What is there to say about a group which has done everything in its genre and is coming to the end of a ‘farewell year’ garlanded with glowing crits? Three things. Performers take note how supreme musicianship should be presented. Audiences take note how to participate in live performance. And thank you, Hilliards, for the apogee of live performance.

Now delete the word ‘perform’. ‘Worshipful’ is an adjective sometimes applied to music presentations which transcend ordinary performance: both the musician and the listener are engaged in a joint act which recognises that the making of such music is only complete with the knowledgeable listener as well as the utterly dedicated and prepared musician. Think Ravi Shankar on the Sitar in years past, or Amjad Ali Khan on the Sarod. The word ‘spiritual’ is simply too woolly and unfocussed to do justice to the occasion.

‘Worshipful’ is what came to mind at the Hilliard’s presentation in the Temple Church on the opening night of the EFG London Jazz Festival. Lights down, expectant ‘congregation’, and four of the clearest, most focussed, but warm, plainchant voices start to move from one end of a resonant building to another. A single saxophone sends out a dizzying combination of brash, reverberant upper pitches underlain by mellifluous harmonic fragments. Item then follows item, with enough space to allow a pause and applause; but no-one stirs until an obvious cadence half way through the evening. Work follows work so seamlessly that you have to think very hard to work out — if you feel that you need to — from which era in 1000 years of western music the sounds emanate.

With the Hilliard Ensemble leaving us after 40 years, other vocal groups will want to fill their space; and their approaches and types of music will be different. But to achieve this level of music there has to be the utmost dedication. Very real dedication to the music worked on and to each other in the group will bring dedication from those who listen, who understand, and with whom you come to have mutual respect.

To the reader who did not hear the Hilliards: buy their recordings, but, more importantly, start going to the live events of the successors they have nurtured.

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