Historically informed, early music performances, juxtaposed with dramatic, contemporary staging and theatrics are the hallmarks of eX. Often controversial and always exciting, eX creates virtuosic, cutting edge performances of music from 11th to 18th century .
Founded in 2006, eX is an Irish based Early Music performance ensemble that focuses on innovative and virtuosic performances of music from the 11th -18th century.
Devoted to bringing new dimensions to the presentation and enjoyment of early music, eX works with veteran and up and coming cutting edge directors, choreographers, filmmakers, visual artists and designers to conceive and create performances that move beyond the traditional concert experience.
eX was founded by the BMG, EMI recording artist Caitríona O'Leary. Working with the innovative, exceptionally creative director, Eric Fraad, a number of intellectually stimulating productions have been devised – productions that never compromise the performance of the original music but enhance the overall experience by adding a visual layer.
In 2006 eX presented its first full scale production, Ex Tenebris, an original performance piece Directed by Eric Fraad and Choreographed by Rex Levitates’ Liz Roche. Ex Tenebris juxtaposed contemporary dance with medieval and renaissance music in a mystical ceremony that explored the metaphors and mysteries of light and darkness central to the ancient celebrations of Christmas and the Winter solstice.
In April 2007 eX, performed Christ Lag In Todes Banden, a fully staged production celebrating the 300th anniversary of the premiere of Bach’s first cantata. Presented in two parts, Part One looked back one thousand years to the sources that inspired the creation of the cantata while Part Two featured an hallucinatory staging of the work considered Bach’s first sacred vocal composition. This work was performed at the Regensburg Early Music Festival in Germany in June 2011. The German early music magazine Toccata wrote of this production “… this production was a sensation.”
A baroque spectacle staging of Alexander Pope’s 1714 poem The Rape of the Lock, juxtaposed with some of Handel’s Italian duets was presented by ensemble eX in July 2008. Early music authority Christopher Hogwood was music advisor and the show was conceived and directed by Eric Fraad.
In 2009 eX performed two completely new projects; Shipwrecked, 16 century music from Spain and Ireland based around the time of the Spanish Armada and Motion of the Heart, based on music of the 18 century. In May 2010, eX created Possessed, an exploration of the ancient and universal phenomenon of possession through music and dance – ranging from the music of Hildegard von Bingen to Brazilian music of the 17 century. This project was created for the Galway Early Music Festival.
In October 2011 eX toured Shipwrecked to four venues in Ireland and in June 2012, toured Possessed to four Irish venues both with the financial assistance of the Irish Arts Council.
Possessed (Heresy 0012)
"These performances are consistently good, whether they're bald fragments of medieval music or an extract from Vincent Youmans's soundtrack to the 1933 film Flying Down to Rio, notable for being the first screen pairing of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. What links the numbers is their potency. Some of these pieces might induce trance-like states, and others will have listeners' fingers and feet tapping involuntarily. Caitriona Leary's bold, clear vocals are a recurring pleasure, never grating even when she's singing at full throttle. She's nicely accompanied too, the ensemble dominated by guitars, viols and percussion.
There are brief numbers from Dufay and Hildegard von Bingen. The anonymous melody used to accompany the 14th century La Ditie de Jehanne d'Arc is given extra colour by a battery of rattling percussion, and a stark setting of a poem by Santa Teresa de Ávila features a ravishing guitar backing. But you suspect that this lot really want to have fun, and the faster numbers are compelling. O Deusa Dos Orixas is a beguiling samba, and O'Leary's own Celtic-tinged Spellsong sustains its 7/8 rhythms brilliantly. There's a strutting Fandango by Santiago de Murcia. Three tarantellas sparkle, before the Youmans closes proceedings with a smile. Can we have an accompanying DVD?"
Graham Rickson, The Arts Desk, Jan 2014
"The Irish-American record producer Eric Fraad is courageous. On this CD he makes the Dublin-based early-music ensemble, eX, handle the musical tools of exorcists from Europe and South America and from the Middle Ages to the Baroque period. These songs and dances are intended to protect one against various types of possession - but that of course is a lie: For the singer Caitriona O'Leary drives the listener to lose control! Adrenalin pumping rhythms alternate with moments of pure meditation before the sweet song of the Siren once again turns our heads. A CD with a high addiction factor –so no one should say, they have not been warned!"
Winifried Dulisch, Stereoplay Magazine, Jan 2014
"eX investigates the subject of possession in music with much wit and slyness, the booklet is nicely illustrated and Sigmund Freud of course must not be missing here. The combination of musical styles is a success you can hear Latin American sounds as well as the Tarantella, Athanasius Kircher, Santiago de Murcia, Guillaume Dufay, Hildegard of Bingen and many others. Where does possession end and where in the eyes of Western Christian mysticism does the experience of God begin?: " Fides piorum credit . Non discutit "says Bernard of Clairvaux , the pious crusade preacher ( The pious do not discuss faith, they believe). Both the idea for this recording and its execution are captivating. It was high time to trace this strange chapter of the human race in music!"
>Robert Stobl, Toccata Alte Musik Aktuelle, Jan 2014
"Possessed" is the name of the album – listen to this. And look at the fascinating charismatic singer Caitriona O'Leary with her angelic and ethereal voice. Founded in 2006, the passionate Irish ensemble eX is obsessed with the idea of interpreting the part-staged repertoire of the 11th to 18 Century as a work of art for all the senses. "Possession" is the topic this time. In all its bizarre, delusional forms...the “witch” who was hanged in 1688 in Boston, to the initiation rites of the Afro-Brazilian Candomble and the southern Italian Tarantism, the folklore of the Tarantula bite that triggered wild mania for dancing Dances, songs and improvisations – uniquely assembled and performed by O'Leary and colleagues here – evoke gods and spirits. And go into a trance. Excitingly different!
CRESCENDO, Oct 13
Possessed at the Hugh Lane Gallery, Dublin, June 2012
Possessed was a great pleasure in many ways, The music was of the highest international standard with some beautiful singing and most infectious instrumental playing. The incorporation of drama and dance was most unusual but never too contrived and the overall staging and presentation a delight. This show deserves to be performed widely – it got a standing ovation from a Dublin audience. I greatly look forward to eX’s next imaginative production. Early music of this sort has such a strong immediate appeal and eX is the only Irish based group to present it – and to such a very high standard.
Tim Thurston, Presenter of Gloria on RTÉ lyric fm
In Possessed eX combined music, dance and theatre in a hugely inventive and intelligent way - yet never once was entertainment pushed onto a back seat. Congrats again on a great show and do keep me informed on future shows.
Sean Rocks, Presenter of Arena on RTÉ Radio 1
Ensemble eX’s Possessed was a tour de force - instrumental and vocal brilliance combined with dance and theatre to extra-ordinary effect.
The Works on RTÉ TV
Shipwrecked at the Pavilion, Dun Laoire 2011
It made for excellent entertainment with some very fine musical sequences … It could delight many future audiences…
Opera (magazine) Feb 2012
Shipwrecked at Belfast Festival 2011
It (Shipwrecked) effortlessly sweeps you up, but as with any dream, no description can do it full justice. eX have created a unique experience. So much so that we were tempted, like Francisco's chieftain host, to detain them to play for us forever and ever...
Culture Northern Ireland October 2011
Christ lag in Todesbanden at Regensburg Early Music Festival June 2011
In this context, where even during the performance I was deeply moved and spurred to reflect on my own mortality, this production was a sensation. The fervid discussions were then simply confirmation of this, a brilliant transformation in Sound and Image.
Tocatta June 2011
Motion of the Heart
…this project was fashioned after a seventeenth-century masque, which originally glorified a monarch or some other high worthy. The director [Eric Fraad] explained that this form of entertainment fell into obscurity after Charles I lost his head, adding: “we’re bringing it back”. Some might argue that the masque is no more because its better known siblings (the opera, oratorio and ballet) have stood the test of time – but it was interesting and exciting nonetheless, to experience such a rarefied entertainment with top-notch singers and actors and production values (including opulent period costumes).
John White, Irish Theatre Magazine 11.12.2009
They’ve turned this relic of royal image-making into a four-sided study of the human heart that glorifies its romantic, anatomical, sacred and aesthetic aspects.
As in the masques of old, there’s a free juxtaposition of song, dance, spoken word and instrumental music. It’s pit together with a magpie’s eye for variety by eX’s joint artistic director, Eric Fraad, in collaboration with author Louisa Young.
There are sumptuous period costumes by Alessio Rosati, and a consort of viols is under the direction of continuo sage Erin Headley.
Andrew Johnstone, Irish Times 09.12.2009
...the music could hardly have been more passionately played and the singers delighted—especially Caitriona O’Leary’s early music soprano and genre-defying vocalist/guitarist Clara Sanabras—the costumes of Alessio Rosati nearly stole the show. Especially the historical replicas of the costumes of Queen Elizabeth and Philip II were masterpieces.
Jens F. Laurson, Playbill Arts 8 October 2009
Interspersed throughout the engaging story was music from the 16th century, played by a line up of superb musicians from Germany, America, Spain and Italy and Ireland. The costumes, by Italian period designer Alessio Rosati were highly effective in the setting of the Great Hall of Kilmainham, and brought us back four centuries. It was very satisfying to see the enthusiastic audience, who gave a prolonged standing ovation at the end of the spectacle.
Michael Collins, Catholic Standard, October 2009
Songs from a Gothic Room
I had the privilege of attending the performance of Ars Subtilior music given by eX in the National Gallery, Dublin, on the 23rd of October  last.
Having always described this genre of music as 'complex to the point of bristling' I found myself contradicted by a performance that glided over the counterpoint's famous difficulty and revealed a capacity for direct communication that forces me to rewrite my lecture notes. Where I expected pungency I found beauty; out of the strong came forth sweetness. This is a very persuasive ensemble, with a particularly compelling voice in Caitríona O'Leary.
Possessed by eX Ensemble
Internationally acclaimed early music ensemble eX presents Possessed, a musical journey through the mysterious world of possession. Featuring medieval, renaissance, baroque and traditional music, Possessed explores Christian ecstatic trance as experienced by Hildegaard von Bingen, Teresa of Avila and Joan of Arc, demonic possession of the Salem witches, initiation rites of the Afro-Brazilian Condomblé and a musical exorcism performed to the wild rhythms of the Tarantella.
"Both the idea for this recording and its execution are captivating. It was high time to trace this strange chapter of the human race in music!"
Robert Stobl, Toccata Alte Musik Aktuell
"Adrenalin pumping rhythms alternate with moments of pure meditation before the sweet song of the Siren once again turns our heads. A CD with a high addiction factor –so no one should say, they have not been warned!"
Winifried Dulisch, Stereoplay Magazine
"Not for the pure of heart. eX's Possessed is a tour de force of instrumental and vocal brilliance..."
Laurence Vittes, Huffington Post
"The music was of the highest international standard with beautiful singing and most infectious instrumental playing...early music of this sort has such a strong immediate appeal and eX is the only Irish-based group to present it - and to such a very high standard."
Tim Thurston, Lyric fm
"The singing and instrumental playing are very fine and the whole of Possessed has a certain infectiously endearing quality"
Shipwrecked by eX Ensemble
"Shipwrecked is one of those rare albums that boldly defy easy classification. Originally conceived by noted opera and theatre director Eric Fraad as a stage production, Shipwrecked chronicles the 16th century Spanish sea captain Francisco de Cuellar's attempts to return to Spain after being shipwrecked on the coast of Ireland...[featuring] Irish tradition tunes, English and Spanish court dances as well as sacred music by Cristobal de Morales and Tomas Luis de Victoria.
Plucked and bowed instruments dominate many of the instrumental works and the players smoke in these lively Spanish, English and Irish dances. The intersecting worlds of the Spanish, English and irish music is fascinating particularly when tunes like "The Hay" and the spicy "Yo me soy la Morenica" blend. O'Leary has also colourfully arranged music from the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book and Irish dance collections, The performances all have an improvisatory flavor. The interpolation of sacred works by morales and Victoria are dramatic masterstrokes and the singing of O'Leary, Clara Samabras and Juan Sancho has a spare dreamy quality. Shipwrecked has something to offer fans of many genres, whether it's early or traditional music." Craig Zeichner, April 2012
"Shipwrecked, an album featuring the Irish early music ensemble eX, defies easy definition. on a purely musical level it can be enjoyed as a collection of late Renaissance vocal and instrumental music from a seemingly unrelated assortment of traditions, including Spanish, English, Irish and Gaelic, performed with irresistible exuberance and vibrancy. The album is actually the original cast recording of what director Eric Fraad describes as a 'strange postmodernist event' that 'brings the Renaissance together with a really contemporary sensibility of theatre', first presented at the Dublin Festival in 2011..The musical selections presented here are fabulously satisfying in themselves. The score was put together with scrupulous attention to historical detail by musicologist and singer Caitriona O'Leary, teh founder of eX, and is wonderfully and unpredictably varied. o'Leary, whose soprano is supple and radiant, is the most prominent soloist, but the entire ensemble performs with focussed musicality and can encompass precision and uninhibited earthiness; every track vibrates with energy and life. The sound is clean, intimate and nicely ambient. Highly recommended for any fan of early music." - Steven Eddins, Rovi, April 2012