The Edinburgh-based vocal group the Dunedin Consort yesterday hit the
heights of their 11-year career when they won a coveted Gramophone
Record of the Year award for their recording of Handel's Messiah.
The Dunedin's competition in the final three nominations for the
Baroque Vocal category of the Classic fm Gramophone Awards featured
the biggest hitters in the field: Sir John Eliot Gardiner and his
Monteverdi Choir for their recording of Bach Cantatas, Volume 15, and
Rinaldo Alessandrini's Concerto Italiano for their recording of
Monteverdi Madrigals, which the group had performed to acclaim at this
year's Edinburgh International Festival.
The Dunedin Consort's triumph yesterday was an all-Scottish affair, as
their recording of the Messiah, released late last year, features not
only the 12 singers of the consort, with their co-founder and
co-artistic director, soprano Susan Hamilton, but conductor, keyboard
player and fellow director John Butt, a world authority on baroque
music and Gardiner, professor of music at Glasgow University.
And while the Gramophone Award is a first for the Dunedins, it is also
a first for Glasgow-based recording company Linn Records, whose
esteemed producer Philip Hobbs both engineered and produced the recording.
The result, which is decided exclusively by the specialist reviewers
of the Gramophone, the bible for classical music CD buffs and the
leading publication of its type, carries enormous potential prestige
and a world imprimatur for its winner.
Susan Hamilton, speaking from the awards in London yesterday, said:
"To win an award like this for one of the most popular and
most-recorded pieces of choral music is just amazing. It's amazing for
the group, it's amazing for John Butt and the singers who have been so
loyal to us, amazing for Linn Records and amazing for Scotland. It's
good to think that we have given a fresh voice to the Messiah, and
that that fact has been recognised."
Asked about the impact of the Gramophone award on the group, and its
wider significance, Hamilton said: "This gives us the best calling
card we've ever had, and it's now up to us to make sure we utilise it.
"In the next six months we'll be trying to get an agent to start
selling the group, and we'll also be doing our damnedest to promote
the group as much as we can. I'd like to think that in two or three
years we'll be at the London Proms, doing tours and trying to show the
rest of the world that Scotland can produce first-class musicians who
can represent the level of music-making that goes on in this country."
Success doesn't come cheap. The Messiah recording, made in Greyfriars
Kirk, carried a price tag of around £50,000 that, not so long ago,
would have been prohibitive to the small vocal group. So the Dunedins
came up with an initiative of sheer enterprise.
"We came up with the idea of running a public subscription to raise
money," said Hamilton. "We priced every movement, and people purchased
their favourite movement and got their names into the programme
booklet as subscribers. The response was incredibly impressive and we
raised over half the money that way."
The arts council came in with 10%, trusts and sponsors came on board,
and Linn Records gave them 500 CDs to sell to boost the funds.
Not only were the costs covered, said Hamilton, but the disc sold like
hot cakes. McAlister Matheson Music, Edinburgh's leading classical CD
retailer, has recorded its most successful-ever sales figure the
Dunedin Messiah, ousting Welsh bass baritone Bryn Terfel from that
"On top of all that, said Hamilton, "the CD is beginning to stock up a
royalty and is making money."
That money is being plunged back into the Dunedin operation, and just
last week, on the eve of the Gramophone Award announcement, the group
completed its next recording for Linn Records, with the same forces,
of Bach's St Matthew Passion.