I’m very pleased to say that our upper-voice chamber choir, Minerva Voices, has risen from the ashes like a phoenix this year, and is currently rehearsing ahead of a concert in March.
Minerva Voices at the University of Kent
Following on from auditions at the start of term, the upper-voice choir comprises undergraduate and post-graduate singers, and this year is working on some wonderfully colourful repertoire, including a new piece by Russell Hepplewhite, which is part of an anthology recently published by OUP, As You Sing. Russell’s piece, Fly away, over the sea, is a gorgeously-flowing setting of a poem by Christina Rossetti, and the choir has already begun working on it as part of its programme for March. The concert will also include the evocative Tundra by Ola Gjeilo, and movements from Vivaldi’s enduringly fresh-faced Gloria, in an arrangement which reflects how the work might originally have been performed at the orphanage in Venice, where Vivaldi was working at the time, for which the choir will be joined by members of the String Sinfonia.
There’s a particularly wonderful homogeneity to a choir of women’s voices, and the concert will reflect the different colours which various composers distil from the ensemble. You can come and hear the results for yourself on Weds 13 March, 2019, when Minerva Voices takes to the stage in the concert-hall for what promises to be a ravishing programme of choral music…
Minerva Voices and Consort came together for the first time last night, to rehearse Vivaldi’s enduringly popular Gloria ahead of Friday’s performance in Canterbury Cathedral’s evocative Crypt.
The overriding intent behind the performance is to ‘make it new,’ to make the piece sound as modern as possible. Now, before all you historically-informed authenticity-types run shrieking from the room, I should perhaps qualify that statement: the idea is to present the piece in such as way as to make the audience feel as though it is new. The Gloria is so well known, our idea is to make the listener hear it afresh – they might not have heard the upper-voices version, which may well have been familiar to audiences during Vivaldi’s lifetime, or they might have forgotten just how shockingly dissonant the second movement is, or how Vivaldi tries to trip you up rhythmically at various points; there’s the tension between the solo alto and the chorus in the Domine Deus, Agnus Dei which creates moments of high drama, or the sudden weightlessness as the alto enters poised on the brink of nothingness; or the dynamic drive of the Domine Fili unigenite and the light-footed, darting rhythms in the Qui sedes. We want the listener to discover new aspects to the piece, or remember its fiercely inventive qualities, that may have paled over the years of familiarity with it.
Last night was spent, therefore, making the piece sound as vital, as alive and challenging as possible. From the brilliant opening cry of the chorus, through the pastoral intimacy of the central Domine Deus to the fervent finale, we built a revitalised reading of Vivaldi’s masterpiece, which we will unleash in the Crypt this coming Friday. Combined with the exploratory first half – choral pieces across the centuries, from Hildegard von Bingen to Veljo Tormis – the concert promises to be something quite special.
The next time the Choir sings, it will be in the historic, mystical surroundings of the Crypt; we’re very excited at the prospect. See you there…
With the start of the new academic year, it’s an exciting time to be launching our new vocal ensemble, Minerva Voices.
An auditioned group of twelve female singers, the ensemble began rehearsing last week ahead of a busy schedule of commitments this year, which includes performing in the University Carol Service in December and in the Crypt of Canterbury Cathedral in February. The repertoire the choir will be building ranges from the medieval mysticism of Hildegard von Bingen to contemporary works, via the radiant glory of Vivaldi’s Gloria in the upper-voice incarnation not often heard, but most likely to have been performed in Venice at the Ospedale della Pietà at which Vivaldi worked.
Members of the Choir include Music Scholars, returning second-year students and fresh-faced first years; our first two rehearsals have looked at music by Hildegard, Brahms, Tartini, Chilcott and the first two movements of the Vivaldi already. As I explained to the choir, repertoire will come at them fairly swiftly over the first few weeks, in order for them to grasp the musical geography and scope of this year’s programme; it can be daunting to be sight-reading so much music from the start, but the rapid turnover means people will (hopefully) find something that they like amongst the music, at least!
This year’s assistant student conductor is third-year Music Scholar, Joe Prescott, seen here in action leading the warm-up session last night in typical charismatic fashion. It’s been a dizzying start to the choral year for the choir so far, but we’re looking forward to the year ahead. We’ll be following the group’s progress over the year here on the blog, and look forward to sharing the highs and lows of our choral year with you through rehearsal to performance.