Artist biographies

The director

Photo: Robert Piwko

Laurie Stras joined Deborah Roberts as co-director of Musica Secreta in 2000. With a background in performance, including a spell as a musical director and keyboard player with the Royal National Theatre, she is now a leading authority on Renaissance female musicians. Known as the band boffin, Laurie also fills out the tenor lines in Celestial Sirens, researches costumes and storylines, and has been known to play Renaissance guitar. Her book, Women and Music in Sixteenth-Century Ferrara, winner of the 2019 Otto Kinkeldey Award, is published by Cambridge University Press. Laurie is Professor Emerita of Music at the University of Southampton.

 

 

The founder

Deborah Roberts

Deborah Roberts formed Musica Secreta in 1990 with the harpsichordist John Toll. Her soaring soprano has featured in many of the leading early music ensembles in the UK, and as a member of the Tallis Scholars for over 25 years, Deborah has a lifetime’s experience of singing Renaissance polyphony. She co-founded the Brighton Early Music Festival in 2002, and has watched it grow to become one of the largest and most innovative music festivals in Britain. She is in constant demand as a workshop leader, choral conductor, and musical director in early opera.

 

The ensemble director

Originally from Bath, Claire Williams studied piano and early keyboards at the Royal College of Music in London. She subsequently completed a Master’s degree at Trinity College of Music, studying harpsichord and chamber organ with James Johnstone. From 2016 she held the Fellowship in Harpsichord/Continuo at the Royal College of Music for three consecutive years – the first person ever to do so.

Claire is much in demand as a continuo player and accompanist, and can occasionally be persuaded to give a solo recital.  However, she feels most at home when playing as part of a group, and enjoys working with a wide and varied range of ensembles.  She has performed in venues ranging from the intimacy of the Handel & Hendrix Museum in London, to the expansive Royal Albert Hall, and everything in between.

Claire first became involved with Musica Secreta for their 2009 recording, Sacred Hearts, Secret Music, and acts as the ensemble director.

The singers

Hannah Ely Based in Brussels, British soprano Hannah Ely specialises in the Renaissance and Baroque and has performed as a soloist in Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Switzerland and around the UK with early music ensembles including Il Gardellino, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Ensemble Schirokko Hamburg, Yorkshire Bach Soloists, Alia Mens Ensemble, Monteverdi String Band and Camerata Øresund. Hannah also enjoys singing with a range of small ensembles around Europe, including Collegium Vocale Gent (BE), Huelgas Ensemble (BE), InVocare (CH), Siglo de Oro (UK), Musica Secreta (UK), Vox Luminis (BE), Stile Antico (UK) and The Tallis Scholars (UK).

She is the founder and artistic director of Fieri Consort (UK) specialising in Italian and English 16th and 17th century secular music, with whom she recorded an album of solos and duets by Barbara Strozzi as well as five other albums of consort music and two new commissions. Over recent years, she has enjoyed exploring diminutions, ornaments and accompaniment practices, most recently with Oliver Webber and the Monteverdi String Band, with whom she will make a recording on the Resonus Classics label later this year. She is one half of Accenti – a duo with viola da gamba player Harry Buckoke. Together they explore the performance practices of madrigals for solo voice including approaches to ornamentation and intabulation of the 16th and 17th centuries.

Elspeth Piggott is currently studying with Jane Irwin on the masters programme at the Royal Northern College of Music. Previously, she studied music at the University of York, where she caught the early music bug. Upon graduating in 2014, she undertook her first professional engagement understudying I Fagiolini’s devastating immersive-theatre project, inspired by the infamous life of Carlo Gesualdo, Betrayal. 

Since then she has continued to follow I Fag, as well as Polyphony and The Marian Consort, into all sorts of mischief across Italy, Spain, England, Scotland and Wales. Rounding out her musical experience, she has also sung with The Sixteen, The Cardinall’s Music, Eric Whitacre Singers and the Britten Sinfonia Voices, and has performed as a soloist in some of the countries top concert venues including the Barbican, Snape Maltings Concert Hall, St Martin-in-the-Fields and St John’s Smith Square. 

Recently, Elspeth has also been cultivating her passion for opera, singing First Witch in Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas (Ryedale Music Festival 2019), Cupid in La Dafne by da Gagliano (Brighton Early Music Festival 2020], and Sirena in Francesca Caccini’s La liberazione di Ruggiero (BREMF 2021).

 

An exiled Geordie, Yvonne Eddy studied music at the University of Manchester and then on the postgraduate Medieval and Renaissance course at the Schola Cantorum in Basel, Switzerland. She is a member of the choir of St Mary’s Bourne Street in London and sings in many other professional church and synagogue choirs, and with ensembles including Philharmonia Voices and Sarum Voices. She has also sung with the medieval ensembles Le Basile, Mediva and her own medieval vocal trio Levedy.

Nuns seem to have been a recurring theme in Yvonne’s career. As well as working with Musica Secreta since 2015, she has performed in Hildegard of Bingen’s 12th-century liturgical drama Ordo Virtutum with Vox Animae at several international early music festivals; her recorded voice was heard in the 50th-anniversary touring production of The Sound of Music; and she appeared as a singing nun in eight series of the hit BBC1 drama Call the Midwife. Participation in Sister Act has so far eluded her, but she remains hopeful.

Victoria Couper is a versatile performer with a wide range of experience in the UK & abroad. She  sings music from the medieval period through to the present day, performing with a cappella groups, bands, and in theatrical shows, enjoying the extra expression that movement and story allow, and delighting in the challenge of an ever expanding repertoire.

Her career began with Oxford Girls’ Choir, wearing a gold-sprayed bicycle helmet as the Spirit in Purcell’s Dido & Æneas, simultaneously joining early music ensemble, Sinfonye, in their project exploring St. Hildegard of Bingen’s music with both young and mature voices. Victoria has since appeared variously as soloist & ensemble member with: a cappella trio Voice; established early music groups Joglaresa, Musica Secreta, City Musick, the Dufay Collective; Greek Epic-inspired band Daemonia Nymphe; song theatre Erratica, Truth Helen Chadwick & Steven Hoggett, Songs of Belonging Emily Levy; and East-London jazz/world music collective, the Grand Union Orchestra.

Unforgettable moments include: dance-fighting with sticks and for A Winter Wassail The Society of Strange & Ancient Instruments (Shakespeare’s Globe); singing with a balloon under a raven in flight for Dr Dee Rufus Norris & Damon Albarn (MIF, ENO); & standing in thigh-high waders in a flooded St Mark’s Square for Peter Ackroyd’s Venice, Schola Pietatis Antonio Vivaldi & the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment (broadcast BBC4 & BBC Radio3).

Commercia Photographer Dorset

Katharine Hawnt was a choral scholar under the late David Trendell at King’s College London and then trained at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis in Switzerland. She has performed throughout Europe as a soloist and choral member with Collegium Vocale Ghent, Musica Secreta, Ensemble Plus Ultra, Al Ayre Español, and Nuove Musiche, among others.  She has appeared in many recordings, broadcasts and festivals in the UK and abroad, in particular the Brighton Early Music Festival where she appears most years.  Her voice was featured in a BBC Radio 4 dramatization of Sarah Dunant’s novel, Sacred Hearts and Katharine has made regular appearances as the character Serafina in a production that toured the country.  With the ensemble A Garden of Eloquence, Katharine released her first solo CD in 2011, Songs to Mistress Anne Greene, receiving rave reviews worldwide. Katharine enjoys regular collaborations for Medieval and Renaissance programmes with viol and vielle player, Uri Smilansky, and harpist Kirsty Whatley. She has recently completed a PhD at the University of Southampton and teaches singing at Sherborne Girls and Canford in Dorset.

Photo: Sara Porter

Caroline Trevor has sung and recorded with a number of prominent groups, such as The Tallis Scholars (since 1982), The Sixteen, The Cardinall’s Musick, The Taverner Consort, The Gabrieli Consort, Consortium, The Rose Consort, Aurora Nova, and, of course, Musica Secreta. She also very much enjoys working as a deputy with the choir of St Paul’s Cathedral.

Caroline feels very at home singing with all-female groups, and wonders if perhaps she was a happy nun in a former life.

 

Amy Carson was the youngest founding girl chorister at Salisbury Cathedral, and went on to study at Trinity College, Cambridge and the Royal Academy of Music. On the concert platform, Amy has sung much of the core repertoire from Monteverdi to Macmillan, and has appeared as a soloist at many prestigious venues both in the UK and overseas including Versailles, Berliner Philharmonie, Carnegie Hall, Wigmore Hall and Barbican. A highlight was the BBC Proms BWV 79 with The Monteverdi Choir. Amy sings with many of the UKs leading ensembles including as a soloist with The Sixteen, Monteverdi Choir, and Gabrieli Consort. Some particularly fun projects include singing on Nick Cave’s album “Carnage” and recording exciting new choral repertoire by female composers with Aurora Nova.

Ailsa Campbell, from Northumberland, began her singing career in Hexham Abbey Girls’ Choir at the age of 9. During her undergraduate degree, she was appointed as the first female Choral Scholar at Bristol Cathedral. She went on to complete a masters in Solo Voice Ensemble Singing with Robert Hollingworth (I Fagiolini) at the University of York, graduating with distinction. She was a member of the NYCGB Fellowship Programme 2018/19 and a VOCES8 Scholar 2022/23. She regularly sings with the Choir of the Chapels Royal, HM Tower of London, St Martin’s Voices, Corvus Consort, and often works with groups such as Huelgas Ensemble (based in Antwerp), Siglo de Oro, The Marian Consort, I Fagiolini and enjoys film recording work with London Voices. Outside of singing, Ailsa is a freelance administrator and first met Musica Secreta at Stour Music Festival, an early music festival (what better kind is there) in Kent, whilst she was the Festival Administrator.  She also works for I Fagiolini and the composer Joanna Marsh and enjoys yoga, running and embroidery.
 

Born in California to parents who loved to read, Luthien Brackett was named after a character in J.R.R. Tolkien’s legendarium. According to her mother and father, at the age of two, she clambered up onto the table during a dinner party and sang “You Light Up My Life” from start to finish with perfect pitch. That was probably her first public performance. Today, she is praised by the press for her “easy, appealing alto” and “silky tone among all registers,” and is in great demand as an alto soloist and professional chorister.  Luthien regularly appears with preeminent professional vocal ensembles including The Monteverdi Choir, Polyphony, The English Concert, VOCES8, The Clarion Choir and Seraphic Fire. Her recent performance highlights include Berlioz’s Les Troyens with The Monteverdi Choir at the Salzburg Festival, the Berlin Festival, Versailles, and the BBC Proms; a US tour of J.S. Bach’s Mass in B Minor, also with the Monteverdi Choir; and an appearance as the alto soloist for a newly published edition of J.S. Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, edited by Felix Mendelssohn, with The Bach Choir of Bethlehem.  Luthien’s numerous commercial recordings include four GRAMMY-nominated albums. She lives in London. www.LuthienBrackett.com

The instrumentalists

chelys-110Alison Kinder read music at Oxford and was then given a scholarship by Trinity College of Music where she studied viol with Alison Crum, being awarded the college’s Silver Medal for Early Music Studies. She is a founder member of Chelys consort of viols where she enjoys researching and performing programmes covering all aspects of consort music, and with whom she made the world premiere recording of Christopher Simpson’s four-part ayres. She has a particular interest in Renaissance viols (early viols made with no soundpost) with The Intrepid Academy, who specialise in music of the Italian Renaissance. Venturing into the 18th Century with a beautiful 7-string viol named Flo, Alison plays with trio sonata group Saltarello, and the Christian Baroque ensemble Dei Gratia.

A keen teacher of both children and adults, Alison is a tutor on a number of Early Music courses including the Easter Early Music Course and Norvis, and she regularly leads workshops for the various Early Music Fora. She is co-director of Rondo Viol Academy, which runs weekend courses for players of all standards from Elementary to Advanced. Alison directs the Warwickshire Youth Waits, a Renaissance band for young players which includes everything from recorders and viols to crumhorns, shawms, sackbuts and more!

Alison has had a number of educational books published with colleague and fellow viol player Jacqui Robertson-Wade. They include group teaching material for viols and recorders,and a children’s music theory series called ‘The Notehouse People’. She has also published a modern edition of the divisions from Christopher Simpson’s ‘Division Viol’ treatise.

Kirsty Whatley grew up on a council housing estate in southern England. Her mum built her first harp in the shed when the kids were asleep, so Kirsty might have the instrument she asked for every Christmas. She later went on to gain a master’s degree in music from the University of Manchester, and then specialise in instruments of the Renaissance at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis in Basel, Switzerland. She has appeared on BBC radio and television as well as live on radio overseas, and appears on such recordings as the Taverner Consort’s L’Orfeo and their Gramophone-Award-winning Western Wynd; Alamire’s The Anne Boleyn Songbook; Fretwork’s In Chains of Gold and I Fagiolini’s Leonardo: Shaping the Invisible, amongst others. She has performed with groups such as The BBC Singers, Moscow City Ballet, London Handel Orchestra, English Touring Opera, Ensemble Leones, I Fagiolini, Alamire, Taverner Consort, and Courtiers of Grace.

 

Lutenist Kristiina Watt enjoys a busy concert schedule in the UK and abroad, performing on a variety of lutes and guitars from 16th-19th centuries.

Having worked professionally as a singer, Kristiina brings this experience to her work as an accompanist for both soloists and ensembles. Some collaborations with vocal ensembles include Ensemble Pro Victoria, The Marian Consort, The Fieri Consort and Musica Secreta.

Kristiina feels particularly at home in the intimate and transparent setting of chamber music. Her regular partnerships as a chamber musician are a duo with violinist Sophia Prodanova and ensemble The Portrait Players with soprano Claire Ward and cellist/gambist Miriam Nohl. Some other notable chamber appearances include Handel’s ‘9 German Arias’ with Rachel Podger, performances with the Illyria Consort (dir Bojan Čičić) and a programme of trio sonatas with the Academy of Ancient Music in Spain directed by Steven Devine.

As an orchestral musician she has worked with many renowned orchestras, in historical performance and beyond, such as Academy of Ancient Music, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, BBC Singers, The English Concert, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Scottish Chamber Orchestra and Scottish Ensemble.

In addition to live performances on BBC Radio 3 (including ‘In Tune’) and BR Klassik, Kristiina’s playing can be heard on CD releases by ensemble Spiritato and The Fieri Consort. www.kristiinawatt.com

 

 

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