The Hilliard Ensemble, named after the Elizabethan miniaturist painter Nicholas Hilliard, was a British male vocal quartet originally devoted to the performance of early music.
Founded in 1974 The Hilliard Ensembles work was mainly focused on music of the Medieval and Renaissance periods, however they also performed contemporary music, working frequently with the Estonian composer Arvo Pärt and also performing works by John Cage, Gavin Bryars, Giya Kancheli, and Heinz Holliger.
The original group consisted of Paul Hillier, Errol Girdlestone, Paul Elliott, and David James, although the membership was flexible until Hillier left in the late 1980s. Since 1990 the core members were David James (counter-tenor), Rogers Covey-Crump (tenor/high tenor), John Potter (tenor), and Gordon Jones (bass), with one change: in 1998 John Potter was replaced by Steven Harrold.
The Hilliard Ensemble decided to disband after 41 years and gave their final concert on 20 December 2014 at London’s Wigmore Hall.
The Hilliard Ensemble, under Paul Hillier, had an extensive discography with EMI’s Reflexe early music series during the 1980s. In 1994, when popular interest in Gregorian chant was at its height, the ensemble released the CD Officium, an unprecedented collaboration with the Norwegian saxophonist Jan Garbarek bridging the centuries with esoteric flights of saxophone improvisation above the hyper-resonant landscape of the Hilliard group singing chants and spiritual motets. The disc became one of ECM’s biggest-selling releases, reaching the pop charts in several European countries and receiving five gold discs in sales.
Their recordings have also been included in Craig Wright’s Listening to Music textbook for music students and music appreciation.
The way they dress and their appearance, has never really mattered to The Hilliard Ensemble – They have occasionally been described as looking like four used-car salesmen, or even four funeral directors.
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