Fretwork is a consort of viols based in England, UK. Formed in 1986, the group consisted of six players. Its repertoire consists primarily of music of the Renaissance period, in particular that of Elizabethan and Jacobean England, arrangements of the music of J.S. Bach, and contemporary music written for them.
The group has toured all over the world, with tours of Japan and the USA, and three visits to Russia, the first in 1989, when it was still a part of the Soviet Union. They initiated a series of courses for voices and viols on the Greek island of Evvia with Michael Chance, and have also been invited twice to teach on the annual Conclave of the Viola da Gamba Society of America.
In addition to its performances of early music, Fretwork has been active in commissioning new works for viol consort. Its 1997 recording Sit Fast includes new works by such composers as Gavin Bryars, Tan Dun, and Elvis Costello. It has also commissioned music from Sir John Tavener, Michael Nyman, Alexander Goehr, George Benjamin, Duncan Druce, Fabrice Fitch, Gavin Bryars, Barry Guy, Poul Ruders, Simon Bainbridge, Ivan Moody, John Woolrich, Thea Musgrave, Peter Sculthorpe, Sally Beamish, Andrew Keeling and Orlando Gough.
n 2001 they created something entirely new in the consort repertory: with the aid of the Contemporary Music Network they constructed a performance involving two dancers, choreographer Ian Spink, lighting, Michael Chance and music by Gibbons, Dun, Gough, Nyman, Woolrich and Keeling. This extraordinary event was toured around the cathedrals of Britain to great wonderment and applause.
2007 saw them visiting Russia (twice), Spain, France & Ireland, with visits to the Edinburgh International Festival, the Lufthansa, Spitalfields, and Aldeburgh Festivals. They also took part in a Festival of Evensong at five Cambridge Colleges - King’s, Trinity, St. John’s, Gonville & Caius and Sidney Sussex - as part of a residency at Sidney Sussex College, which included teaching and recording a CD of Tomkins. Another recording, of Gibbons, Tomkins and Weelkes with King's College Choir Cambridge, directed by Stephen Cleobury, has recently appeared on EMI. In 2008, they recorded two tracks on Ryuichi Sakamoto’s latest album ‘Out of Noise’. He wrote poems to accompany the tracks on the album.
They now tour the USA every year, and have won particular praise there for their programme of Jewish music for viols - ‘Birds on Fire’. In January 2009 they visited California & Texas with Clare Wilkinson, celebrating the 350th anniversary of Purcell’s birth. Their recording of ‘Birds on Fire’ was Editor’s Choice in Gramophone Magazine and Julie-Anne Sadie commented: “This is demanding, wonderfully offbeat music inspired by Ashkenazi Klezmer (more cabaret than camera), which Fretwork brings off with a panache that astonishes and delights.”
In 2010, they curated a week-long concert series of concerts at the dynamic new London concert hall, Kings Place. The culmination of this week, which saw performances with Emma Kirkby, Michael Chance & Clare Wilkinson, was the world premier of Fretwork’s latest commission: ‘The World Encompassed’ by Orlando Gough, a 70-minute piece describing in musical terms Drake’s circumnavigation of the globe in 1577-1580. Drake took four viol players with him on his epic journey, and Gough’s piece incorporates original 16th century music into the fabric of this new work. They took this new work with them on a ten-concert tour of North America in November of 2010.
In 2011, Fretwork celebrates 25 years of performing music old and new, and look forward to a challenging and exciting future as the world’s leading consort of viols. In February 2011, BBC Radio 3’s Early Music Show devoted a whole weekend to Fretwork, interviewing founder-member Richard Boothby, playing several tracks from their many recordings; and then broadcasting a performance of The World Encompassed recorded at the York Early Music Festival, together with an interview of the composer Orlando Gough. Also in 2011, The National Centre for Early Music, in collaboration with the BBC, is hosting a competition for young composers to compose a four-minute piece for Fretwork. They will workshop the shortlisted pieces at the NCEM in York in October, and then premier the winning entry in Kings Place in December.
In 2012 they will be premiering a new piece for The Hilliard Ensemble & Fretwork from one of today’s most exciting young composers - Nico Muhly - in the Wigmore Hall and then touring this programme around Europe. And in 2013 they will be playing a series of concert at London’s two top chamber music halls: The Wigmore Hall and Kings Place. They will also be touring with Ian Bostridge, celebrating the 450th anniversary of John Dowland’s birth.
Fretwork has recorded a series of discs for Virgin Classics and currently records for Harmonia Mundi USA. Recent discs include Chansons by Alexander Agricola and Fabrice Fitch and a disc of consort songs with Emma Kirkby.
Another major area of interest is J. S. Bach. Initially, they performed and recorded ‘The Art of Fugue’ to rapturous notices; and more recently they have arranged many of his keyboard works, including ‘The Well Tempered Clavier’ and the ‘Clavierübung’, recently released on the HMU label under the title ‘Alio Modo’. Their arrangement of the Goldberg Variations will be released in November 2011.
A recent disc is 'Birds on Fire: Jewish Music for Viols' which presents some of the music composed by Italian-Jewish composers from the Bassano & Lupo families, who came to England to work at the court of Henry VIII in 1540. It also includes music by Salamone Rossi and Leonora Duarte. Finally it includes the first recording of 'Birds on Fire' itself, a three-part piece by Orlando Gough written for Fretwork in 2001. This work is based on the novel by Aaron Appelfeld Badenheim 1939, telling the story of a group of Jews who holiday in a resort near Vienna in the spring of 1939. The town gradually becomes a ghetto, and the band of musicians gradually rediscover their Jewish roots to break out from the Vienese schmalz to play klezmer tunes.
A recent album is its second recording of the complete Fantazias by Henry Purcell, including the two In Nomines, for HMU (Harmonia Mundi USA). It was selected as Editor's Choice in the July issue of Classic FM Magazine; where Fretwork's playing was described as "all one could wish for." It has won the Gramophone Award on the Baroque Instrumental section 2009.
In 2008, they recorded two tracks on Ryuichi Sakamoto's album 'out of noise', and they have subsequently issued their latest recording - 'The Silken Tent' - in Japan only on Sakamoto's label commmons.
Fretwork was featured on the soundtracks of two Jim Jarmusch movies, Coffee and Cigarettes (2003) and Broken Flowers (2005). Other filmtracks include The Da Vinci Code, Kingdom of Heaven, The Crucible, La Fille d'Artagnant and many others. It has also recorded for Robbie Williams (Supreme) and Loreena McKennitt (for the album An Ancient Muse).