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, and Research Professor of Music at the University of Huddersfield.

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 singers

Hannah Ely read music at the University of Manchester, studying piano and voice. She continued her piano studies at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, graduating with a distinction. During this time she also studied ensemble singing on the Sixteen’s inaugural Genesis Sixteen scheme and is currently studying part-time at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis in Switzerland with Evelyn Tubb and Anthony Rooley. Living in London, Hannah works as a pianist and soprano, performing with various ensembles. She is a core member of Siglo de Oro, the Erebus Ensemble and the Fieri Consort, of which she is a founding member and manager. With the Fieri Consort she has performed several times on BBC Radio 3 and toured much of the UK and Australia. Hannah also sings for groups including The Sixteen, Britten Sinfonia Voices, the Gabrieli Consort and Tenebrae and currently sings at the Church of St Bartholomew-the-Great.

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 then followed the postgraduate Medieval and Renaissance course at the Schola Cantorum in Basel, Switzerland. Now based in London, she sings in many professional church choirs and ensembles including Philharmonia Voices, Retrospect Ensemble, RSVP Voices and Sarum Voices. Yvonne directs her own medieval vocal trio Levedy and sings with medieval ensembles Le Basile, Mediva and The Telling. Yvonne seems to be carving out a niche as a nun spanning several centuries. As well as working with Musica Secreta, she has performed in Hildegard of Bingen’s 12th century liturgical drama Ordo Virtutum with Vox Animae at several international early music festivals and appears as a singing nun in all four series of the hit BBC1 drama Call The Midwife.

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; flamenco guitarist Ignacio Lusardi Monteverde; & upcoming with British folk musician Hazel Askew.

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.

 

The instrumentalists

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 is now firmly established as one of their core members.

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.

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