Celebrating both Elizabethan Ages - June 2016

Written by  Wednesday, 01 June 2016

It has been fascinating to work on the publicity for a series of classical music concerts this summer. The Alwinton Summer Concerts take place every May and June in the beautiful church of St Michael and All Angels, Alwinton in the breath taking surroundings of the Upper Coquet valley, Northumberland.

Under the leadership of Artistic Director, John Casken, the series has now established itself as one of the major cultural events in the North-East of England attracting as it does musicians with international reputations to the church, with its fine acoustic, and the surrounding beautiful and dramatic landscape.

The third concert of the 2016 series takes place on Saturday 11th June - the day before HMQ's official 90th birthday.  The programme of music celebrates our current Elizabethan Age by recalling some of the artistic, economic, political and international achievements of the first.

The concert’s programme takes was inspired by Sir Francis Drake’s circumnavigation of the Globe from 1577-80 in the reign of the first Queen Elizabeth. This journey was an example of how English Elizabethan sailors were constantly trying to outdo the Spanish who, under the leadership of Magellan, had completed this journey 50 years earlier. This rivalry would culminate in Drake’s famous victory against the Spanish Armada eight years after his return from this voyage.

Viol consort, Fretwork ,will play a programme of music from both Elizabethan Ages that reflects on and celebrates Sir Francis Drake's circumnavigation of the globe and the establishment of England as one of Europe's premiere maritime nations. The concert is entitled The World Encompassed.


Described by The Independent newspaper as “the world’s leading viol consort” and the London Evening Standard as “the finest viol consort on the planet”, Fretwork’s repertoire spans the very first music printed (Venice in 1501) to music commissioned by the group this year. The consort’s musicians are:

Emily Ashton, Richard Boothby, David Hatcher, Reiko Ichise, Asako Morikawa & Sam Stadlen

Their consistently high performance standards have brought music old and new to audiences previously unfamiliar with the inspiring sound-world of the viol. Now Fretwork is bringing their concert The World Encompassed to Alwinton as part of their 2016 UK summer tour before dates across Europe and the USA.

You can find out more about the Fretwork Viol Consort on their website Here

When Drake set sail from Plymouth in November 1577, he took with him 4 viol players to play every day as he prayed and sang hymns and during his meals.

As he eventually met the native peoples of South America and Java, Drake used the peaceful nature of the music to impress the newly discovered tribes. In Java, the local King was so impressed he returned the favour and a new musical style was discovered. Drake wrote about the encounter in his ship’s log:

“One day amongst the rest, Raia Donan coming aboard us, in requital of our musick which was made to him, presented our generall with his country musick, which though it were of a very strange kind, yet the sound was pleasant and delightful.”

 Fretwork have commissioned British composer Orlando Gough (more information here) to use these scant facts to create a journey in sound that charts Drake’s remarkable feat. Inspired by records from the time and by the exotic sounds that Drake and his men heard, Gough has woven music from the 16th century seamlessly into a through-composed piece of music lasting a little over an hour.

Drake stopped in Morocco, The Cape Verde Islands, Brazil, Argentina, Patagonia, passed through the Straights of Magellan (where he lost one of the sister ships, and another turned back, and where Drake’s ship, the Pelican, was renamed The Golden Hinde), then up the coast of Chile, Mexico, California, across the Pacific Ocean to the Moluccas, Java, then round Cape of Good Hope, Sierra Leone and finally Plymouth in September 1580. The performance will include a narrator who will guide the audience through this tremendous journey.

The World Encompassed will contrast some of the few severe and austere hymns popularly sung at the time with the exotic and ‘strange’ music of these countries.

In another coup for the Alwinton Concerts, the part of Drake will be narrated by award winning actor Paul Copley. 

Paul is a long established and much respected British actor and voiceover artist who is well known for his TV work in Downton AbbeyCall the Midwife andLast Tango in Halifax, and his film roles in A Bridge too Far, Remains of the Day and Teatime in Haworth.

Born in Yorkshire, Paul has long had a professional association with the North East. He studied drama at the Northern Counties College of Education, now Northumbria University, and has worked here regularly over the years including the title role in an acclaimed recent RSC production of King Lear at Newcastle’s Theatre Royal and the Tyneside detective drama Vera.

His experience as a narrator, radio actor and voiceover artist also has echoes of the North East and has included BBC Radio 4’s 2015 play The Morpeth Carol and the voice over for Morrison’s most recent advert.

Paul's website is full of further information about his career and photos of his most famous and celebrated roles and can be found Here.  

Paul’s narrative for the concert is drawn from Drake’s own diaries of the incredible voyage in his ship The Golden Hinde. Drake describes what they saw and heard as he and his men circled the globe crossing the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans. Diary passages describing the music of the native peoples they met are a large part of the inspiration of Gough’s composition.  

John Casken, Artistic Director of the Alwinton Summer Concerts told us “This is a very exciting announcement. To have an actor of Paul’s calibre and profile joining the Fretwork Viol Consort is a coup and will add a whole new dimension to both the evening’s concert and the afternoon’s free workshop. His enormous experience and the range of his work, added to Fretwork’s internationally acclaimed performance, the beautiful music of the Elizabethan era and Orlando Gough’s contemporary composition is set to give the Alwinton Concerts a very special evening.”

In addition to the concert, there will be a free workshop with the viol players in the church at  2.00pm. Everyone is welcome to attend. 

Tickets for the concert are on sale from £12. For further information,  Click Here

Kate Holt

Kate Holt has organised events in both the public, private, not for profit and voluntary sectors for many years. She is currently the Managing Director of event creation and management company Happening up North.