Saturday, February 04, 2006

"Like Church Organs-Massive Sound-Perfect in Pitch"


You'll be interested to read this article by Alfred Adler, who attended the Tours competition last May. Some very nice things said about us!


Tours, in France: a nice, quite and provincial town in the vicinity of the famous castles along the river Loire. Every year between May and June, The Florilège Vocal, an international amateur choir contest is being held during five stressful days. Suddenly, several thousands of singers and listeners change Tours completely into a sizzling place where in restaurants, cafés or just in the street your hear people discuss in English, German, Spanish, several Scandinavian languages, Russian, Turkish and conversation in different Baltic tongues.

This 34th. Festival and competition is again the proof that only the best choirs and ensembles in the world compete here after a severe selection and the twelve remaining ensembles (mixed choirs, female or male choirs) perform in the old theatre in the centre of town in front of an international jury (from Hungary, USA, Italy, France, Bulgaria, Norway and Germany)

The Florilège Vocal of Tours has links with other European Festivals, such as in Gorizia and Arezzo (Italy), Debrecen (Hungary), Tolosa (Spain) and Varna (Bulgaria).

Every other year the winners of the different Festivals stride for the ‘Grand Prix Europeen’, which is like a world championship for Vocal Art to be held in one of the named countries.

Music lovers have had terrific pleasure in listening to the mixed choir of The University of Utah Singers based in Salt Lake City, directed by their brilliant conductor Dr. Brady Allred in a breath taking neck to neck race against the mixed chorus of The University of Alabama Concert Choir, directed by the gifted Philip Copeland.

(Hmm . . . I'd have preferred to be the brilliant one . . . I guess he gets to be brilliant since his choir won the competition)

Each ensemble counted approximately 35 choristers. Both of them proposing rather contemporary lovely written 20th century music. These two choirs sounded like church organs, massive sound, perfect in pitch, strong rhythms, well trained voices and one could wonder whether there are still differences between the professional and the amateur world as the gap between them narrows more and more.

(Now, that is an excellent compliment, wouldn't you agree? Massive sound! Perfect pitch! Hardly a difference between professional and amateur!)

Apart from Grieg and Poulenc (much to the joy of the French listeners), Salt Lake City also did a special program in Renaissance music, and we were astonished to feel their difference in approach and specific Renaissance style, voicing with perfect pianissimi for that relative huge mass of singers.

(I have the feeling that participation in the Renaissance part of the competition would have helped our chances overall. I'm making note of that for the next competition.)

The University of Alabama Concert Choir vocalized a romantic Schubert, a religious deeply believed Schütz (16th century) and a refined Mendelssohn. It seemed rather manifest that aside from the high concentration of the singers in front of conductor Philip Copeland, they showed genuine singing pleasure and plain-spoken contact with the audience

(An isolation of our German works--romantic, religiously believed, and refined. How wonderful to be described that way.)


A serious competitor for the Americans was the male German choir of Regensburg, the Renner Ensemble, who, in their category, got the well earned first prize. Sixteen male singers with warm rock solid voices, very well under control of their chief conductor Jörg Genslein, a musician trained as a singer and choir director. Their sound is absolutely incomparable with the other groups and nearing perfection. German tradition in church is singing and also besides church, there is lots of profane singing done which is in culture and the history of the German people.

The programme sung in Tours was very varied: Gabrieli (16th Century), Richard Strauss (19/20th Century), Schubert, Poulenc, and some contemporary composers, amongst others Ligeti. As a vocal ensemble they were chosen by the public to also earn the so called ‘prix du public’.

Nevertheless, the two other German choirs did also a very good job: the Kammerchor Kurfürst-Friedrich from Heidelberg directed by Werner Glöggler, and the Deutsche Jugendkammerchor of Landsberg, directed by the energetic Karl Zepnik.

They got no prizes, but both their musical level was that high, that we can’t call them losers, but there was simply no room for more choirs at the very top level.

The performance of the Chamber Choir of the University of Americas in Puebla, Mexico, directed by Gisela Crespo was a shocking one. Apart from the fact that this small vocal ensemble (mixed voices) had the most beautiful female singers, the sound was very surprising. A perfect pitch, very homogenised, a delightful sound, smiling choristers, and a direct contact with the public. All of the members are students at the Universidad de las Américas. Their special Renaissance programme of de Lassus and de Victoria was superb and apart from that, the contemporary latin American music occupied an important place in the repertoire. It is no wonder that jury and public unanimously decerned them the 2nd prize in the mixed vocal section, as well as the prize of the University François Rabelais. Much honour to their beloved leader and choir director Gisela Crespo who worked very hard to get these results in fou years time, as the choir was founded in 2001.

Another unexpected surprise was the presence of Ankara, Turkey. The ‘Ankapella’, mixed vocal ensemble under the direction of Mrs. Ahter Destan getting away with the 1st prize in the category mixed vocal groups.

A wide repertoire, ranging from 16th. Century to contemporary Russian music, sung by students of the Ankara University, with a bright, clear and direct sound production, musically very enjoyable, fresh singing with enjoyment and homogeneity, perfect pitch, and very rhythmical. Ahter Destan did a remarkable job with these young people. The public loved them even more because they improvised at the end of the competition a song together with the Mexicans of the University of Americas and the two choirs mixed together. That ‘cocktail’ was a very emotive one, lots of acclaim of the public and proving that friendship can be created through the universal stream of Music.

The Moldavian Choir of Chisinau named ‘Renaissance’, a sheer female group, got the 2nd. prize in the category Equal Voices, directed by Oxana Filip. A sound group of students all of them being future choir conductors and students of the Moldavian State University of Arts. The idea behind this group is that choir conductors will benefit –on long or short term- of their activity as choir singers and in this practical way will know exactly what difficulties there may be with choirs they will lead in the future. A sympathetic group of well singing young professionals which was respected by the jury, granting them this prize.

Present at the competition two British groups: The Oxford Pro Musica singers directed by the very refined Michael Smedley with his mixed ensemble of good and naturally singing musicians. There again, the result of a singing history from early age starting at nursery school until university ! Lots of singing during liturgical services in church. They have a typical British sound, well trained and relaxed singers of mixed ages (they run from young adults to middle age choristers) lovely presentation, a group with a lot of experience and now several cd’s recorded by them of Tavener, Chilcott, Rutter and other contemporary composers. No prize for them, but the public would have missed a lot not having heard this very enjoyable style of chorus.

Their London colleagues, ‘The Cavendish singers’ directed by the introverted and sober directing Manvinder Rattan, produced a different, less cosy but a more direct and contemporary sound which matched well with the actual 2Oth century music such as Arvo Pärt, Peter Warlock and Finzi. Really music for the connoisseurs, well sung, but not strong enough to match the American and German giants. No prize for them either but it would have been a pity not to have heard this particular ensemble.

The Belgium female choir of Zele, directed by Philip Haentjens, did not match the very high level of the Tours Florilège Vocal. It could be named a choir of subsistence, sympathetic choristers (lovely blond girls), an interesting programme of music by Kodaly, Schubert, Palestrina and an original fluent written composition by their choirmaster Mr. Haentjens. It did not work out as they hoped for. The experience of this competition, as they told me later, was a very positive one, they learned a lot when listening to the other participants.

The female choir of Vilnius (Lithuania) directed by Mrs. Androné Steponaviciute was not qualified either. They had a great original programme with contemporary Lithuanian music as well as a superbly sung Ave Maria composed by Brahms.

Well trained voices originating also from a country where singing is a national sport, like in the two other Baltic states. The Altos have a great impact on the choir, the sopranos had a little thin sound. We noticed also with this choir participants of different ages. From young girls to singers reaching 40+ which creates a lesser homogeneity. A very interesting choir from the point of view that their style is much different from what we hear in many western European countries. The Renaissance programme of Costeley, de Victoria and last but not least the Tik-Tak of de Lassus was very stylish indeed and sung with humour.

Sunday night, May 15th. The big feast ended in restaurants and on café terraces the mixture of singers clotted together, brotherly and sisterly, drinking their glass of wine or a cool beer. Everybody mixed and language barriers were not anymore, the smile and the happiness reigned even for them being a little disappointed. If music be the food of love……. sing on and on……..

Next year, dear reader, and music lover, when you are about to visit the famous chateaux of the Loire in May or June, ask the local Tourist Office about the dates of the Florilège Vocal.

Concerts are also at night, so you won’t have to miss the visits to the great and unique chateaux or the vineyards.

1 comment:

Katie Mo said...

but you are gifted! :)