In rehearsal at St. Albert the Great Church. Photo: Voces Novae
Voces Novae: A Choral Renaissance
Angela Vaughan Hampton, Artistic Director
Deborah Dierks, Collaborative Director
Frank A. Heller, III, Artistic Director Emeritus
With Isabella Christensen and Sarah Hill, violin
Melinda Odle, viola
Wendy Doyle, cello
A review by Jeanne-Marie Rogers
Entire contents are copyright © 2023 by Jeanne-Marie Rogers. All rights reserved.
Among local choral ensembles, Voces Novae stands out for its emphasis on American composers, many of whom are still living and actively composing. The program “Choral Icons of the Last 30 Years” served the dual purpose of celebrating 30 seasons of choral excellence and featuring the top tier of contemporary choral composers. Under the leadership of Artistic Director Angela Vaughn Hampton and Collaborative Director and Pianist Deborah Dierks, Voces Novae performed a variety of compositions with beauty and precision.
This fall’s concert was presented in a streamlined format with extensive program notes but no speeches from the podium, other than a brief welcome from Board President Chad Burks. This placed the focus squarely on great choral singing, allowing the audience to choose whether to simply sit and listen, or take a deeper dive into the background of each piece. Over 50 singers of various ages sang in mixed formation, mainly a cappella, and without featured soloists. The choral sound was well-blended with a slight texture of individual voices. The sanctuary at St. Albert the Great Church is modern and open, allowing the voices to soar but possibly lessening the impact of the very strongest dynamics.
The program began with composers well-known by school, church, and community choristers. Clausen’s “Laudate,” written for Ms. Hampton’s A Cappella Choir at Floyd Central High School, featured crisp diction and sensitive expression. Although the program noted challenging rhythms, the ensemble made it sound easy. Lauridson’s often-performed motet “O Magnum Mysterium” conveyed a sense of wonder with swelling dynamics. “The Music of Living” by Dan Forrest gave pianist Debbie Dierks a workout, and she was up to the challenge. Perhaps due to the acoustics, the voices seemed to lack impetus on their lyrical lines, and the entrances of individual sections felt less secure than the full chorus. “Sleep,” the selection by prolific composer Eric Whitaker, began with low voices giving way to a contrasting higher section, and ended with an incredible fading effect to highlight the words “…as I surrender unto sleep.”
Next came a pair of female composers, the well-established Rosephayne Powell and the much more recent Susan LaBarr. Powell’s “The Word Was God” was performed with rhythmic energy and dynamic build, providing a contrast to the previous group of pieces. LaBarr’s “We Remember Them” was lush and tender, its robust unisons and powerful harmonies accessible but never trite. Soaring soprano lines and sensitive piano accompaniment added to the moving performance, dedicated to Voces Novae members who have passed on.
Award-winning composer Jake Runestad was represented by the too-brief work “Wild Things” which featured a string quartet, contrasting dissonant and consonant harmonies, and vocal sound effects. Z. Randall Stroope’s “Amor de mi Alma” is a setting of a Spanish love poem from the early 1500’s, given a Romantic treatment. The a cappella middle section was well sung by treble voices over a held note from the tenors and basses, leading back into the accompanied conclusion with perfect pitch.
African-American Spirituals are an important part of the American choral tradition, and Voces Novae programmed two exciting interpretations. Stacey V. Gibbs, a former student conductor at Kentucky State University, contributes a new take on “Sit Down Servant” by emphasizing the lyric “so happy.” The classic setting of “My Soul’s Been Anchored” by Moses Hogan was deftly performed with clean harmonies and exuberant vocals.
The final selection was commissioned by Louisville’s Christ Church United Methodist and performed by Voces Novae on their recent trip to London where they partnered with the composer, Elaine Hagenberg. Accompanied by strings and piano, “Deep Peace” was beautifully sung. While somewhat reminiscent of John Rutter’s “Gaelic Blessing” which uses the same text, it has more melodic interest.
We all can use more beauty in our lives. What better way than to catch Voces Novae’s upcoming concerts in March or June of next year? In the meantime, consider attending a holiday program by one of the other fine choral groups in town.
Voces Novae: A Choral Renaissance
November 19, 2023
St. Albert the Great Church
1395 Girard Drive
Louisville, KY 40222
Jeanne-Marie Rogers (she/her) is a Louisville native who has been active in the arts community as an instrumentalist, vocalist, and conductor for many years. She currently serves as Minister of Music at St. Marks United Church of Christ in New Albany and is an oboist and assistant conductor with the Community Music Alliance Orchestra. She has sung with the Louisville Chorus, Voces Novae and the Kentucky Opera Chorus as well as appearing with a number of local theatre companies. She recently music directed the Chicken Coop/Drag Daddy production of Jesus Christ Superstar and is looking forward to working with Faith Works Studios Rising Artists program in 2024. Jeanne-Marie graduated from Youth Performing Arts School and holds music degrees from Northwestern University and SBTS.