Red Byrd is certainly among the most unusual ensembles before the public today: at its core are two singers, a tenor and bass, who typically engage the services of other vocalists or choral groups, and/or employ the accompaniment of various instrumentalists or instrumental ensembles. It has performed much early music repertory both in concert, including festival appearances, and on recordings. However, to categorize Red Byrd as an early music group would be a half-truth, for while its programs have featured music by Leoninus (Léonin), Thomas Ravenscroft, Monteverdi, Purcell, Byrd, Bull, Morley, Gibbons, and Dowland, it has also presented works by Frank Martin, Ivan Moody, Roger Marsh, John Paul Jones, and other modern or contemporary composers. Indeed, and often its concerts mix both the old and new. Red Byrd has appeared on BBC Radio 3 broadcasts and concertized across the U.K., Europe, Canada, and the U.S. It has made numerous recordings for such labels as Naxos, Hyperion, and Virgin Classics.
Red Byrd was established in 1989 by English singers John Potter (tenor) and Richard Wistreich (bass). Potter sang for 17 years with the famed Hilliard Ensemble and Wistreich is well known for his appearances with the Taverner Consort, Academy of Ancient Music, and other early music ensembles.
Red Byrd debuted at the 1989 Musikfest Bremen and the following year made a cameo appearance on a Virgin Classics disc, Cries and Fancies, with the early music group Fretwork. Red Byrd enjoyed a successful tour of the U.K. in the 1990-1991 season and gained further notice with a second Virgin Classics disc, Joyne Hands (1991), a collection of early music vocal works where it performed on multiple tracks.
Red Byrd premiered Ivan Moody's Passion and Resurrection at the 1993 Tampere International Choir Festival in Finland, with the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir. Red Byrd then recorded the work to great acclaim with the Cappella Amsterdam on a 1997 Hyperion disc.
Red Byrd's success in the recording studio continued when its 1998 CD Magister Leoninus was named medieval music disc of the year by the prestigious French magazine Diapason and given a recording of the year award by BBC Music Magazine.
In the new century Red Byrd remained busy both in concert and on recording. A 2007 recording premiere of Roger Marsh's Pierrot Lunaire, on the NMC label, drew high praise from critics. Red Byrd's acclaimed second volume of Leoninus works, Sacred Music from 12th Century Paris, was reissued in 2010 by Helios.