Kennedy Center: Soaring Voices

Classic Arts Features   Kennedy Center: Soaring Voices
Beginning May 28, Kennedy Center celebrates the beauty of the unaccompanied human voice with A Cappella: Singing Solo.

Representing vocal traditions and communities from around the world, May 28-June 6, the Kennedy Center presents A Cappella: Singing Solo, a celebration of the human voice‹from gospel to sacred chants to barber shop quartets to jazz, from the Czech Republic to Norway to Mexico to South Africa.

"We're happy to put the spotlight on this unique form of music," said Garth Ross, the Kennedy Center's Director of Programming for Performing Arts for Everyone, "and to showcase its breadth and diversity as witnessed by the many cultures and groups who will perform on the Kennedy Center stages."

Bobby McFerrin is one of the natural wonders of the musical world. A ten-time Grammy Award winner, he is one of today's best-known vocal innovators and improvisers, as well as an acclaimed classical conductor. On June 1 in the Concert Hall, McFerrin hosts "A World of Voices," featuring Grammy-winning male vocal group Chanticleer; Grammy, Emmy, and Academy Award-winning South African ensemble Ladysmith Black Mambazo; the Grammy-winning female group Le Mystre des Voix Bulgares, renowned for their Bulgarian folk songs; and La Capilla Virreinal de la Nueva Espaê±a, who perform music from Mexico's colonial era.

Called "the world's reigning male chorus," by New Yorker magazine, San Francisco-based Chanticleer has developed a remarkable reputation for its vivid interpretations of vocal literature, from Renaissance to jazz, and from gospel to venturesome new music. With its seamless blend of twelve male voices, ranging from countertenor to bass, the ensemble has earned international renown as "an orchestra of voices."

Ladysmith Black Mambazo represents the traditional culture of South Africa and is regarded as the country's cultural emissary at home and around the world. They became known to many here in the United States through their collaboration with musician Paul Simon on his Graceland album. Simon was captivated by the stirring sound of bass, alto, and tenor harmonies and incorporated these traditional sounds into Graceland, a project regarded by many as seminal to today's explosive interest in World Music.

An ensemble of a rare artistic gift and enormous popular appeal, Le Mystere des Voix Bulgares was created fifty years ago. Its goal was to enrich the heritage of the Bulgarian solo folk song with harmonies and arrangement that highlighted its beautiful timbres and irregular rhythms. They transform sounds into strange vocal colors as if something other than the human voice. They jubilate, shout, ornament, form fast and perfect glissandos, let one crazy rhythm follow another.

Mexico's La Capilla Virreinal de la Nueva Espaê±a, under the direction of Aurelio Tello, offers both sacred and secular choral music from the colonial era of the 17th and 18th centuries, from Spanish and Portuguese composers as well as African-influenced works.

The gleaming voices of two acclaimed ensembles combine May 30 in the Terrace Theater for a splendid concert of rich a cappella sound. Norwegian female group Trio Medi‹val returns to the Kennedy Center with music from medieval Europe, along with several contemporary works. Their distinctive, enchanting style is paired with the engaging harmony of male choral ensemble Cantus, originally founded at Minnesota's St. Olaf College. Their diverse repertoire explores several eras and genres, from Renaissance motets to American folk. This exciting event will include separate performances by each group, as well as collaborative arrangements.

With a name meaning "little beans" in Italian, there's no doubt I Fagiolini makes for a uniquely entertaining end to the Fortas season. For more than 20 years, they've been one of Britain's most innovative vocal ensembles, known for their bold approach to early music. Graduates of Oxford University, the performers specialize in Renaissance and Baroque as well as contemporary works. I Fagiolini's self-described "music-theater"‹staged presentations of pre-classical secular masterpieces‹is spirited and vibrant, while at the same time historically informative. Don't miss all the fun and excitement these extraordinary singers bring to their concert on May 31 in the Terrace Theater.

Jeremy D. Birch is the writer/editor for Kennedy Center News.

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