Present Music gives thanks for choral music

The ever-popular Thanksgiving concert features choral works by Caroline Shaw and the debut of a new Present Music choral ensemble, Hearing Music.

By - Nov 22nd, 2013 10:32 am
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The new Present Music vocal ensemble - Hearing Voices. Credit: Angela Morgan

The new Present Music vocal ensemble – Hearing Voices. Credit: Angela Morgan

In a world of ever-changing contemporary music, artistic director Kevin Stalheim has been a constant for Present Music. Audiences have come to value his judgement as he discovers cutting-edge compositions and packages them in ever interesting ways. Programs revolve around themes, but offer enough variety to charm all who attend.

Another constant has been the special character of the annual Thanksgiving concert – a “tradition” within the changing scene. This Sunday afternoon at 4:00 p.m. at the St. John’s Cathedral, Present Music will offer its 20th Thanksgiving event. Key elements remain the same – a community celebration fit for families, religious and secular observations of thanks, and a diverse collection of performing groups. The venue, although not original to the celebration, now plays an important role as well – a transcendental space whose acoustics have been a favorite “instrument” for Stalheim’s choice of music.

Within a traditional framework – songs by the Bucks Native American Singing and Drumming Group with communal singing and dancing – new themes are explored. Losing a frequent partner in these concerts – the Milwaukee Choral Artists – Stalheim chose to create a new choral ensemble. Hearing Voices, initially composed of four men and four women, will focus on the skills required by contemporary composers – varieties of vocalization, complex or even random rhythms and other new explorations of choral sound.

When a contemporary choral composer, Caroline Shaw, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for music in early 2013, the theme was set. This Thanksgiving concert will celebrate choral music. Several of Shaw’s works will be featured including an extract of the larger work that won her the Pulitzer, Partita for 8 voices. Shaw’s music can sound traditionally harmonious, then break suddenly with tradition to introduce vocal techniques that change the pacing and texture of a work. Most works feature a rich a cappella sound.

Caroline Shaw - composer, violinist, vocalist. Credit: Dashon Burton

Caroline Shaw – composer, violinist, vocalist. Credit: Dashon Burton

Caroline Shaw has been writing and performing with an avant grade New York choral group – Roomful of Teeth. They have been trained in techniques such as Tuvan throat singing, yodeling, belting, Inuit throat singing, Korean P’ansori, Georgian singing and Sardinian cantu a tenore styles. Shaw incorporates some of these techniques into her compositions. A recent concert featuring her compositions may be streamed online. Shaw has also written chamber works for the American Contemporary Music Ensemble where she plays violin. She will give a pre-concert talk at 4 p.m.

The concert will also feature a choral work for 40 voices inspired by a timeless Renaissance work Thomas Tallis’ Spem in alium. David Lang drew inspiration from Tallis’ work but has adapted the text and the musical texture of I Never to his minimalist tastes.  Lang has written, “Imagine how much more useful Tallis’ beautiful text could be if it underlined that one’s humility before God should lead us to be humble before everyone else as well. Being an individual in a larger, interdependent community is the central structural message of Tallis’ forty voices.” Lang also won a Pulitzer (in 2008) and co-founded another contemporary fixture on the East Coast scene – the Bang on a Can Ensemble. (Tallis’ work will not be a part of the performance.)

To manage the variety of choral experiences, Hearing Voices will be joined by choirs and singers from Arrowhead High School, Milwaukee Opera Theatre, Pius XI High School and Voces Punica from Carthage College.

Visit the Present Music website for further information or to buy tickets. This always popular concert may sell out.

Categories: Classical, Music

0 thoughts on “Present Music gives thanks for choral music”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Thanks to free tickets I won from Third Coast Daily, a friend and I attended Present Music’s Thanksgiving at St. John The Evangelist (which was an amazing post-modern church with a Christ and HUGE crown-of-thorns above him above a black-and-white marble altar, gigantic columns, a massive pipe organ and stained-glassed windows that weren’t visible because this took place after dark, and portraits of church dignities high up in the rafters). Caroline Shaws’ work (she’s the youngest person to have received a Pulitizer Prize in Music and sings with A Roomful Of Teeth in New York), was poetic and simplified so that all could understand and free-associate and identify with their own lives. The concert began and ended with Native Americans drumming on a large ceremonial drum near the marble altar, and the addition of an 8-pieces vocal group for Present Music, Hearing Voices, plus local professional and high school choirs was a great move, the voices once again helping us celebrate Thanksgiving and giving us a point of reference and identification. The talk beforehand (where Caroline Shaw was asked questions) in the Atrium was informative and made us realize she too cared about her friends (as we do) who sing and play music with her. All in all it was an amazing experience and the audience was invited to dance at the final drumming, holding hands and circling the oval of the church – I participated, and later, when leaving, could tell from the conversations of others around me that they had been very moved by the entire experience! Thank you for the tickets, too, Third Coast Daily!

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