biography – ensemble for new and old music

portrait of TONUS PEREGRINUS by Ian Dingle

TONUS PEREGRINUS was founded by the composer Antony Pitts in 1990, during his studies with Dr Edward Higginbottom at New College, Oxford, to record Music for a Large Audience, and today is an established ensemble in Britain and abroad with a significant discography on Hyperion and Naxos. Acclaim in the BBC Music Magazine, Fanfare, Gramophone, and The Telegraph speaks for itself: “utterly spellbinding”, “heatedly recommended”, “utterly beguiling”, “gloriously sung by this superb choir”, as does the prestigious Cannes Classical Award for the ensemble’s debut release and No.1 album of Arvo Pärt’s Passio – Editor’s Choice in Gramophone, as was the Hyperion album Seven Letters and other sacred choral music.

TONUS PEREGRINUS has a history of performing at extraordinary occasions such as the memorials for Alexander Litvinenko – a former audience member – and of putting on remarkable live productions such as a semi-staged version of the 14th-century Le Voir Dit by Guillaume de Machaut; other innovative projects include The Naxos Book of Carols – circulated to millions of homes in the UK and available as a printed carol-book from Faber Music – and the ensemble’s studio rendition of Tears for Fears’s Mad World.

At the core of TONUS PEREGRINUS are a dozen singers – Joanna Forbes L’Estrange, Rebecca Hickey, Lisa Beckley, Kathryn Knight, Alexander L’Estrange, Richard Eteson, Benedict Hymas, Matthew Long, Alexander Hickey, Alex Knight, Francis Brett, Nick Flower – who combine their diverse expertise to interpret a repertoire ranging from the end of the Dark Ages to scores where the ink is still wet. This breadth of vision is reflected in the name of the ensemble which comes from an ancient plainsong psalm tone with Jewish origins, directly linked to the Passover and the Last Supper. The tonus peregrinus chant starts on a different note in each half, hence “wandering tone” and was nicknamed tonus novissimus, the “newest”.

The journey continues with a new and highly-praised disc of music from the Eton Choirbook – the jewel in the crown of TONUS PEREGRINUS’s series of “milestones of Western Music” for Naxos – and a large-scale premiere recording of a powerful new oratorio by Antony Pitts, Jerusalem-Yerushalayim. The founding vision is as strong as ever: authentic & original.

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Joanna Forbes L’Estrange is a specialist ensemble singer, performing and recording with Tenebrae, Synergy and, for the past two decades, TONUS PEREGRINUS. Formerly soprano/MD of The Swingle Singers, Joanna’s discography comprises over forty choral CDs, around seventy film soundtracks and numerous backing vocals for world-class artists. She works with contemporary composers including Eric Whitacre, Will Todd, and Steve Reich.

Rebecca Hickey started singing in her local church choir at the age of five which fostered an enduring passion for sacred choral music. As well as being a long-standing member of TONUS PEREGRINUS, she is a member of the early music vocal ensemble Stile Antico and also sings with other ensembles such as The Sixteen and The Cardinall’s Musick.

Lisa Beckley studied Chemistry at Keble College Oxford, and had the opportunity for a highly varied musical life there. Since then she has specialized in early music, and has sung all over the world and on disc with most of Britain’s leading consorts including The Sixteen, The King’s Consort, The Cardinall’s Musick, Oxford Camerata, AAM, and The Tallis Scholars.

Kathryn Knight read Music at Worcester College, Oxford, where she held a Music Scholarship. She now pursues a busy and varied musical career: she is Publishing Director at Faber Music, and sings with various leading choirs and ensembles, and as a solo recitalist. Kathryn guest-presents for BBC TV Proms and features regularly as a voice-over artist for BBC Radio 3.

Alexander L’Estrange is a composer and arranger with an international reputation, writing for the world’s leading vocal ensembles, and is best known for his African-inspired choral work Zimbe!. Formerly an Oxford chorister and choral scholar, he has sung with TONUS PEREGRINUS for over 15 years.

Richard Eteson sang the solo verse of Once in Royal David’s City as Head Chorister at King’s College, Cambridge, opening the world-famous carol service to a radio and TV audience of millions. Since then Richard has also sung with Polyphony, Magnificat, Collegium Musicum 90, Opus Anglicanum, The Cambridge Scholars, Close Encounters, and was a member of The Swingle Singers (2000-2010).

Benedict Hymas ’ work as a tenor is broad and varied, including the Evangelist roles in J.S.Bach’s Passions, haute-contre repertoire, recital performances (particularly English song), and consort singing. He has sung with TONUS PEREGRINUS since 2008.

Matthew Long studied music at the University of York and sang as a choral scholar at York Minster. Since moving to London in 2006 he has maintained a busy schedule of concerts and recordings, travelling worldwide with some of the UK’s most highly regarded ensembles. He is also a member of The Sixteen and of the solo voice ensemble, I Fagiolini.

Alexander Hickey was Head Chorister at Hereford Cathedral, then a tenor choral scholar at Christ Church, Oxford, where he read Jurisprudence. He makes time in his busy and successful career as a commercial barrister at 4 Pump Court Chambers in the Temple to pursue his love of singing with TONUS PEREGRINUS and other professional choirs in London.

Francis Brett has sung professionally since graduating from King’s College Cambridge and the Royal College of Music (1997). He has enjoyed singing with TONUS PEREGRINUS as well as the Royal Opera House and English National Opera, and small ensembles including The Sixteen and Exaudi. As a soloist he has worked with Andrew Litton, Trevor Pinnock, Richard Hickox, Vladimir Yurowski, and Edward Gardner.

Alex Knight was a choral scholar at King’s College, Cambridge and studied singing at the Royal Academy of Music under David Lowe. He now sings when not working as a headhunter and raising twins with his wife Kathryn, and has worked with a number of groups including TONUS PEREGRINUS, Collegium Musicum 90 and Close Encounters.

Nick Flower runs the production, website, and data management departments at Hyperion Records. Out of hours he builds Lego with his three sons, and has been sighted singing with TONUS PEREGRINUS, Oxford Camerata, and the Borough Green Occasional Choir.

Antony Pitts sang as a treble in the Chapel Royal, Hampton Court Palace; he was an Academic Scholar and later an Honorary Senior Scholar at New College, Oxford where he founded TONUS PEREGRINUS. In 2004 their radical interpretation of Arvo Pärt’s Passio [Naxos 8.555860] won a Cannes Classical Award. He has been both a Senior Producer at BBC Radio 3 and a Senior Lecturer at the Royal Academy of Music; he is currently a patron of the London Festival of Contemporary Church Music and an honorary Fellow of the Faculty of Church Music. His compositions have been premiered in Wigmore Hall and Westminster Cathedral in London, the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, and the Philharmonie Kammermusiksaal in Berlin, and published by Faber Music – notably the 40-part motet XL and The Naxos Book of Carols – and released on Naxos, Hyperion, Harmonia Mundi, Signum, and Unknown Public.

“...My first impulse on hearing this disc was to commend it unreservedly to each and every man, woman, and child on the planet...”   Fanfare
“A composer on a spiritual quest who's found the near-perfect singers for it...”   Gramophone
“TONUS PEREGRINUS, a vocal ensemble made up of first-rank singers led by Pitts...”   All Music Guide
“...combined talent for divinely pure sound...”   Choir & Organ
“In terms of sheer beauty of performance and recording, this disc takes some beating...”   Fanfare
“ of the most rewarding I've heard for years...”   On an Overgrown Path
“'s pretty much impossible not to reach a state of bliss after listening to a new album featuring seven pieces chosen by English a capella choir TONUS...”   Musical Toronto