A sure high point of the Rockport Chamber Music Festival’s season will be the Calmus Vocal Ensemble of Leipzig concert at 5:00 p.m., Sunday, July 7th, at the Shalin Liu Performance Center. This internationally-known a cappella quintet previously played for RCMF in 2011. Robert Battey’s review in The Washington Post of a Calmus Ensemble concert in April, was unequivocal in its praise: “…in matters of pitch, diction and musical shaping, I’ve never heard finer ensemble singing.”
Baritone Ludwig Böhme, had a lot to tell BMInt about the ensemble’s unique background.
BMInt: What would the group like to tell people about who you are, your repertoire and style of singing?
Ludwig Böhme: Calmus is a German vocal quintet with a soprano, a counter tenor, a tenor, a baritone and a bass. We all live in Leipzig. Fourteen years ago we started singing together—originally as a hobby, but now we’re glad that our success in these 14 years of singing has changed this. We now perform about 60 concerts a year, especially in Europe and the United States. Three times a year we tour in the US and we’re happy to sing in Rockport again (we debuted there in summer 2011). We sing sacred and secular music from the Renaissance up to the present. But we also have pop arrangements in our repertoire, as well as special projects together with choirs, orchestras or big bands.
What’s the source of the name Calmus? (Is it the same as the publisher “Kalmus”?)
It was a puzzle of the initials of the founding members. All other meanings are accidental – there is a plant (a root) called “Calmus”; you can brew tea with it. But the best aspect is, that Calmus is the middle of the word voCALMUSic.
How has the St. Thomas choir school been an influence for Calmus?
The Thomanerchor was the cradle of Calmus. All of the founding members sang in this choir throughout our childhoods. It’s the basis of our musical education. But the group itself has developed and we found our own style of sound through making music together.
What will be the highlights of the Sunday concert?
We will do our very best to make every single piece a highlight! A Bach-block at the beginning brings something from our hometown to Rockport. But the three jazz ballads (written for us in 2011) are really unique and fine, too. The second part will bring madrigals and pop arrangements together—a very special mixture with fantastic love songs, which we combine, where we have created interludes. This is also the concept of our latest CD—madrigals and pop touch each other.
Sunday’s program is titled “Touched: Music that Sirs the Emotions”, a journey through the centuries with music ranging from Renaissance to jazz and pop. Composers include Janequin, Schütz, Purcell, Bach, Debussy, Banter (b. 1930), Moravec (b. 1957), and on the popular side, Sting, Freddie Mercury, Bill Withers, Eric Idle and Bobby McFerrin.
To become familiar with the Ensemble’s singing, I have listened repeatedly to two of their CDs, “Mythos 116” (compositions from the 17th and 21st centuries) and “Touched” (the same title as Sunday’s program). There are many dazzling performance moments on these recordings. Three that I like best are the group’s awesome pronunciation in “Hush, No More” by Purcell; the briefly soaring soprano line in “Shape of my Heart” by Sting, and the charming, fanciful arrangement of “Crazy Little Thing Called Love”. All of these songs will be on Sunday’s program; both of the contemporary ones were arranged by Ludwig Böhme.
The Calmus Ensemble’s performance style is described in The Ravinia Festival 2012 notes: “Calmus captivates both audiences and critics with its charming stage presence, flawless technique and entertaining presentation. They offer the unique combination of a pure soprano voice with four male voices. The seamless blend of these five voices lends itself to the almost limitless range of music the ensemble offers. Calmus conveys everything they perform with great respect, and also with a sense of joy in singing that is obvious to the listener.”
In addition to the Concert Artists Guild Award, Calmus has won the first prize in the fourth annual Robert Schumann Choral Competition. They also have won the national a cappella competition “Jugend Kulturell” (Cultural Youth), the International Contest for Vocal Ensembles in Tampere/Finland and the 37th Tolosa Choral Contest in Tolosa/Spain.
Anja Lipfert Pöche, soprano, joined Calmus in 2001. A noted Bach soloist, she will appear in a world premiere role with Camerata Zurich this September. Sebastian Krause, countertenor, is a founding member and one of the ensemble’s arrangers. Tobias Pöche, tenor, was a Dresden Kreuzchor member and is a solo and ensemble singer throughout Europe and North and South America. Ludwig Böhme, baritone, also is a founding member and is director of the chamber choir Josquin des Préz. He is the son of the Thomaskirche organist, Ullrich Böhme. Joe Roesler, bass, a Calmus member since 2005, is a founder and member of several chamber choirs.
Boston’s many choral singers, lovers of singing and admirers of any type of high-precision ensemble art are beckoned to Rockport’s stunning Shalin Liu Performance Center on Sunday. Ticket link here.