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VOCES8 - Winter / New Classical Tracks

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New Classical Tracks is a Syndicated Feature airing Nationally on Classical 24 & Statewide on Minnesota Public Radio. Listen to Julie Amacher's Feature with Barnaby Smith from Voces8.

READ THE TRANSCRIPT  - "I always think it's interesting when you ask people what their favorite season is," says Barnaby Smith, one of the founding members of British vocal ensemble Voces8. "Some say, summer, fall, spring … but I think this disc makes the case for winter. It's everything that's beautiful about the season and we've tried to put that in aural form." Voces8's newest recording, simply titled Winter, embraces the solitude and the sparseness of the season.

At the heart of the recording is a three-movement work called PlainScapes, and it represents the Latvian flatlands.

Julie Amacher: Tell me how this became the centerpiece of the recording.

Barnaby Smith: This piece is set for violin, cello and choir. A collection of three soundscapes. And in each, the choral part is the backing track to these incredible violin and cello variations. So we were invited to sing them at the Wigmore Hall in London. And they're fascinating for so many different reasons … the sense of scale they have. Also for the sense of the interesting musical techniques the piece uses. So when we were beginning to talk to our label about what might go on this album, they naturally sprang to mind of course, because they represent the sparsity of the season in a very beautiful way.

I love the powerful crescendo near the end of the second movement. Then it goes into the avian wonderland. How are those bird sounds being created?

Well, we had quite a lot of fun with that. The crescendo itself is incredibly difficult to do - it took a few takes. We did cheat a little bit in the end. We were slightly concerned that some of our more learned listeners, certainly when it comes to ornithology, might pick up on the fact that we weren't making the correct noises for the birds that you might find on the Latvian flatlands. So initially we created bird noises ourselves. But then after the event when we were putting the edit together, we thought that we ought to consider what birds actually appear on the flatlands, of which the Marsh Warbler is actually one … in the end, you get a combination of both, which is quite fun. The challenge is to see if you can which are human and which are avian.

That same composer, Peterisk Vasks, has another piece on the recording, "The Fruit of Silence." The text is by Mother Theresa.

It's very easy when we're singing that sort of repertoire … moves relatively slowly, so you don't necessarily get the sense as a singer that you're singing one melodic line because the melodic line might last 35 or 40 seconds to actually get very caught up in the technical production of your sound in order to create the perfect blend. About halfway through our first rehearsal, I sort of noticed Mother Theresa's name and I actually engaged with the text. And it's very beautiful indeed.

Would you read a bit of that text, please?

The fruit of silence is prayer. The fruit of prayer is faith. The fruit of faith is love. The fruit of love is service. And the fruit of service is peace.

My favorite piece is the title track, Winter, by Rebecca Dale. This is a piece you commissioned for this recording.

I think I like this track because it has a certain hint of Harry Potter in it. But again, a lovely text. I always feel humbled as an artist when somebody writes a piece of music for you. You get to bring not only somebody else's wonderful idea sort of into a performance, which is a very privileged position to have, but it also allows you to offer the world something that they've never heard before, something unique and new. It was a very good commission and I'm pleased.

Now the recording closes out with a British folk song, "The Snow It Melts the Soonest." Is this about the promise of spring?

It is, absolutely. So it seemed like quite a good end, hinting at the next season. So it just again leaves the door ajar, shall we say. Not that we've even had any conversations about that with the label, but it was quite a nice way to finish, looking forward.

Barnaby Smith and his ensemble Voces8, offering gorgeous harmonies and sonic textures to warm the long, dark days of Winter.

Enter for a chance to win a copy of this recording - This week on New Classical Tracks, you can enter for a chance to win a copy of Winter by Voces8. Winners will be drawn at random. Be sure to enter by 9 a.m. CST on Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2017.