Danke, Leipzig A Cappella!
by Florian Städtler, roving Vocal Blog reporter
time flies and it’s been already two weeks since Germany’s most prestigious vocal music festival “Festival für Vokalmusik Leipzig – A CAPPELLA” concluded with a fantastic final concert at Leipzigs Gewandhaus. I was invited to see the opening concert by festival founders amarcord as well as VOCES8‘s Leipzig premiere with a completely secular programme and the annual family concert featuring Austrian quartet Lalá. Some might remember my audacious plan to run my first full marathon on that particular Sunday. Well, it never happened, as I caught a bad cold which kept me from running the 42.2 kms, but allowed me to join the singers at the wonderful festival lounge on Saturday night, drowning my frustration with dark beer and Pelmeni.
The 10-day festival is a marathon for its organisers and the members of amarcord, too. They attend every single concert and probably needed a little holiday after the event. I must say, that I have been to quite a few international festivals recently, but Leipzig really impressed me. This festival stretches over 10 days with 11 concerts – which means that only very few a cappella addicts can be present during the whole festival. Still the event creates a strong community feeling, based on the long-term dedication of the five amarcord members and an outstanding hospitality. A wonderful pub called “The Telegraph” becomes the official festival lounge and so there is a meeting point for artists, fans, organisers, the whole Leipzig A Cappella festival family.
This little post is also a big, big thank you to Friederike Frieler and Wolfram Lattke, who invited me to come to Leipzig and see what they have created here. One particular masterpiece is the programme book, which offers the festival traveler detailled information and inspiration via interviews with all artists featured in concerts. I’m very happy to announce that from now on, these interviews will be posted bi-weekly on Vocal Blog – to make these wonderful portraits of the following groups available to the worldwide(web) public: VOCES8 (UK), Lalá (AUT), Heinavanker (EST), Nordic Voices (NOR), Kraja (SWE), Cap Pela (ESP), John Potter & Ambrose Field (UK), Audiofeels (POL), Cadence (CAN) and amarcord (GER).
Let’s start with an interview with VOCES8′s Paul Smith. Before you read the Q&A with Paul, who is the business director and baritone of the London-based octet, enjoy the little video teaser below. It features a mysterious bottle of gin from the Black Forest presented by amarcord’s Wolfram Lattke and expertly tested by VOCES8′s soprano Andrea Haines.
(Interview no. 1 from Leipzig A Cappella programme brochure, courtesy of www.a-cappella-festival.de)
Firstly, please introduce us to your group: How and when did the group form?
We’re VOCES8, an 8 part vocal ensemble from Britain. We started off just as a group of friends who loved singing together and, after winning awards in Italy and Spain in 2005 and 2006, we decided to turn professional. Since 2007 we have been singing about 100 concerts a year all over the world, and also leading a big education programme in the UK, USA and in France. We sing music from a wide selection of genres – and we know how lucky we are to have a job doing something that we all love!
There are a lot of influential, professional vocal groups in Great Britain (some have already been our guests, too). Which influence did groups such as The King’s Singers, Hilliard Ensemble, The Swingle Singers etc. have on you?
In the UK, there is a great heritage of vocal music, and we were certainly influenced by all of these groups as we grew up – in particular the King’s Singers. We are good friends with the King’s Singers and the Swingle Singers. In creating our VOCES8 concept, we try to take inspiration from other top groups, but also create something which is new and unique. We think we perform our music with our own style and we try to build a connection with the audience that you would only find in a VOCES8 performance.
What do you consider as trademarks and typical qualities of British vocal groups?
In VOCES8, we try to create a very British sound, and wherever we go in the world, people always think we come across as being very British! As well as the sound world that we create, I think this also has something to do with our style of presentation and our own British sense of humour! When singing jazz and pop music, I think this sense of humour is very important.
Your concert in Leipzig will mainly feature songs from your album “Aces High” – jazz, swing and film music. Why did you decide to make an album with this style of music and what do you like about these songs (the most)?
Whenever we think about making an album, we want to sing music that everyone in the group loves. A central theme to the Aces High album is our James Bong medley – again, very British. We’ve paired this theme with some of our favourite jazz and swing tunes, and I think this makes for a classic a cappella album. There’s a real sense of a storyboard unfolding as you listen to the album, and we created the whole concept to flow from beginning to end – there is even a story to accompany the album in the CD notes! We are lucky to have a brilliant arranger called Jim Clements, and he wrote all of the arrangements on the album and even flew to California with us to record the album. For me, this is my personal favourite VOCES8 album, and we were thrilled when it was nominated for ‘Best Jazz Album’ at the 2011 CARA Awards in America.
Your latest release is a Christmas album, simply called “Christmas”. Please tell us something about this album and its meaning to you.
Christmas is a very special time for everyone, and with our Christmas album, we’ve tapped more into our classical choral heritage. It’s a beautiful disc of acoustic a cappella which we recorded in Cambridge this year, and as well as some well known Christmas carols, there are a number of classical pieces which members of VOCES8 have grown up singing, but which may be a little less well known to some listeners. There are two beautiful songs by a British composer living in Germany, Graham Lack, and I’m also a big fan of Nesciens Mater and the Magnificat Quinti Toni by Praetorius.
Although you’re quite young yourself, with “Voces Cantabiles Music” you quickly got involved in boosting musical activities and musical exchange especially with and between young people. How do you bring the music home to the youth and what are your goals with “Voces Cantabiles Music”?
Voces Cantabiles Music is the name of our wide foundation, and our goals in VOCES8 are to inspire the next generation of young people through music. When we founded the group, I always wanted to place education at the heart of what we do, along with our concert performances. We now work with over 25,000 young people every year in long running programmes that inspire students to be creative, develop their musical abilities and learn how to work together in teams. Making music is such a wonderful way to learn, and all of the members in VOCES8 were lucky to have amazing opportunities and scholarships as we grew up. We love working and singing with young people, and want to give young people opportunities to fall in love with singing, and to explore how they can achieve their goals by working hard and dedicating themselves to whatever passions they have.
The members of VOCES8 all enjoyed a many-sided musical education in choirs, college, musical productions etc. Is Great Britain (still) a fertile ground for young singers or is the support of projects like “Voces Cantabiles Music” needed in most areas?
I think there are still many good places to study music in the UK, but, as with every country we have ever visited, there are also many students who don’t have opportunities – either because of the education system, because of social situations or because young people aren’t aware of opportunities around them. We find that there are always more projects we would like to be doing, but, with just a small team of singers, we do everything we can to help people. We have started a second a cappella group called Apollo5 to help with this aim. We want to share our ideas with as many people as possible.
What do you associate with Leipzig? What do you expect from the city and the Festival of Vocal Music A CAPPELLA?
We were thrilled to record the Motets of JS Bach in 2010, and this is certainly something we associate with Leipzig! One of my personal highlights in VOCES8 was singing the Motets from memory (in VOCES8, we sing most of our music from memory!) to a German audience at a Bach Festival. There is such a strong heritage of outstanding music in Germany, and we are looking forward to spending more time in Germany in 2012 than we have in our previous years as a group. I hope that the people of Leipzig will embrace the a cappella festival, and we are certainly looking forward to coming to the beautiful city of Leipzig, sharing our music with people who love a cappella and enjoying meeting lots of people and spending time getting to make new friends.
Is there some kind of ritual before going on stage, which is indispensable for your ensemble?
Every night before we go on stage we stand in our ‘circle of love’! This happens after our personal warm up and just before we go on stage. Each member of VOCES8 is able to make one point to the whole group for the concert that is about to happen, and we take the moment to focus our minds and prepare as a team for the stage. It’s a little ritual we have now done in about 500 concerts together!
When your ensemble prepares a characteristic British meal together, what will there be as food and drinks? Could you perhaps tell us the recipe?
As we spend so much time on tour, we eat a lot of meals together, and we are about to spend 2 month in the USA on tour, so we will be trying not to eat too many hamburgers! Lots of members of VOCES8 like to cook, and Andrea (one of our sopranos) often brings delicious cakes to our rehearsals.
For drinks and a meal though, I think many of us would start with a very nice gin and tonic and some appetisers. I like to cook a traditional roast dinner – a lovely roast chicken is delicious. The key is to stuff the chicken with juicy lemon and lots of garlic, to use a generous quantity of herbs and seasoning, and to roast potatoes and vegetables. Roasted leeks, parsnips, carrots, sweet potatoes and lots of roasted garlic! Then, make sure the potatoes are beautifully crunchy, but soft on the inside. For the gravy, use the juice from the meat (with chicken – properly cooked through) as a base and also mix in the scrapings from the roasted vegetable dish to get lots of extra flavour! Wash this down with a wine of your choice (I would choose a nice glass of Chablis for this dish!). Follow this up with a sticky toffee pudding for dessert, and then with cheese and port to finish. In VOCES8, we love a very tasty meal together!!
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