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VocalEssence: Looking ahead and thinking big

You don’t get anywhere by thinking small. Last year, VocalEssence sold out the Cathedral of St.

You don’t get anywhere by thinking small. Last year, VocalEssence sold out the Cathedral of St. Paul by performing a rarely heard work by Berloz – “Te Deum” – that required two choirs, an oversized orchestra and a dozen harps.

That’s right: 12 harps. How do you top that?

With 20 marimbas, of course. The VocalEssence  2009-2010 season, announced this week, includes another cathedral concert that features a rarely heard work by Gabrieli – “Magnificat a 33” – written for 33 separate voices. If Gabrieli had the marimba in mind when he wrote the work around the first decade of the 17th century, I’d be surprised – but hearing 20 of them in the lively cathedral should be a real experience.

The concert on April 30, 2010, is a collaboration with the Marimba 2010 Festival & Convention, which is going to result in a number of marimba performances around the Twin Cities, including a program by the Minnesota Orchestra. But 20 marimbas together in a cathedral – well, only with VocalEssence.

The organization’s season, its 41st, includes six main concerts and two community performances, all led by Artistic Director and Founder Philip Brunelle. Season tickets go on sale on April 8.

The season kicks off Sept. 25 with a concert featuring the first local performance of Dominick Argento’s “Evensong: Of Love and Angels,” an intensely personal work written in the aftermath of the 2006 death of Argento’s wife, soprano Carolyn Bailey. Also on that program will be two works by Handel: “Zadok the Priest” and “Laudate Pueri.”

On Oct. 24, British conductor Simon Halsey will be guest conductor for a program of all-British choral music, including works by Michael Tippett, Ralph Vaughan Williams and the American premiere of Julian Anderson’s “Four American Choruses.”

The organization’s annual “Welcome Christmas” concerts will take place in four Twin Cities locations in early December.

A concert on Feb. 14, 2010, will feature the Grammy-nominated a cappella vocal ensemble Sweet Honey on the Rock in a program of blues, spirituals, gospels, African chants and other world music – all part of the long-established “Witness” series by VocalEssence.

On March 13, 2010, VocalEssence will partner with the James Sewell Ballet for an all-Copland concert, featuring new choreography to Copland’s “Old American Songs” and his choral masterpiece, “In the Beginning.” Also on the program will be excerpts from Copland’s opera, “The Tender Land.”

That marimba extravaganza on April 30, 2010, features more than Gabrieli. Also on the program will be three world premieres – two by local composer Stephen Paulus and a new work by Mexican composer Jorge Cordoba.

VocalEssence is still in the midst of the 2008-09 season, but information on next year will be posted here in the near future.

If you don’t plan to purchase season tickets, but want to buy tickets to individual concerts, you’ll have to wait – single performance tickets don’t go on sale until July 1.