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The Hilliard Ensemble is a British male vocal quartet originally devoted to the performance of early music. Founded in 1974, the group is named after the Elizabethan miniaturist painter Nicholas Hilliard.
Although most of its work focuses on music of the Medieval and Renaissance periods, the Hilliard Ensemble also performs contemporary music, working frequently with the Estonian composer Arvo Pärt and including in its concerts works by John Cage, Gavin Bryars, Giya Kancheli, and Heinz Holliger.
The group was originally founded by Paul Hillier, Paul Elliott, and David James, although the membership was flexible until Hillier left in the late 1980s. Since 1990 the core members have been David James, Rogers Covey-Crump, John Potter, and Gordon Jones, with one change: in 1998 John Potter was replaced by Steven Harrold.
The Hilliard Ensemble has recorded extensively for the ECM label. In 1994, when popular interest in Gregorian chant was at its height, the ensemble released the CD Officium, an unprecedented collaboration with the Norwegian saxophonist Jan Garbarek. The disc became one of ECM's biggest-selling releases of all time, reaching the pop charts in several European countries and receiving five gold discs in sales. Officium's sequel, the 2-CD set Mnemosyne, followed in 1999. The third album, Officium Novum, was released in 2010.
In 2008, The Hilliard Ensemble premiered Heiner Goebbels' avant-garde staged concert I went to the house but did not enter at the 2008 Edinburgh International Festival, repeated at the Berliner Festspiele.
In 2009 the ensemble premiered five new works: Guido Morini's Una Iliade, Fabio Vacchi's Memoria Italiana, Steffen Schleiermacher's Die Beschwörung der Trunkenen Oase, Simon Bainbridge's Tenebrae and Wolfgang Rihm's Et Lux.
In September 2010, The Hilliard Ensemble joined the London Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir for the world premiere of Matteo D'Amico's Flight from Byzantium at the Royal Festival Hall, London. They also performed three pieces by Guillaume Dufay: Moribus et genere, Vergene bella and Lamentatio sanctae matris ecclesiae Constantinopolitanae.