Show goes on for top vocal group poised for music festival return
A world-famous a cappella group that has helped bring music to the homes of choral fans across the globe during Covid-19 is poised for a ‘virtual’ return to a top Welsh music festival.
Revered British ensemble VOCES8 is among a packed line-up of musicians headlining at the North Wales International Music Festival this month. Their performance has been especially recorded for the festival from their London studio.
It is the first time in the event’s 49-year history that the festival is being hosted virtually on its website – www.nwimf.com - instead of being staged at St Asaph Cathedral, but online audiences have much to be excited about.
VOCES8 has appeared at some of the world’s most iconic music venues and concert halls - including the Royal Albert Hall - and will be bringing their unique choral sound to the concert on Friday, September 18 at 7.30pm.
The octet will perform an eclectic mix of classical and folk music and a piece by the acclaimed royal composer, Paul Mealor, who was specially chosen by Prince William and Catherine to write music for their wedding. The programme also includes a rarely-heard composition called Stargazer by Alec Roth and an arrangement of Kate Rusby’s Underneath the Stars.
The festival is running on the original dates from Saturday, September 12 to Saturday, September 26 thanks to support from the Arts Council of Wales and festival sponsors including Salisburys chartered accountants and the Pendine Park care organisation via the Pendine Arts and Community Trust.
For VOCES8, it will be another opportunity to connect to and inspire a new generation of musicians and talented singers and make choral music more widely available.
Barnaby Smith, artistic director of VOCES8 and the VOCES8 Foundation, said: “We are really looking forward to it. We all have to realise delivering music in this way is something for the future.
“That can be a really positive thing, positive in the here and now because it brings music back to people’s homes, and I think people are in need of music, but looking forward to when music comes back fully. It’s really nice that as an industry we are adapting to bring music to people in a new way.
“We’ve appeared at the festival twice before in previous years. There’s always a great crowd but we have also enjoyed working within local schools in the past and we’re hoping lots of young people log in to enjoy the gig.
“We are very lucky that being in our group is a full-time job. We will be recording from London and having a great time.”
The ensemble was formed by Barnaby and his brother Paul in 2005 and is now one of the world’s most celebrated and acclaimed vocal groups, performing up to 120 concerts a year across the globe – all of which were cancelled when the pandemic struck.
In response, the group launched its own virtual concert platform ‘Live from London’, and pledged to host 10 virtual concerts in 10 weeks to entertain fans and choral music lovers at home and abroad.
“It’s very difficult,” explained Barnaby, who is also the group’s conductor and countertenor and started his music career as a treble in the choir of Westminster Abbey.
“Normally we give 120 concerts a year all around the world and that became zero overnight. We had to consider how to make our living which is why we came up with the Live from London festival programme. It brings out the entrepreneur in you and every cloud has a silver lining.
“Musicians are great at being versatile and we are already demonstrating that versatility and finding a way through.
The theme of this year’s North Wales International Music Festival is Visions from Afar in homage to its new virtual stage.
Among those lined up to star are cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason and pianist Isata Kanneh-Mason, Australian guitarist Craig Ogden, piano virtuoso Luke Jones from Wrexham, Ensemble Cymru and renowned folk musicians Siân James, Sioned Webb & Arfon Gwilym with folk band VRï.
During September, the festival’s resident orchestra NEW Sinfonia will run two virtual workshops welcoming any young musician, whatever their ability or instrument, to join in.
After working with tutors in virtual online rehearsal rooms, students will then submit videos of their work which will be edited together to form a five-minute recording to be played as part of NEW Sinfonia’s virtual concert on Saturday, September 26 at 7.30pm.
The festival will feature a discussion podcast with musical clips featuring composer Paul Mealor alongside Bishop Gregory Cameron and poet Grahame Davies, Choral Visions podcasts with Welsh National Opera and the Festival Community Chorus, poetry with Aled Lewis Evans featuring harpist Bethan Griffiths, and a performance by young soloists from Côr Cytgan Clwyd.
Listeners will be able to tune in online to all of the virtual concerts and events for free, with donations being requested towards the festival. Concerts will be broadcast on the festival’s website and available to view for 28 days.