VocalEssence performs 'Light In The Shadows'

by John Birge, Minnesota Public Radio
April 7, 2009

VocalEssence and the St. Olaf Choir perform the Berlioz Te Deum at the Cathedral of St. Paul.

St. Paul, Minn. — Before the light of Easter comes a time of darkness and shadow.

The voices of VocalEssence and the St. Olaf Choir glow like candles in the evening dark, singing sacred choral music that brings you the deep mystery of this spiritual season.

The most anticipated work in this sold-out concert at the Cathedral of St. Paul was the rare opportunity to hear the Berlioz "Te Deum," which requires an enormous chorus, an orchestra including 12 harps, plus organ, and a cathedral acoustic large enough to do it justice.

The first performance had almost 1,000 performers, including a 600-voice children's choir.

Berlioz himself called it "apocalyptic." Berlioz envisioned the orchestra in the central position in a large church, with the pipe organ placed opposite, at the far end of the church. The two choirs were placed in the north and south transepts of the church, like the four compass points.

Part of what makes the Berlioz "Te Deum" unique is that it's almost architectural. You could perform it in a concert hall, but it needs to be heard in a cathedral.

It was first performed in 1855 at the Church of St-Eustache, Paris. This performance takes advantage of the soaring space and eight-second reverberation of the Cathedral of St. Paul.

With a sold-out audience on hand, there wasn't a spare square inch of room left at the Cathedral. Likewise, the Te Deum exceeded the boundaries of our one-hour broadcast. But you can hear the complete performance here by clicking on "Berlioz Te Deum."

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