VOX Cape Town, the self-styled successor to Barry Smith’s erstwhile St George’s Singers, is on a mission. Over their relatively short existence they have turned themselves into a choir — or “singing group”, as they refer to themselves — with a unique sound. A unique “voice”, too, in the figurative sense of the word. Under the guidance of their choirmaster John Woodland they aim to “invigorate” classical music in Cape Town. But what does that mean? Are they suggesting that they have the little blue pill that would prove to be the panacea to Cape Town’s impotent classical music scene? Are they even implying a general lack of virility at all?
I have had the pleasure of hearing their performance in April. The concert, entitled Trust the Silences (Once More) was a reworked version of the second instalment in their New Soundscapes series. It featured contemporary choral music mostly by Eric Whitacre, with one piece by Eriks Ešenwalds. Additionally there were two pop/rock songs by The Cinematic Orchestra and Radiohead respectively. Solo duties on these were performed by Richard Brokensha, lead singer if the band ISO, accompanied by a small instrumental ensemble. The performance was further enhanced by theatrical lighting and projections of images and words above the choir.
While I feel that certain aspects of the performance didn’t work very well, it still succeeded admirably as a multisensory experience. Notable irritations were Brokensha’s amplified vocals that didn’t blend well with the acoustic sounds of the choir, and the sheer amount of Whitacre’s poor vocal writing (can’t he hear the strangled sopranos?). The audience also largely failed to heed the printed programme’s request for silence in between certain items — silence, it seems, is not that easily trusted. Where all the elements came together (minus the amplified pop singer), the result of visually enhanced aural delights was mesmerising. Overall one must contend with the fact that increased complexity requires more preparation and rehearsal, and it’s clear that their ambition exceeded their ability and resources ever so slightly.
All great successes start with great ambition, though, so my mixed enthusiasm shouldn’t be seen as a slight on this promising group. Since their last performance two other groups have had multimedia vocal concerts: in May Umculo presented a concert of staged Schubert songs, using projected images and bluescreen chroma keying for sets, lighting, and translations; and in June the Symphony Choir of Cape Town performed Haydn’s Creation, with projected images on screens on either side of the stage. Clearly VOX are in great company in the pursuit of breathing new life into a tired performance tradition.
Their upcoming projects are looking equally exciting, but for different reasons. On Thursday 3 August they will present ViniChoral, a music and wine pairing at Groot Constantia wine estate, with introductions by Fine Music Radio’s Rodney Trudgeon.
New Soundscapes continues in September with a programme of choral music from the Baltic region, including Arvo Pärt (Estonia), Henryk Górecki (Poland), Ola Gjeilo (Norway), Ēriks Ešenvalds (Latvia) and Jaakko Mäntyjärvi (Finland).
After that follows their first collaboration with period ensemble Camerata Tinta Barocca, and their second participation in the In The Dark series by Biblioteek Produksies.
For more information about VOX and their upcoming performances, visit their website: www.voxcapetown.com