What do the musics of Hildegard von Bingen, Guillaume Du Fay, the Turin Manuscript, Luciano Berio, Kate Soper, Libby Larsen, Jessica Meyer, & D.J. Sparr have in common? All eight stretch vocal boundaries, and spanning a compositional millennium, all eight feature in the Lorelei Ensemble’s pair of concerts, “Part and Parcel,” Saturday and Sunday in Boston.
The Boston-based, all-female vocal group of nine women (3 sopranos, 3 mezzo sopranos, 2 contraltos, and 1 conductor/sometime singer), has been lead since its 2007 founding by Artistic Director and Conductor Beth Willer; in those nine years the choir has strongly established itself as a distinctive interpreter and commissioner of repertoire for women’s voices. Willer spoke with the Boston Musical Intelligencer’s Basil Considine about the ensemble, programming, and the search for new repertoire.
BC: Tell me about the ensemble’s name.
BW: Lorelei is a siren who sat on a rock and sang to the sailors, causing many of them to crash into the rocks because her singing was so beautiful.
You haven’t done any concerts on the harbor yet, have you?
No – no tragedies yet.
How did your spring concert with the Boston Symphony Orchestra (including an appearance at Carnegie Hall) come to be?
We were performing last December at Marsh chapel, doing our first Christmas concert. Anthony Fogg (an artistic administrator at the Boston Symphony Orchestra) was in our audience and asked me for a phone call. He asked if we wanted to do [a series] of 4 concerts for the U.S. premiere of George Benjamin’s Dream of the Song.
We did the U.S. premiere at Tanglewood [this summer], have two more with the BSO in Boston, and one [more with the BSO] in Carnegie Hall. But it all came [to me] in one phone call while I was in northern Wisconsin with my family for the [winter] holiday…
At that point the piece had already had its world premiere, right?
Yes – it had its world premiere in the fall of 2015 in the Netherlands. I believe the British premiere was in April 2016. Our conversation was in December of 2015. We’re doing this with the same countertenor [Benjun Mehta] that did the world premiere.
A lot of local performing arts organizations that were founded around the same time as Lorelei went through a transition 3-5 years in, through which they started to significantly differentiate themselves in terms of focus and repertoire. How is Lorelei’s repertoire similar or different from when the ensemble first began?
In what respect?
Lorelei performs a lot of music with a broad temporal and geographic span, with some noticeable omissions in the late 18th-19th centuries. We’re less likely to see you ladies doing the Brahms Requiem…
Unfortunately, the Brahms wasn’t written for women’s voices. Except for some material written for amateur women’s chorus, there isn’t a lot from the Romantic period for a women’s ensemble or that has the right subject matter.
A lot of repertoire written for women’s voices is on subject matter like flowers, love, and crying…so it’s not of interest to me.
Yes, sometimes they do all three in one song.
An interest of mine is expanding our repertoire to subject matters that have more cultural meaning – something deeper. A deeper meaning for a broader population, rather than just “women as a subculture”.
My heart is very much alive in the very early and very new repertoire. There’s also really an [exciting] element of the unknown when you’re working with a living composer or something that doesn’t have a premiere that was recorded. History—the very early in music—still has so many questions about interpretation and understanding the manuscript and its style. There is an artistic flexibility and license with those [non-Classical/Romantic] repertories that’s very appealing. In many ways, it’s more invigorating.
This is in no way to dismiss the Great Works of the [Classical and Romantic] choral tradition, but there’s more…
So how does this factor into concert programs?
I suppose when I started Lorelei back in 2007, I was really aiming for a 50/50 split [of early music and new music], but the reality is influenced by how much early music there is that really works well for women’s voices [alone]. So we’re probably 60-70% new.
We also look at what features women’s solo voices, for example the works of Hildegard von Bingen. At this point, we will probably continue to program more music that’s new [than music than early music].
See related review here.
Basil Considine holds a PhD in music and drama from Boston University and BA in music and theater from the University of San Diego. As Minnesota’s most respected opera critic, he is the Performing Arts Editor of the Twin Cities and moonlights as the Artistic Director of Really Spicy Opera. He was previously the Resident Classical & Drama Critic at the Twin Cities Daily Planet.
“Part and Parcel”