VoXX sings for the New Year

Jan 14, 2014
Photo by: David Smith VoXX: Voice of Twenty performed last summer at the 1854 South Cushing Baptist Church, now owned by the town’s historical society.

Midcoast a cappella vocal ensemble VoXX: Voice of Twenty celebrates the arrival of 2014 with its annual Music for the New Year concerts in January. The Mary, Mother and Child concert program is built around works that explore the Marian canon as manifested through the ages, with music that ranges from serene to upbeat.

VoXX will present two Midcoast performances of Mary, Mother and Child: Friday night, Jan., 24 at Rockport’s newly restored Union Hall, 2 Central St.; and Saturday night, Jan. 25, at St. Francis of Assisi Church, 81 Court St. in Belfast. Both performances start at 7 p.m.; admission is $10, tickets available at the door.

The repertoire covers a broad spectrum of time and style, from medieval chant and early polyphony through Renaissance chorale and contemporary harmony. This is music that includes songs of sorrow and ecstatic joy, hymns and carols, ancient and modern, that tell the stories of Mary’s life and her role as mother both human and divine.

In keeping with VoXX’s tradition, the program includes some of the earliest expressions of harmony with works by Dufay and the very prolific “Anonymous,” as well as the rich colors and textures of such Renaissance masters as William Byrd, Praetorius, Victoria and the very contemporary-sounding 16th-century composer Gesualdo. No examination of the Marian canon would be complete without a visit to the profound expressions of the 20th century, here represented by works of Poulenc, Britten, Howells and Taverner, among others.

The medieval text “O Magnum Mysterium” (Liber Usualis No. 382) focuses on the great mystery and humility of the infant savior born in a stable. Francis Poulenc created a haunting setting of the Latin text, crafting a melody that is at once Medieval and modern. VoXX of course forays into the many settings of the “Ave Maria,” the text from the Gospel of Luke that is the angel Gabriel’s greeting to Mary. Tomas Luis Victoria’s setting for double choir is a masterpiece of Spanish Renaissance polyphony. The story of the slaughter of the innocents by King Herod is represented by two settings: in the hands of composer William Byrd, “Lullaby, My Sweet Little Baby” tells the sad tale through the dense and rich textures of English Renaissance harmony; while Kenneth Leighton’s mid-20th-century setting is gentle and austere.

The program also includes two of the four Medieval Marian hymns. The melodious chant “Alma Redemptoris Mater” reveals the power and expressiveness of plainsong; while working with the text of “Salve Regina,” Javier Busto crafts a lush setting that blends ancient and modern with great skill and subtlety.

Now in its second decade, VoXX has sung up and down the Maine coast and generally performs two scheduled concert sets per year, in January and mid-summer. VoXX likes the challenges of unusual vocal music, yet more familiar works by such renowned composers as Britten, Byrd, Dufay, Holst, Josquin, Lauridsen, Vaughan Williams and Whitacre (not to mention Anonymous) also are central to its repertoire. VoXX mainly performs a cappella, but appropriate instrumentation (recorders, percussion, strings) is occasionally added.

VoXX is a collectively run, all-volunteer organization. Membership is by audition (the group is currently seeking new members; see the group’s website for details) and singers come from all walks of life. Members who want to can share in the responsibility of bringing music selections to the group and may take turns teaching and leading, if they so choose. The group has built a strong following and is well known for its efforts to inform audiences through extensive program notes.

The group’s CD, “VoXX: Voice of Twenty: Favorites Old and New,” is available at the concerts and website, and via cdbaby.com. VoXX is available to perform by invitation. For more information, visit voiceoftwenty.com or email info@voiceoftwenty.com.

Courier Publications’ A&E Editor Dagney C. Ernest can be reached at (207) 594-4401, ext. 115; or dernest@courierpublicationsllc.com.

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