Voyces is a West Australian arts organisation that focuses on the performance, production and promotion of contemporary choral repertoire. It performs its first concert for 2018, Sorry I Missed You on Saturday. Musical Director Dr Robert Braham tells us what they have in store.

Could you please give us a short overview of the concert with a little about each of the works featured?

Sorry I Missed You is our first concert of the 2018 season, and involves music from the cutting edge of the contemporary choral world. We will present the Western Australian premiere of Sonnet, to the comet of 1825,by Matthew Orlovich, which last year won the inaugural Willgoss Choral Composition Prize UNSW.

In 2016, The Crossing Choir [in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, US] commissioned a work by Caroline Shaw as part of the Seven Responses project, and out of this came To The Hands– a work based on Dietrich Buxtehude’s Membra Jesu Nostriof 1680, specifically movement III, Ad Manus. This explores humanity’s innate capacity to understand another’s suffering. Taking the metaphor of Jesus’ crucifixion from Membra Jesu Nostri, Shaw reframes this as an exploration of the suffering that exists presently, within modern society. We will perform sections of Buxtehude’s original cantata, followed by Shaw’s response in full.

Our program includes another pair featuring a contemporary work based on an earlier composition; Judith Bingham’s setting of text from Psalm 139, The Darkness is no Darkness, which is a fantasy on S.S Wesley’s Thou Wilt Keep Him in Perfect Peace. Bingham stipulates that these are to be performed without break, with the final chord of The Darkness rolling straight into Thou Wilt Keep.

The piece which gave this concert its name is by David John Lang, and was commissioned by the Adelaide Chamber Singers in 2016. The text is based on anonymous posts on the Internet of ‘communication fails’, sent via text. The work itself is inspired by the soundscape provided by mobile phones; keypad noises, signal interference, message tones et al. This has been semi-staged, and features a quartet of singers from within the choir to provide the other half of the correspondences. We hope that the audience enjoys these text messages far more than their original recipients did!

The works clearly range across a number of themes. How are some of these things dealt with?

They do indeed range across a number of themes, and incorporate an exciting mix of some very recently composed works, alongside excerpts from well over 300 years ago. We always aim to have one meatier work in the program; for this concert, Sorry I Missed You fits the bill, which becomes even more substantial once combined with the staged elements involved. There are historical links between the Whitacre and the Orlovich; both draw inspiration from specific historical figures (Leonardo Da Vinci (1452-1519) and Rev. Dr. John Dunmore Lang (1799-1878)) and events (solving the mystery of flight, and witnessing a great celestial event whilst voyaging from England to Australia in 1825).  There are also strong connections between the Shaw with the Buxtehude and the Bingham with the Wesley, and we hope that presenting these sources of musical inspiration in tandem with the contemporary pieces will enable the audience to draw out those connections.

Do the pieces represent a range of musical/choral styles?

Yes – there is both a range in terms of the content and in terms of the modern choral styles involved. One Voice (Ruth Moody, arr. Carl Crossin) represents a very accessible piece with folk origins. Leonardo, on the other hand, is one of Whitacre’s most intricate works. It evokes earlier styles of writing, reminiscent of Renaissance polyphony in combination with 20th Century harmonies.

The program also involves the WA premiere of the Orlovich, which is harmonically traditional, built upon increasingly complex textures of interlocking lines. Sorry I Missed You is very descriptive and comic, requires staging and dramatization, and reflects a different style altogether from the rest. The Shaw and Bingham represent a 21st century spin on older works, which is very much in our wheel house.

In terms of programming, we always aim for larger choral works which demonstrate choirs in a slightly different vein than traditional programing based on Baroque, Classical or even Renaissance styles, which a lot of choral music is still based on. We look for music written across various modern styles, which is accessible and challenging to the public as well as to the choristers. We aim to be at the cutting edge of what is being composed and performed – we are always looking for what is new, and in this concert, the Lang, Orlovich and Shaw fill those roles.

How challenging is the repertoire?

They cover a wide range of complexity. One Voiceis not at all challenging, it involves simple chords as is appropriate to its folk roots – and is very effective in its simplicity. Leonardo and Sonnet to the Cometare both moderately difficult – more in the achieving the precision and style of the interlocking textures. Programming the Buxtehude back to back with the Shaw involves the choristers having to navigate a challenging stylistic contrast, but the melodic motifs that carry across the two works helps form a foundation or framework for this to occur. Sorry I Missed You is complex in that the many movements are fragmented, and we are incorporating staging elements that are quite novel vocally and dramatically.

Voyces performs Sorry I Missed You at Trinity Uniting Church, Perth on Saturday May 19