On their most recent international tour, the VocalEssence Ensemble Singers traveled to Seoul, South Korea, to attend the 10th World Symposium on Choral Music as part of the VocalEssence Asia Pacific Tour, August 9 – 13.
In Seoul they performed for an audience of 7,500 at the Nyungsung Presbyterian Church service, singing “Amazing Grace” with the African Youth Choir. One of the highlights of the tour was their performance of Brahms’ Requiem with three other choirs, two from Korea and one from Sweden, with full orchestra. “It sounded like we had been rehearsing together for weeks,” though the choirs had only one rehearsal together, said tenor Rob Graham, who is also Education Manager at VocalEssence.
One of the lecture themes for the symposium was Choral Music: Healing People, Saving Lives, and the Ensemble Singers commemorated this by performing “A Farewell to Arms,” written for VocalEssence in 2001 by Sir Richard Rodney Bennett.The heart-stopping piece intertwines a poem by Ralph Knevet (17th century) with another by George Peele (16th century), meditating on life at home after years of soldiering. The cello serves as the voice of the old soldier.
After the symposium, the Ensemble Singers continued their tour, performing in Shanghai and Nanjing, China, August 14 – 20, then returned to Minnesota.
In Shanghai, ‘It was like we were rock stars’
The amazing reception the group received in Korea “continued unabated in China,” according to VocalEssence Artistic Director Philip Brunelle. “The concerts in Shanghai were packed and they kept asking for more and more encores.”
Ryan French, a baritone in the Ensemble Singers and the Director of Marketing and Public Relations at the Walker Art Center, shared his experience of a Shanghai concert that was full to the brim–even though no one had heard of VocalEssence before. The audience was clapping along at the end, Ryan said, soaking in music that most of them were hearing for the first time in their lives. At the end of the concert, VocalEssence performed a piece the crowd knew, “Jasmine” by Jim Wei, and it drove the audience to their feet.
After the performance, the Ensemble Singers were mobbed by their new fans. “It was like we were rock stars. We were walking to the bus and there was a mob of maybe 50 to 100 people waiting for us. We couldn’t get to the bus; they just wanted to talk, take pictures, ask questions, get autographs,” Ryan said. “It was really an exciting and surreal experience.”
Banquet was ‘a very moving experience’
An afternoon concert in Nanjing again met with an amazing response amid queries of “When are you coming back?” and was followed by an evening banquet. “The Nanjing Choral Association hosted a beautiful banquet for us with many of the Nanjing choral community – conductors, singers, managers,” said Philip.
“We sat with them, had a Chinese feast, and performed some songs for them. There were toasts and gifts, of course,” he said. “The feeling of camaraderie among us all was overwhelming. It was a very moving experience.”
Keeping in Touch
Throughout the tour, the Ensemble Singers posted pictures of their adventures on Facebook and Twitter, and followers were even treated to some concert footage.