The Parley of Instruments takes its name from some of the earliest public concerts in the world, given in London in 1676 by the violinist John Banister. The group’s work crosses boundaries, from the recording studio, the international concert platform, the classroom, or the humble village hall. Its members focus on bringing their knowledge of historical style and techniques to the music they love, enthusiastically communicating it to other players and the audience. Few groups have accumulated as much expertise in their chosen field. Long experience in the scholarship and performance of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century music are brought together in their specialist areas of string and continuo performance practice.
The main focus of The Parley’s activities has been in the repertoire of the early violin family, and their knowledge of seventeenth-century instrumental and vocal music forms a solid background for J.S. Bach, Handel and their contemporaries. Many years of working together have produced a consistent and well thought-out ‘house style’ that is a combination of long experience and experimentation with historical techniques and experience. This style is as clearly communicated in workshop situations, notably in its annual Cambridge summer school, as it is from the concert platform. It has performed in most of the major festivals and concert series in Britain, and in France, the Netherlands, Germany, Poland, the Czech Republic, Spain, Finland and the USA.
The core group consists of Judy Tarling and Oliver Webber (violins), Mark Caudle (bass viol, cello and bass violin) and Peter Holman (harpsichord and chamber organ). Each of them is a noted expert in their particular field as well as being a busy professional musician. Judy Tarling has written influential books on Baroque string playing and the rhetorical performance of music. Oliver Webber has pioneered the use of equal tension strings and is involved in the production of gut strings for period instruments. Mark Caudle is a leading viola da gamba soloist, and has devoted his life to reviving appropriate techniques on it, the bass violin and the violoncello; he also makes instruments. Peter Holman is a distinguished academic with nine books and hundreds of articles and other publications to his credit. His main interests are in English music c.1550-1850 and in early stringed instruments and their repertories.
The Parley was founded in 1979 to play the rich repertory of Renaissance and Baroque string consort music, and it subsequently created the first Renaissance violin consort in modern times. With light internal construction, plain gut strings and short bows, Renaissance violins produce a more blended, viol-like sound than the more familiar Baroque models. The Parley now offers a complete orchestral Renaissance violin band, suitable for the music of Praetorius, Monteverdi, Lully, Biber, Purcell, and many others. The Parley’s trail-blazing work recording English eighteenth-century music for the Hyperion English Orpheus series led to the formation of Baroque and Classical orchestras, and to working with soloists such as Emma Kirkby, Catherine Bott, Michael Chance, Ian Partridge, Stephen Varcoe, Crispian Steele-Perkins, Elizabeth Wallfisch and Paul O’Dette. In 1996 the Parley moved into the nineteenth-century with performances and recordings of English parish church music in the ‘gallery’ tradition with the choir Psalmody. It is available to perform its own programmes, to collaborate with choirs and other performing groups, and for educational workshops and seminars.