What is it? This pair of smaller-scale choral concerts features the resonant and refined sounds of the Westminster Choir, the flagship ensemble of America's premier choir college.
Why see it? Director Joe Miller assumed the reins after Joseph Flummerfelt's retirement, just in time for last year's festival. Having inherited the perfect choral instrument, he's taking it in some fascinating new directions — like exploring the amazing choral boom that's now happening in the Baltic and Scandinavian nations. We'll hear glowing Shakespeare settings from Finnish phenom Jaako Mäntyjärvi, plus other juicy choral plums by the likes of Brahms, Matthew Harris, and Alfred Janson.
Who should go? Folks come here from halfway around the globe to wallow in this ultimate choral experience.
Donna Uchizono Company • Spoleto Festival USA • $32 • 1 hour 20 min. • May 30, June 1 at 7 p.m.; June 1 at 12 p.m.; June 2 at 8 p.m. • Emmett Robinson Theatre, Simons Center for the Arts, 54 St. Philip St. • (843) 579-3100
A Trip to Choral Heaven: Westminster Choir set to cast its vocal spell
Just like their colleagues in the Spoleto Festival Orchestra, the fabled singers of the Westminster Choir are among the very finest young musicians of their kind in America. Don't even think of applying to Westminster Choir College unless you've got a really special singing voice and musicality to burn. And, once there, these fabulous fledgling songsters get the best vocal training anywhere — both individually and collectively.
What's the best way to tame a big, operatic voice, you ask? Just put it in a good choir. The singer soon learns things like variety of vocal production, choral dynamics, musical teamwork and ego suppression. Given Westminster's treasury of vivid voices, the end result is an ensemble of supremely versatile singers who can put out any kind of choral sound you can name — from icy-pure whispers to window-rattling vocal thunder. When every singer in a choir is of solo quality, the choral possibilities become endless.
During most Spoletos, the choir is just about as busy as our overloaded orchestra. They join the SFO and the Charleston Symphony Chorus for Joseph Flummerfelt's annual choral-orchestral show. They also serve as the "world's finest opera chorus," with the training and ability to back up any operatic production the festival throws at them. Then, all by their glorious selves, they make the rafters ring at the Cathedral Church of St. Luke & St. Paul in two fabulous concerts that never fail to push the luminous limits of the choral art.
This pair of concerts will reflect some of the fresh vocal vistas that their director, Joe Miller, is exploring at Westminster. In his debut program last year, he introduced works by prominent composers from the Scandinavian and Baltic nations, where a heady choral renaissance is in full swing. Miller and his singers are determined to share it with us.
The program's theme is borne out by its title, The Sun Is Daily Old and New, a line from Shakespeare's "Sonnet No. 76" that serves as the text for a piece we'll be hearing from Norwegian composer Alfred Janson. Miller describes his selections as music "filled with light, darkness, and change."
Miller's Nordic bent will show — not only in Janson's number — but in Lucis Creator Optime, a sacred evensong piece by Lithuanian composer Vytautas Miškinis. It's new to me, though I've heard other great stuff from this tunesmith. The remaining modern marvels are from Georgi Dmitrov, James MacMillan, and Hayu Yudaw. We'll also sample the talent of budding composer and Westminster grad student, Nathan Jones.
Ballyhoo the newbies though I may, make no mistake: this choir remains grounded in the established classics. Along those lines, highlights will be bits of Renaissance-era splendor from English masters William Byrd and Thomas Weelkes. Then there'll be two contrasting items from Johannes Brahms, who wrote some of the late-Romantic era's richest choral music. The concert will, as usual, wrap up with an assortment of beloved folk songs and spirituals — all in spiffy modern arrangements.
It'll take only one Westminster experience to show you why choral nuts pack the Cathedral like sardines for these choice happenings — and why tickets are so hard to come by. Don't even ask if mine's for sale — no matter what the scalpers are getting. —Lindsay Koob