Vocal Arts Ensemble Releases Newest Album, 'Canticle'

Vocal Arts Ensemble Releases Newest Album, 'Canticle'

Cincinnati's Vocal Arts Ensemble (VAE) released its first recording led by Music Director Craig Hella Johnson conducting Kile Smith's concert-length oratorio Canticle. The work was commissioned and premiered by the VAE in 2016 and recorded in January 2018. Along with Canticle, the new release also includes Mr. Smith's Alleluia. Grammy® winner Blanton Alspaugh produced the recording, which is released in Super Audio CD format on the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra's Fanfare Cincinnati label.

Canticle draws its text from the mystical writings of Saint John of the Cross, though its appeal extends beyond any particular religious or spiritual practice. The text, ripe with imagery and symbolism, depicts a transcendent journey, which Mr. Smith captures in the vocal and instrumental score as well. "[I]t is a poem with universal appeal. Adherents of all spiritual and meditative disciplines will immediately recognize the dangers, delights, side-steps, ecstasy, and peace described in the Spiritual Canticle," said the composer in his program notes on the work.

"His choral music takes a unique and distinctive path. His (compositional) voice is unlike any other. The music has qualities that are really grounded in choral tradition and practice, yet it feels very fresh and of its time. He's an exquisite craftsman," said Mr. Johnson in an interview for Cincinnati's Movers and Makers just prior to the work's premiere.

"Not only is Canticle a significant contribution to contemporary American choral music, its commission, premiere and recording by the VAE signifies the ensemble's commitment to the development and presentation of modern choral chamber music," said VAE Executive Director Steven Sunderman. The VAE regularly presents premieres and new works by both internationally- known and emerging composers.

Canticle was recorded at St. Boniface Church in Cincinnati on January 13, 14 and 15, 2018.

The recording was made possible by the following: The Louise Dieterle Nippert Musical Arts Fund of the Greenacres Foundation; The John C. Griswold Foundation; John and Susan Tew; The Robert H. Reakirt Foundation, PNC Bank, Trustee; The William O. Purdy, Jr. Foundation Fund of the Greater Cincinnati Foundation.

Founded in 1979, for over 35 years VAE has brought the power of spectacular, powerful and thrilling choral performances to audiences of all generations.

Because of the small size of the choir, VAE is uniquely able to present diverse performances that engage and enchant a range of music lovers. VAE has enjoyed artistic leadership by some of the nation's leaders in choral conducting; Grammy® Award winner/seven-time nominee Craig Hella Johnson currently leads the talented and dynamic choir. Praised for his visionary approach, Johnson is considered one of the most influential voices in choral music in the US today.

Works presented each season range from emerging composers to the well-loved pieces of the choral canon, and it is this intimate balance of traditional yet innovative programming, as well as the creativity and passion brought to the stage by Johnson that makes VAE so unique. VAE is committed to the presentation and development of modern chamber music, premiering new works and commissions annually. Additional community engagements throughout the year include appearances with the May Festival and collaborations with area arts organizations. Broadcasts of performances on public radio and live streaming online (through local station WGUC) help VAE to reach an extended and diverse audience across our region.

Over the years, creative collaborations have resulted in unique productions and reached diverse audiences; partners have included the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra; Opera; Ballet; Boychoir; Children's Choir; May Festival and Youth Chorus; concert:nova; National Underground Freedom Center; Ensemble Theatre; local school choirs; and many more. Partnerships with area choral organizations through the Greater Cincinnati Choral Consortium also provide opportunities to engage the community in Cincinnati's rich choral arts scene.

Educational activities are key to developing appreciation for the arts in students of all ages. VAE's Music Director therefore leads masterclasses and works with students across the region (including serving as a frequent guest at the University of Cincinnati). The VAE also works to expand in- school activities and opportunities for students in Cincinnati's public schools.

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