Pioneer Press: VocalEssence takes inauguration excitement to England
By Rob Hubbard
Special to the Pioneer Press
Updated: 01/16/2009 12:53:20 PM CST
Londoners want to get a sense of the excitement of Inauguration Day in
the United States on Tuesday, they have some ambassadors from Minnesota
there to give voice to the import of the occasion.
Twin Cities-based VocalEssence Ensemble Singers will be
performing a concert in London that evening, with conductor Philip
Brunelle leading them in an all-American program at St. John’s, Smith
Square, a venue that predates the American Revolution, having been
built in 1728.
It’s the centerpiece concert of a 10-day tour of England that
begins today, each of the performances highlighting the works of
American composers past and present. You could say the tour is the
fruit of Brunelle’s labors in promoting and premiering the choral music
of English composers in the United States.
Starting with a recording of Benjamin Britten’s "Paul Bunyan"
that won a Gramophone Award (the closest thing to a British classical
Grammy) in 1988, Brunelle has been an American advocate for the British
choral tradition. So much so that he received an honorary M.B.E.
(Member of the Order of the British Empire) in 2005, bringing him about
as close to knighthood as a foreigner can get.
The 10-day English tour will feature seven concerts, starting
Saturday at the historic St. Mary’s Church on the campus of Oxford
University. On Sunday, Vocal-Essence performs at Birmingham Town Hall
before heading to London for the Inauguration Day program. Other
highlights of the tour include a Jan. 23 concert
a choral music capital, King’s College Chapel, Cambridge, and a
collaborative concert with the BBC Singers that closes the tour Jan. 24
at Maida Vale Studios in London.
Rather than bring coal to Newcastle by showing off their impressive
way with British repertoire, the concerts offer an opportunity for
English audiences to hear American works. The repertoire ranges from
old American folk tunes and Stephen Foster songs to contemporary works
by Eric Whitacre and Minnesota-based composers Libby Larsen and Stephen
And, on Inauguration Day, they’ll present a new version of
"America." It shares its melody with what Brits would recognize as "God
Save the Queen," but this one will have new lyrics written by Garrison
That concert will be broadcast in Minnesota at 8 p.m. Tuesday
on KSJN, 99.5 FM. Host John Birge will be blogging on the VocalEssence
site throughout the tour, as will Brunelle and members of the choir.
You can catch up with their experiences at vocalessence.org.
Rob Hubbard is an associate producer for American Public Media’s "Performance Today."