Founded in 1996 by Susan Hamilton and Ben Parry, the Dunedin Consort was soon hailed by the critics as "a group that has done so much to transform the vocal life of Scotland". The dynamic ensemble has rapidly established its presence in the artistic life of its home country, appearing in venues throughout Scotland, from remote Highland churches to major concert halls. It has performed a diverse repertoire that ranges from Medieval and Renaissance music to contemporary works such as Stockhausen's Stimmung, together with a range of commissions from composers both in Scotland and beyond. Since Ben Parry's departure in late 2003, John Butt has joined Susan Hamilton as co-artistic director and is now musical director of all the larger projects. With John Butt's particular expertise in Baroque music and performance practice, the group has consolidated its existing strength in the Baroque repertoire, together with developing the Dunedin Players as an ensemble dedicated to performance with historical instruments. Since the release of Dunedin's recording of George Frideric Handel's Messiah in its first performed version (Dublin, 1742) in late 2006 (Linn Records), the group has reached a new level of critical acclaim, culminating in the Classic FM/Gramophone Award for the best recording in the Baroque Vocal category in October 2007. This is the only such award to a Scottish group in recent years (and the first to an ensemble that is not a Scottish National Company or BBC orchestra) and now gives Dunedin a truly international reputation. Dunedin's next release, of J.S. Bach's Matthew Passion (BWV 244), has already been recorded and will be appearing on Linn in March 2008.
One particular speciality of the group is to perform familiar works from the Baroque era in unusual ways: for instance, presenting G.F. Handel's Messiah successively in the variety of versions that G.F. Handel himself developed in nearly 20 years of performances; presenting J.S. Bach's Passions in the lean vocal scoring of their original performances (the new recording presents the work for the first time in J.S. Bach's last performed version). Another direction is to commission new pieces to complement and play off the old: William Sweeney, Errollyn Wallen and Peter Nelson have, for instance, written works to complement the era of George Buchanan, the Song of Songs settings of Heinrich Schütz and the motets of J.S. Bach.
The Dunedin Consort has appeared at festivals in Belgium, Canada, France, Italy, Spain, Northern Ireland and the Channel Islands as well as at the Edinburgh International Festival. It has worked in collaboration with ensembles including the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Sinfonia 21, Scottish Ensemble, Mr McFall's Chamber, Paragon Ensemble, Florilegium, La Serenissima and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, has appeared on BBC 2 and BBC 4 television and been broadcast on BBC Radio 3 and BBC Scotland.
Education and outreach have always been an integral part of the consort’s work in the Scottish community. In winter 2002 The People’s Mass, a collaboration involving six Scottish-based composers, was performed with children’s choirs throughout the country and Harvey Brough’s Requiem in Blue, have involved several hundred children from a variety of different schools and backgrounds. Forthcoming projects include a performance of G.F. Handel's Israel in Egypt, drawing on singers prepared in workshops across the main cities of Scotland.
The Dunedin Consort has, under the direction of Ben Parry, also recorded works by Copland and Samuel Barber for the Linn label and appears on the recordings of W.A. Mozart’s operas Il Seraglio and Idomeneo with Sir Charles Mackerras and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. Music by William Byrd and Thomas Tallis and a recording of The People’s Mass, were released on the Delphian label, as well as Corrinna Hewat’s Silhouette, which the ensemble premiered on the Island of Mull in 2003.