St. Louis Chamber Chorus Showcases Distinctly American Voices

Article excerpt

Just what constitutes a distinctly American musical voice? Philip Barnes believes that he's put together a program filled with those voices for the St. Louis Chamber Chorus' season opener next Sunday.

Barnes, the a cappella choir's artistic director since 1989, constantly reinvents the group with new music and new ways of putting programs together. Each season has its own theme; for 2012- 13 it is "American Declarations," with titles borrowed from the likes of Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman and Quentin Tarantino.

"What we're trying to do with this program is expose an American style," he says. "How does an American style come about? What is it?"

He thinks it will be clear by concert's end that, "The words, harmony and style of writing (on this program) couldn't be from anywhere else but America." Barnes, who selects his venues with nearly as much care as his music, adds that he chose Second Baptist Church in Richmond Heights as the setting because its "distinctly Modernist architecture and acoustic seemed right for this theme."

The choral exploration includes a wide range of American voices, dating from Colonial times with the father of American choral music, Bostonian William Billings (1746-1800). There are arrangements of early American hymns by Kansas City native Virgil Thomson (1896- 1989) in "Four Hymns from the 'Old South'" and a Renaissance-tinged early work, "The Last Invocation," by Randall Thompson (1899-1984), best known for his "Alleluia," and finishing up with a contemporary composer, Howard Helvey.

There are also works by a connected group of 20th century American composers: Samuel Barber, Aaron Copland, William Schuman and Roy Harris. Harris' enormous "Symphony for Voices" will conclude the concert. …