International Singing Week 2015
Ensemble Plus Ultra
Founded in 2001, Ensemble Plus Ultra is ‘a crack squad of the finest British early music singers’ (Early Music Today) whose quest is the promotion of historically-aware performances of liturgical marvels from the Renaissance. The ensemble is known for its zesty, innovative performances, which always display rigorous attention to musical and historical detail, and is driven by a spirit of discovery, of unveiling musical treasures from the past, and exploring unchartered polyphonic waters.
In recognition of its unique approach, Ensemble Plus Ultra was awarded the prestigious 2012 Gramophone Award for Early Music for its ten-disc box set of the music of Tomás Luis de Victoria, recorded for the Deutsche Grammophon Archiv label.
Ensemble Plus Ultra’s name is inspired by the motto Plus Ultra (‘thus far, and further’) chosen by Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor (1519–56) and King of Spain (as Charles I, 1516–56). This was a re-interpretation of the legendary Pillars of Hercules as a gateway to expanded horizons rather than, as his predecessors had thought, the limiting borders of the Mediterranean and the known world. Simply by discarding Non from the original motto Non Plus Ultra, Charles lent his imperial blessing to voyages of geographical and cultural discovery that continue to this day; with the stroke of a pen ‘thus far, no further’ became ‘thus far, and further’.
Ensemble Plus Ultra is not a choir but a consort of chamber musicians – a very different approach from other early music groups. It also benefits from a close association with a group of scholars specialising in Renaissance vocal music, allowing it to call upon the latest musicological research and ensuring its repertoire is always interesting and unusual and often previously unheard.
Examples of compositions uncovered by Ensemble Plus Ultra include the works of Cristóbal de Morales (c. 1500–53), the focus of the group’s widely acclaimed debut recording on the Glossa label, Morales en Toledo. This project was followed by the first ever recording dedicated solely to the music of Fernando de las Infantas (1534–c. 1610), the Spanish-born composer and theologian who settled in Rome in the 1560s.
While Spanish music has been the mainstay of Ensemble Plus Ultra’s repertoire, the group is equally at home performing music of other nations. Recent recordings include compositions by sixteenth-century Italian musical theorist Gioseffo Zarlino, by German physician, alchemist and musician Michael Maier, and by celebrated English composer William Byrd.
Ensemble Plus Ultra has toured widely in Europe and North America. The group has recently given concerts throughout Spain (Madrid, Granada, Cuenca, Santander, León), at festivals in Regensburg, Utrecht, London and Cambridge, and made its US debut in October 2011 with performances in Boston and New York City.
Rupert Damerell began his musical career as a chorister in the choir of St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, where he also started playing the organ, aged 10. He later studied violin at the Julliard School of New York, playing in the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britian. He went on to be a choral scholar at King’s College, Cambridge, where he studied musicology.
He also holds a diploma in organ from the Royal College of Organists. His organ studies were with Mark Blatchley, John Harper, Thomas Trotter and Naji Hakim; violin with Jean Harvey, Dorothy DeLay and Wolfgang Marschner; vocal studies with Emma Kirkby, Evelyn Tubb, Michael Chance, and Ashley Stafford; and choral conducting with Stephen Cleobury, Paul Goodwin and Peter Phillips.
He has sung and played in many of the important choral institutions in London, such as Westminster Abbey, Westminster Cathedral, St Paul’s Cathedral, Brompton Oratory etc. Resident in Madrid since 2001, he has sung with various early music groups all over Europe, including Huelgas Ensemble, Opera Fuoco, Theatre de Champs Elysées, Los Musicos de su Alteza, Proyecto Guerrero, Ars Combinatoria and Capilla Príncipe de Viana. He gives frequent organ recitals, and is in demand in the Madrid area as a freelance choral accompanist and continuo player, on harpsichord, piano and organ. He frequently gives courses on early music performance, joining forces with directors such as Peter Phillips, Erik van Nevel , Michael Noone or Stephen Layton.
Currently he is director of Zenobia Consort (which toured London and Cambridge in 2014 with a Victoria programme and will sing in Rome in December 2014, including events at St Peter’s Basilica and Santa Maria Maggiore ), symphonic chorus Coro EOI and of the Escolanía and Coro of Colegio Sagrado Corazón de Chamartín in Madrid, and is organist-cantor of the church of Espiritu Santo y Nuestra Señora de la Araucana (Madrid).