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Classical Notes: January 18, 2009 Archive

VocalEssence in the UK: Day 1 - Oxford

Posted at 11:10 AM on January 18, 2009 by John Birge

Greetings from England, and the VocalEssence 40th anniversary tour, which began with a performance in Oxford last night.
It was an evening marked by warm feelings - and cold toes! The University Church of St. Mary the Virgin is, like many old English churches, cold and damp, and the singers aren't accustomed to getting numb toes during a concert (more than one singer said they did!). But the lack of modern central heat is more than compensated for by its splendid acoustics, and visual beauty.

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For its tour of England, VocalEssence won't take coals to Newcastle; they're singing American choral masterpieces. But the Oxford concert included one surprise addition.
Composer (and ex-King's Singer) Bob Chilcott lives near Oxford, and came to the concert to visit old Minnesota friends. What Bob did not know was that conductor Philip Brunelle added one of Bob's pieces to the concert, announcing it from the stage, and inviting Bob to the stage to read the text. The piece was one that Bob Chilcott wrote last month for Philip's choir at Plymouth Congregational Church., so this was the English premiere! Bob was thrilled, and beaming!

Apart from the concert, there were the delights of Oxford, including VocalEssence concert posters all around town, in every shop, cafe, and outside the church where the concert took place, of course:

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And, of course, for Harry Potter fans -- and the crowds confirm they're here by the zillions, welcome to Hogwarts (aka Christ Church College dining hall):

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For many more tour photos, check out the VocalEssence photo stream, and for the singer's inside track, the VocalEssence tour blog. And be sure to tune in to Classical Minnesota Public Radio on Tuesday evening at 8pm for the special Inauguration Day concert from St. John's, Smith Square in London.

VocalEssence in the UK: Day 2 - Birmingham

Posted at 6:13 PM on January 18, 2009 by John Birge

A morning drive from Oxford brings the VocalEssence tour to Birmingham for a quick lunch, dress rehearsal, and 3pm concert at Birmingham's Town Hall:

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This hall just underwent a first-class renovation, adding subtle modern acoustical touches, while restoring the feeling Mendelssohn must've had when he was the first person to play the magnificent organ:

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Mendelssohn's Elijah was premiered here, as was Elgar's oratorio "The Dream of Gerontius," which received its Midwest premiere by VocalEssence some years ago). While in Oxford, composer and former King's Singer Bob Chilcott said Town Hall is now one of the premiere concert destinations in England, especially for choral music. From the dress rehearsal:

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Here, the Ensemble Singers sound wonderful; all the way to the back row, powerful and precise. And those descriptors aren't mine. They were used by a chap I spoke with over coffee during "the interval" (as it's called in England). He's a singer in the City of Birmingham Symphony Chorus. He said their director had recommended the VocalEssence concert to his Birmingham choristers as a chance to hear one of the outstanding vocal groups in America, with a bigger, more versatile sound, and a bolder attitude. And he loved the all-American repertoire, a rarity here.

Next, on to London for Day 3. No public concert scheduled, but VocalEssence performs, and Philip Brunelle will be interviewed on BBC Radio 3's "In Tune" program, which is a live music and arts magazine heard by millions all over England. And be sure to tune in to Classical Minnesota Public Radio on Tuesday evening at 8pm for the special VocalEssence Inauguration Day concert from St. John's, Smith Square in London.

For many more tour photos, check out the VocalEssence photo stream, and for the singer's inside track, the VocalEssence tour blog.