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updated: 12/5/2010 6:47 PM

Bella Voce brings a cappella Christmas music to Lisle

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  • Members of Bella Voce bring their renowned a cappella style to Lisle for a performance of new Christmas music and traditional carols.

      Members of Bella Voce bring their renowned a cappella style to Lisle for a performance of new Christmas music and traditional carols.
    Courtesy of Bella Voce

 
 

Bella Voce offers a holiday concert at St. Procopius Abbey to carry an audience musically through Christmas. The performance marks the ensemble's 22nd concert at the Lisle church.

"We always strive to bring to our audience the most beautiful arrangements of Christmas carols and hymns," said Bella Voce artistic director and conductor Andrew Lewis. "We have a mixture of styles in a program that appeals to a wide array of people."

Bella Voce brings both familiar and unique choral music of the highest professional caliber to its holiday concert. It performs a cappella, which means without musical instruments. The full, rich, unified sound comes from a precise blend of four- to eight-part voice harmony. A cappella is rooted in liturgical music, so the abbey setting is in character.

"The St. Procopius venue is always wonderful," Lewis said. "Many in the audience come from the area, but others drive from a distance to be part of a concert at this location."

Lewis credits the concert's large annual turnout to the exceptional acoustics within the church, as well as the overall architectural ambience of the grand space. Bella Voce's other performances this season are at Rockefeller Memorial Chapel in Chicago, Immanuel Lutheran Church in Evanston and Grace Lutheran Church in River Forest.

Bella Voce has been honored with Chorus America's prestigious ASCAP Alice Parker Award, which recognizes a choral group that expands its repertoire by adding recently composed music to challenge itself as well as its audience. The group earned the distinction in 2004.

Richard L. Childress founded the group as His Majestie's Clerkes in 1982 with a mission to inspire, entertain and educate through the performance of choral music. To reflect its broad repertoire, the name changed to Bella Voce, which is Italian for "beautiful voice."

When the organization's longtime artistic director, Anne Heider, retired in 2005 after 16 years at the helm, Andrew Lewis was selected as Bella Voce's new artistic director and conductor. The first-class conductor is music director of the Elgin Choral Union and on the conducting faculty at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

He received his music theory degree from Northwestern University and a master of music degree from Eastman School of Music in 1998. He has spent time in Berlin, San Francisco and Denmark. A former professor of conducting at DePaul University, he also has been a singing member of Bella Voce.

From a roster of 32 singers, 16 members will perform at the abbey. Each vocalist is a professional in the world of music.

"We have a strenuous tryout to qualify for the group," Lewis said. "It is not just the merit, it is the right kind of voice for the group. We are well-known for our blend and balance, with each member an extraordinary singer."

The concert is a mix of new songs with old.

"We do a spiritual set, some new arrangements of classical Christmas carols and some traditional," Lewis said.

The concert will include the "Christmas Spiritual Medley" arranged by composer Joseph Jennings, known for his technique to blend an orchestra of voices. The medley combines six songs, including "Go Tell it on the Mountain," "Children, Go Where I Send Thee" and "Sweet Little Jesus Boy."

Perennial audience favorites are composer Jackson Berkey's "O Come All Ye Faithful" in a lively, rhythmic arrangement, and the old chestnut "Wassail Song" by composer R. Vaughan Williams.

"Our challenge (in the program) includes a few pieces of new music with some thorny challenges, and medieval settings for 'Veni, Veni Emmanuel' and the 'Coventry Carol' arranged by Dale Warland," Lewis said. "You really have to study this music and do research to perform in the authentic version."

The holiday concert at the abbey would not be complete without a special arrangement by world-renowned composer Bern Herbolsheimer for "Silent Night."

The performance in Lisle begins at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 11. Tickets are $35 for the premium first few row seats; $28 for general admission; and $15 for students with identification. To purchase, visit bellavoce.org or call (312) 479-1096; tickets remaining on show day will be available at the door.

Bella Voce will have its CDs available for purchase at the concert. Samples of the recordings are on the group's website.

"Every time after a concert, I have someone come up to me and say that they did not know that choral music could be that beautiful," Lewis said. "It is an extraordinary experience. Bella Voce has this tradition and I am humbled to be its director, but the singers are key. They are all professionals and give everything they have into these programs."

Discover the joy of Christmas in its music and celebration with Bella Voce at St. Procopius Abbey.

"The music will speak for itself," Lewis said. "Just come and enjoy!"

Joan Broz writes about Lisle. E-mail her at jgbroz@yahoo.com.

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