Ensemble Plus Ultra
Founded in 2001, award-winning 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 recently-discovered liturgical marvels of the Renaissance. The Ensemble is driven by a spirit of discovery, of unveiling musical treasures from the past and of exploring unchartered polyphonic waters. They have become one of the world’s leading exponents of the music of Renaissance Spain.
This approach, as well as the group’s name, are inspired by Emperor Charles V – the first of the Spanish Habsburgs – who chose ‘Plus ultra’ as his motto. 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 V 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 shuns dull, formulaic music-making. It is constantly pushing the boundaries, in the choice of repertoire and in its zesty, edgy performances that always display rigorous attention to musical and historical detail. With a working group of scholars to call upon, Ensemble Plus Ultra is able to demonstrate in practical terms the latest musicological research, and their in-depth knowledge of the period means that the repertoire is interesting, unusual, quirky and often previously unheard. Hitherto unknown compositions by Cristóbal de Morales (c. 1500–53), discovered in the archives of Toledo Cathedral, were the focus of the group’s widely acclaimed debut recording, Morales en Toledo. It 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. Whilst Spanish music has been the mainstay of Plus Ultra’s repertoire, they are equally at home performing music of other nations. One of their discs presents a world première recording of a recently-discovered setting of the Song of Songs by the celebrated Renaissance theorist Gioseffo Zarlino (1517–90) and another CD presents the musical canons of Atalanta Fugiens (1617), a book of alchemical emblems by Michael Maier (1569–1622). In 2008, the group released a recording of William Byrd’s Gradualia (1607). 2011 saw the release of a 10-disc box set of the music of Tomás Luis de Victoria, recorded for the Deutsche Grammophon label. This compilation was awarded the Gramophone Award for Early Music in 2012. Their most recent album, From Spain to Eternity, also on Deutsche Grammophon, was recently awarded five stars by BBC Music Magazine.
Ensemble Plus Ultra’s busy concert schedule takes them all over the globe, performing in some of the world’s leading concert venues. Recent highlights have included an exciting year-long tour of Spain in 2015 marking the 500 th anniversary of the birth of St Teresa of Avila, and a highly successful tour of the United States in February 2016, developing education work with young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. The Ensemble made their debut at London’s Wigmore Hall in April this year. Plans for 2017 include further recording projects, and development of the Atalanta Fugiens recording into a major multimedia stage production to tour throughout the world.
The singers are Rachel Ambrose Evans (soprano), Martha McLorinan (mezzosoprano), David Martin (countertenor), Guy Cutting (tenor), Ben Durrant (tenor) and Jimmy Holliday (bass)