This year Fretwork celebrates 30 years of performing music old and new, and will look forward to a challenging and exciting future as the world’s leading consort of viols.
In these last two and a half decades, they have explored the core repertory of great English consort music, from Taverner to Purcell, and made classic recordings against which others are judged. Their series of discs for Virgin Classics included CDs devoted to William Lawes, Henry Purcell, William Byrd, Matthew Locke, John Dowland and Orlando Gibbons; while their more recent work for Harmonia Mundi USA has produced two discs of J. S. Bach—Art of Fugue and Alio Modo—which have been exuberantly praised; and discs of the earliest instrumental music (Petrucci); Sir John Tavener’s The Hidden Face; Thomas Tomkins; Alexander Agricola and Fabrice Fitch; Ludwig Senfl with Charles Daniels and two collaborations with the choir of Magdalen College, Oxford. Their recording of concert songs by William Byrd with Emma Kirkby has received particular praise.
In addition to this, Fretwork has become known as a pioneer of contemporary music for viols, having commissioned over 40 new works. The list of composers is like the roll call of the most prominent writers of our time: George Benjamin, Michael Nyman, Sir John Tavener, Gavin Bryars, Elvis Costello, Alexander Goehr, John Woolrich, Orlando Gough, Fabrice Fitch, Peter Sculthorpe, Sally Beamish, Tan Dun, Barry Guy, Andrew Keeling, Thea Musgrave, Simon Bainbridge, Poul Ruders, John Joubert, and Duncan Druce.
The group now frequently presents programs consisting entirely of contemporary music, though most audiences find that the creative tension of juxtaposing old and new leads to a thrilling experience.
Asako was born in Takamatsu, Japan. She started playing viola da gamba when she was 13 years old, but studied violin initially in the Toho Gakuen Music High School in Tokyo. She then continued her studies at the Toho Gakuen School of Music as a student of viola da gamba with Tetsuya Nakano.
In 1988 she moved to Holland to further her studies with Wieland Kuijken at the Royal Conservatorium in The Hague where she received her Soloists Diploma in 1993 and then studied baroque violin with Thomas Albert at the Hochschule für Künste Bremen. As a baroque violinist she has played with Bremen Baroque Orchestra, Musicalische Campagney, and Musica Fiata.
Since 1996 she has lived in London and is in demand as a viola da gamba soloist and continuo player throughout the United States, Canada, Europe, Japan and Australia, having played with Charivari Agréable, the English Concert, the King’s Consort, Ton Koopman, and Phantasm. She has taught at summer courses in Poland, Australia, Japan, and Austria. In 2004 she has become a member of Fretwork and has since performed worldwide, broadcasting and making recordings.
Joanna Levine studied cello and viola da gamba at the Guildhall School of Music, studying with Raphael Wallfisch, Anthony Pleeth, and Sarah Cunningham. She has many years of experience giving concerts in Britain and Europe and making recordings, on the cello, baroque cello, and viol. Highlights include playing at the Proms, playing at international Early Music festivals, and playing on pop and television soundtracks. She is a founder member of Concordia, with whom she has made recordings for Hyperion, Chandos, Metronome, Signum, and Real World Records, as well as for BBC. She has played in many productions at the Globe Theatre, including Farinelli and the King, which transferred to the West End, and All the Angels, a play about Handel’s Messiah. She enjoys the creative processes involved and the chance to work with composers, directors, and actors such as Mark Rylance and Gemma Arterton. She also enjoys playing the gamba solos in the Bach Passions, prompting the Times critic to write “For the power of sheer non-verbal expression Joanna Levine’s viola da gamba solo took some beating.”
Originally a baroque cellist, Sam took up the viola da gamba under the tutelage of Susanna Pell while reading for his Master’s degree in music at the University of York. He has also benefited from master classes and tuition from players such as Ibrahim Aziz, Richard Boothby, Christophe Coin, Alison Crum, Wieland Kuijken, Jonathan Manson, and Alison McGillivray. Sam has been a member of Fretwork since 2015 and appears regularly as a continuo player and soloist on viol and cello with a number of early music ensembles with whom he performs both early repertoire and modern compositions.
In addition to his performing work, Sam is an associate lecturer at the University of York and has lectured at the Royal Academy of Music in London. He has a PhD on the influences of poetry and declamation on the composition and performance of the pièces de viole in late-seventeenth- and early-eighteenth-century France. He is currently based in London and York.
Emily Ashton studied music at Clare College, Cambridge, and baroque cello and viola da gamba with Jonathan Manson at the Royal Academy of Music. Since then she has played with many of the country’s leading period instrument ensembles, including the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Academy of Ancient Music, Dunedin Consort, Orchestra of the Sixteen, and Gabrieli Consort.
Emily is a member of the viol consort Chelys, who recently released their debut recording of Ayres and Divisions by Christopher Simpson. She has also performed around Europe and recorded discs of Lawes, Tomkins, and Ward with Phantasm. Emily has given solo recitals at the Spitalfields Festival and Cotswolds Early Music Festival, and with various chamber groups has performed at venues including the Wigmore Hall, Handel House, and St Martin-in-the-Fields.
After studying with Nikolaus Harnoncourt in Salzburg, he founded the Purcell Quartet in 1984 and was a founder member of Fretwork in 1985. Since then his career has been bound up with these two groups with whom he records and tours; and through whom he plays the broadest range of repertory for the instrument from the earliest music to the latest contemporary music commissioned for viols.
With the Purcell Quartet he has recorded nearly 50 albums with them for Hyperion and Chandos. He tours Europe, Japan, and the United States regularly with both ensembles. In 1998 he directed performances of Monteverdi’s L’Incoronazione di Poppea with the Purcell Quartet; and in 2001 directed them in a fully-staged production of L’Orfeo, with Mark Padmore in the title role.
As a soloist, he has given many recitals of the rich solo repertory, and in 1994 he recorded the three Bach sonatas for viola da gamba and harpsichord with Shalev Ad-El for Chandos Records, to critical acclaim. He has given many recitals of the great suites by Antoine Forqueray, with whose music he feels a special affinity. He is professor of viola da gamba at the Royal College in London.