tuning forks in particularly awkward chicanes; sideways glances, usually for synchronisation, occasionally in fear or fun; the rigorous beat of James Weeks maintaining the structure. It must surely be a very different experience simply hearing the music on record or in broadcast. Either way the singing would be just as fine.

Arvo Pärt with Endymion at the Wigmore Hall, 8 July 2011

A plain and potent late-night concert… One Arvo Pärt work followed another, from the chord sequences of Fratres to the measured sorrows of his Stabat Mater setting: music of rapturous, daring simplicity, vigorously etched by a string quartet drawn from Endymion and three of EXAUDI’s fearless voices… The tenor Simon Wall stood his ground, mostly on one note, in the Wallfahrtslied (Pilgrim’s Song) of 1984. Other EXAUDI colleagues joined him in the moving Stabat Mater, a work where time seems to stand still. The spellbinding sound of Juliet Fraser’s soprano beaming in, laser-like, from on high will remain for a long time.

The Times

Everlasting Light’ at Aldeburgh Festival, 24 June 2011

Strange things happen at Aldeburgh. On Friday evening I was sitting with around 100 intrepid souls on a grassy sand-dune outside Sizewell nuclear power station, trying to ignore the wind-blown rain, while a choir sang (among many other things) the Requiem Mass of Jean de Ockeghem, written around 1461… And why were we listening to choral music in the evening rain? Because this was the musical component of a new site-specific multi-media event, evoking the excitement of nuclear power in its early days. So of course it had to take place in the shadow of a potent symbol of that age. Everlasting Light was conceived by the designer and film-maker Netia Jones, and as with her previous Aldeburgh events it was a conjunction of film and performance artfully placed in a landscape. It began at the Sizewell Refreshment Cafe, where we watched nostalgic 1950s film of Arthur C Clarke predicting a future where everyone would communicate instantly. Then we were guided past dilapidated boat-sheds to another spot in the dunes, where EXAUDI appeared, looking just like characters out of Mad Men. They sang fascinating Renaissance madrigals about cosmography and the Sybilline prophecies, and eerily apt modern music by Ligeti. Finally we and the choir pitched up in front of Sizewell, sinister in the violet evening gloom. Suddenly Jones’s film projections of scientific imagery magically appeared on its blank wall, and what was all-too-solid and grim seemed to melt into air. The strange haunted atmosphere and the romance of that far-off age came together in the most magical way.

The Telegraph

Howard Skempton portrait with BCMG, 27 February 2010

EXAUDI performed four choral pieces with stunning purity of sound, which allowed the music’s radiance to shine out with full force. Skempton sometimes disarms by being deceptive and surprising. But there’s nothing so disarming as being straightforwardly ecstatic, as his lovely setting of Shelley’s ’Voice of the Spirits’ proved.

The Telegraph

Poppe Interzone with EIC, Festival d’Automne, 4 December 2009

…La précision vocale et la beauté sonore des cinq solistes de l’Ensemble EXAUDI sont un plaisir en soi au-delà des méandres poétiques d’un texte en anglais difficile à assimiler au premier abord. Les voix sont pleinement en accord avec la finesse d’une musique aux attaques tuilées, aux intervalles jusqu’au huitieme de ton et aux raffinements sonores jusqu’alors insoupconnés. Leur musicalité est un ravissement.

Cage and Machaut, fuseleeds Festival, 30 April 2009

The week-long blitz of contemporary music that was fuseleeds09 offered many attractions, but nothing could match the intimate surprises of this early evening gig by EXAUDI, the British vocal ensemble that delights in programming the unthinkable — such as John Cage and Guillaume de Machaut. On the surface, 20th-century music’s biggest smasher of traditions and the 14th century’s deftest polyphonic weaver of hymns to courtly love were never meant to co-habit. Yet by picking from Cage’s rambunctious catalogue only the simplest, sparest and in most cases shortest pieces, EXAUDI’s director James Weeks made a triumphant case for letting the two lie side by side.

The Times

Rihm and Lassus, Aldeburgh Easter Festival, 22 March 2008

…a perfectly judged short concert, given by the outstanding vocal group EXAUDI. The centrepiece of the hour-long sequence was the first complete performance in this country of Wolfgang Rihm’s Seven Passion Texts, settings of the Tenebrae Responsories for Holy Week, which he completed two years ago. Around them EXAUDI’s director, James Weeks, had arranged two sequences of Orlande de Lassus’s passiontide motets, some to the same texts that Rihm’s cycle uses. It made a wonderfully contrasted and concentrated experience. Weeks’ fascinating programme notes drew comparisons between the richness and occasional grandeur of Rihm’s six-part writing and Bruckner’s motets, but in fact the frame of reference is wider still, with an expressive control of dissonance and an emotional directness that are very much Rihm’s own. EXAUDI conveyed all that with a confidence that belied the technical challenges the singers were meeting so effortlessly. It was hard to imagine this music better performed, and there could be no better context in which to hear it.

The Guardian


On a windswept, stormy Saturday afternoon above the swollen Blyth estuary there was to be found an hour of perfection. Weather patterns, musical patterns, a superbly attentive and almost cough-free audience with a group of superb singers in the incomparable setting of Blythburgh church – such were the ingredients of this golden hour. The singers of the justly celebrated EXAUDI compelled instant attention with their secure treading of the sometimes rocky harmonic paths of Orlande de Lassus…if Lassus is occasionally rocky then Rihm is often – vertiginous? To begin a devotional piece quietly with such grating dissonances requires musicianship of the highest order and nerves of the toughest steel…James Weeks and the members of EXAUDI will know from the atmosphere and the response that they delivered something special and this review can only hint at what those lucky enough to be present experienced. At the risk of repetition, perfection.

East Anglian Daily Times

‘NOW’ [‘Exposure’ prequel] at Edinburgh Contemporary Arts Trust, 28 November 2007

On Tuesday, contemporary vocal ensemble EXAUDI gave a startling object lesson in just how flexible the human voice is. They huffed, puffed, popped and even sang a programme that encompassed the extreme demands of such radicals as Luigi Nono, Wolfgang Rihm and Michael Finnissy… The microtonal eccentricities of reclusive Italian aristocrat Giacinto Scelsi’s Tre Canti Sacri sent a chilling ring round the voluble Greyfriars acoustics, amplified by the mind-blowing dynamic range of this eight-piece ensemble… From the barely audible esotericism of James Saunders’s #281107 to Finnissy and Nono, Rihm’s Quo Me Rapis and onwards through the new works, EXAUDI made this challenging repertoire seem easy and, more importantly, a thoroughly enjoyable experience.

The Scotsman

Italian programme at Aldeburgh Festival, 9 June 2007

EXAUDI – 12 musically superb and technically accomplished singers, 4 women and 8 men, directed by James Weeks – first set a contemplative mood by singing plainchant. This was followed by Three Tenebrae Responsories by Gesualdo, the aristocratic composer of intensely chromatic vocal works…EXAUDI’s performances here were luminous and haunting. They captured the murky mood of the music, which, in the reverberant acoustics of the beautiful church, dating partly from Norman times, had a hallucinatory effect. Luigi Nono’s astringently beautiful Sarà Dolce Tacere (1960) concluded the program. Do all the singers in EXAUDI have perfect pitch? I doubt it. Yet how else to explain that they were able to find and hold the pitches during the skittish, leaping passages of this complex 12-tone score?


New York Times

In the afternoon the EXAUDI Vocal Ensemble returned to Orford Church, scene of their triumph at last year’s festival. Following the Italian theme, they sang Gesualdo and Monteverdi, and then jumped feet first into the 20th century with pieces of mind-bending complexity by Sciarrino, Castiglioni, Scelsi and Nono. This is music that few people are likely to hear more than once, but if that one time is a performance by EXAUDI they are not likely to forget it. Where else are there sopranos like these, guaranteed to hit the notes other choral singers cannot reach?

The Financial Times

Spitalfields Winter Festival, 18 December 2006

This Spitalfields Winter Festival concert kicked off with Tallis polyphony at its most exultant in the 20-minute Gaude gloriosa Dei mater. Four hundred years and one hour later, we ended with a cough — the final notated sound in the panoply of siren cries, shouting, whistling, and glissandi that make up the angry, fearsome Xenakis score Nuits, dedicated to political prisoners. To successfully combine both stylistic extremes in the same concert takes stamina, skill, bravery and cheek. No problem for EXAUDI: James Weeks’s young vocal ensemble, 12-strong in this manifestation, has never sought the easy life. A different aural jolt arrived with the selection from Michael Finnissy’s Seven Sacred Motets of 1991. We usually think of Finnissy as a fiendish creator of barbed-wire jungles; yet, driven by his faith, he stripped himself down in these marvellous pieces to several florid vocal lines arching over insistent drones. Music of contemplation, this; but music with teeth and sinews. EXAUDI easily found the eloquence and beauty in what on the page might seem spare, even arid. It was all over, without an interval, inside of 70 minutes. If only more concerts were like this: focused, no fat, risky and brilliant.

The Times

Michael Finnissy at 60, 23 August 2006

EXAUDI’s concert was a real highlight in a weekend of extraordinary performances. Rather than simply being a pastiche of sacred modal music Finnissy completely inhabits this sound world, and you do not have to share the composer’s faith to recognise the conviction in the music. On the evidence of this concert there cannot be many vocal ensembles around who can touch EXAUDI.

New Notes

Ferneyhough Portrait, Aldeburgh Festival, 11 June 2006

There are some performances that you know will be etched on your memory forever, such is their intensity and power. The EXAUDI Vocal Ensemble, a group of young singers conducted by their founder James Weeks, sang Brian Ferneyhough’s 1969 Missa Brevis with thrilling commitment and immediacy, revealing this masterpiece of modernism to be among the great settings of these archetypal texts. As with all of Ferneyhough’s music, the Missa Brevis teems with complexity and extremity: words were pulverised into syllables or atomised into screams and whispers. The Gloria ended with an existential shout and the Kyrie began with a vision of a musical abyss, the basses at the bottom of their register and the sopranos attempting to scale stratospheric heights. But Weeks and the EXAUDI singers somehow alchemised all this ferocious technical difficulty into music of shattering directness. The terrifying textures of the music created a sense of awe and wonder: by throwing out traditional ideas about how these texts should be put to music, Ferneyhough’s piece created its own kind of transcendence. The final seconds of the work were astonishing, as one of the sopranos held an impossibly high note for an unfeasibly long time. It was a moment that symbolised the transfiguring power of this “short mass”.

The Guardian


As for [Ferneyhough’s] Missa Brevis (1969), the chamber choir EXAUDI’s superconfident rendering under James Weeks at Orford Church was a bang-smash hit and left me feeling that this wildly uninhibited but cannily calculated work is as much a 1960s icon as Stockhausen’s vocal Stimmung from the previous year.

The Sunday Times


What looked in advance a heavy-duty programme of music ancient and modern – rapt unaccompanied choral works by Obrecht and Ockeghem alongside ferociously aggressive new pieces by Brian Ferneyhough – went exactly as one might have expected until the last 20 minutes. That was when the EXAUDI Vocal Ensemble launched themselves into Ferneyhough’s jaw-droppingly difficult Missa Brevis. As individual voices sparred with each other in complex combative groups and sopranos soared to stratospheric heights that one would have thought out of human reach, the adrenalin level reached fever pitch – and not just for the audience.

The Financial Times


If Irvine Arditti’s feverish playing of [Ferneyhough’s] Unsichtbare Farben was gobsmacking, EXAUDI’s performance of the impossibly difficult and wonderfully effective Missa Brevis took the breath away.

Classical Music Magazine