The photo information with this story was corrected on June 26, 2012. An explanation follows the story.
On Sunday, Strathmore is offering up a musical round trip with stops in South Africa, Australia and Canada — and you won’t even need a passport.
Montgomery County’s musical mecca will play host to the “Celebration Concert of New and World Music,” the culmination of the five-day, international “Serenade! Washington, D.C. Choral Festival,” presented by Classical Movements, Inc.
The Alexandria, Va.-based Classical Movements puts on four international music festivals every year in countries such as Austria, Brazil and Argentina. It’s thanks to these festivals that the company was able to amass quite the musical Rolodex.
“We’ve developed a lovely list of choirs,” said Neeta Helms, president of Classical Movements. “We arranged this festival so they can come and visit us here.”
Nine visiting choirs from five continents and seven countries, along with four U.S. host choirs, will participate in five days of musical performances and workshops. The 325 singers then will join together Sunday in the one language they all have in common song.
“It’s really about the great gift they have and the great joy they get from singing,” Helms said.
Although the multicultural choral ensembles will perform throughout the week at various locations in the metro area — including the Washington National Cathedral and the George Washington Masonic Memorial — Strathmore Music Center will provide the stage for the culmination concert for the second year in a row.
“It fits with Strathmore’s mission,” said Strathmore President Monica Jeffries Hazangeles. “It reflects our interest in presenting different cultural traditions of our community on stage.”
Audiences will have the opportunity to enjoy the diverse sounds and styles of the 13 choirs during individual concerts throughout the day Sunday, including the eclectic mix of jazz, pop and world music from Canadian a capella group, Countermeasure. The ensemble’s co-founder is award-winning composer Aaron Jensen, who returns to the festival for the second time. Jensen performed at last year’s festival with another Canadian chorus, Cadence.
This time around, Jensen isn’t just at the festival to show off his range or take in the sights. He’s been given the honor of composing and conducting one of two pieces set to premiere at the celebration concert.
“I was taken aback when I received the call,” said Jensen, who was commissioned with creating a piece of music for singers from the Czech Republic to Namibia, not to mention a diverse audience as well.
“It was a challenge in a way,” Jensen said. “I am writing for so many different groups, some who don’t even read western notation. ... I wanted to write something that would reach many different people.”
The result is a piece appropriately titled, “We Are As One.” The song will premiere along with composer Stephen Paulus’ “When Music Sounds,” which is making its East Coast debut. Philip Brunelle, renowned conductor and founder of VocalEssence, a Minnesota choral ensemble, will be a guest conductor in both performances.
Jensen, who will have the opportunity to rehearse the song with the choral ensembles prior to Sunday evening’s performance, said he is thrilled for the chance to collaborate with the various choral groups despite the cultural differences.
“[I’m excited] to just become newly inspired by different styles off music as well as to make new friends and make new connections with people from different parts of the world,” Jensen said. “Even when there is a language barrier there is a special bond that can be created in a short period of time.”
Jeffries Hazangeles hopes the concert will help foster a similar relationship between the vocalists and the Strathmore audience, and that some audience members might even find a connection between the sounds they hear and their own cultural identity. With such a diverse population in Montgomery County and the surrounding areas, some people might recognize some of the more traditional songs from the visiting nations as reminders of their countries of origin.
“Audience members sing along or hum because they’re familiar,” Jefferies Hazangeles said. “It’s exhilarating to see our audience react.”
About 1,600 people attended the festival last year, and Helms is hoping for a similar turnout this week and in years to come.
“We’re confident this will happen every year,” Helms said. “We already have choirs asking us about next year.”
Correction: Composer Aaron Jensen was misidentified in the Countermeasure photo.