UCP: How long have you been singing with Stile Antico?
Katie Schofield [alto]: I joined the group in the summer of 2012, so it's already four years, which has totally flown by!
UCP: Your bio says you studied law at Cambridge before “turning to a life of itinerant singing.” When were you introduced to early music, and how did you find Stile Antico?
KS: I started singing early music as a choral scholar when I was at university and loved it. I hadn't really done much singing before then, so it was a whole new world of repertoire to explore, which I am, of course, still doing. I was lucky enough to be tipped off about the vacancy with Stile, applied for it and, after what felt like millions of auditions, rehearsals and concerts, was offered the job. I was only 24 at the time so working with the group then was a pretty big learning curve. (It still is!)
UCP: Stile Antico sings without a conductor. Given that, what is the average rehearsal like? Do you prefer Stile Antico’s chamber-style format to having a conductor?
KS: The average rehearsal usually involves heated discussion and lots of laughter (occasionally at the same time). As we work without a conductor, our rehearsal style is intensive and demands input from all twelve members. This setup is unique in all the work I do, and it's hugely rewarding – but can be tiring too! Interpretation of the music is a collaborative process for us, so we work quite slowly and thoroughly to make sure that we're all on the same page (sometimes literally as well as metaphorically). We usually consider it a successful rehearsal if nobody has spilled a cup of tea all over the floor.
UCP: Your program features composers (Peter Philips, Richard Dering, John Dowland, and William Byrd) who fled England in response to Queen Elizabeth’s increasingly harsh decrees towards Catholics. For those who aren’t familiar, briefly describe the historical context behind this persecution and what pushed these men to leave. Have you observed a discernible pre- and post-exile difference in their compositional output? What makes these works so engaging?
KS: Catholics in the late 16th century were not able to practice their religion openly, for fear of imprisonment or even death. It was considered treason to act as a Catholic missionary, as this was seen to be disloyal to Elizabeth, who had asserted her status as head of the Anglican church. This forced Catholics, including these composers, into hiding, or drove them out of England altogether. Byrd certainly appeared to become more preoccupied with the idea of persecution over the years. In the 1580s, he really felt the harsh effects of being a known Catholic sympathizer in a Protestant country, and his musical output changed accordingly – he started to set Biblical texts of a different nature. The dominant themes of religious persecution, captivity, and the desire for freedom from these constraints are obviously still relevant in our own time, which makes this music just as poignant today as it would have been then.
UCP: What has been your favorite recording/project with Stile Antico thus far? What are you looking forward to?
KS: We’ve done some pretty remarkable things since I joined – I'm very lucky. I've been to the States with the group seven times so far, done a concert on a boat in the middle of an underground lake in Switzerland, sung Compline in the middle of the night in an Oxford college chapel, performed at the BBC Proms – the list goes on and on. I'm looking forward to learning some new programs and continuing to expand our portfolio of education work, which is my responsibility in the group (as well as singing alto, of course!).