In a world where electronically produced music is the Galactic Empire of the airwaves, anything that is created without a sound board is an outpost of the Rebel Alliance. Classical music is like the Yoda of this fake anti-electronic music rebellion I’ve concocted for my lede, in part, yes, because it’s the oldest, but it’s also the most refined form of music given the talent it demands and substance it provides. Those who’re hankering to feel the force of classical music need not look any further than Voce Chamber Singers’ concert at the Falls Church Episcopal this weekend.
The free community performance is Voce’s way of commemorating its 30th anniversary, and like any milestone year, artistic director Richard Giarusso intends to make it spectacular. That’s why the group is branching out from its usual vocal exhibitions to include both professional and amateur musicians among its singers and an orchestral ensemble in its rendition of Benjamin Britten’s “Noah’s Flood.”
“It’s a remarkable celebration of community music making,” Giarusso said, while mentioning that professional musicians who’ve sang at the National Opera or have been trained at the Peabody Conservatory will be performing alongside adult volunteers and music students. “It’s a piece that can bring together so many different constituencies from the music community.”
Giarusso took over as Voce’s artistic director in 2014 to serve as the group’s third in its three-decade lifespan. Originally founded by Carol Hunter in 1989, Voce set out to be a different kind of volunteer ensemble. While others in the Washington, D.C. area had more of an open door policy in terms of who was allowed to harmonize their way into the ranks, Voce decided to be a smaller, more selective bunch.
The result has been troupe of about 30 volunteers who hold three performances per season — one in October, another in December and then one in the spring either in April or May. At times Voce has performed songs from the late 17th or early 18th century, but it typically sticks to its wheelhouse of music from the past 100 – 150 years where it can rely on its acapella-heavy repertoire.
On occasion, Voce will involve a small instrumental ensemble to accompany its concerts, such as December’s show that featured music from Italian composer Ottorino Respighi. Even more rare are its performances of original music, for instance in 2015, when the group was commissioned to perform and record a piece written by local composer Stephen Caracciolo.
Now entering his fifth year in charge, Giarusso has been active about making his own imprint on Voce’s legacy. He’s upped the group’s numbers from around 30 volunteers to 40 in order to broaden the musical caché as well as to add some insurance for when members get sick or have other obligations pulling them away performances. Primarily, Giarusso’s been adamant about honing a fuller, richer ensemble sound between the four voices — soprano, alto, tenor and baritone — in order to make the group more cohesive.
Part of Giarusso’s leadership has come with elevating the seriousness, and by extension, the expectations of volunteers rehearsing with Voce every Monday. The group’s quality has improved as a result by bringing a level of professional polish to an all-volunteer organization, but it’s also tested the limits of Giarusso’s sway since it’s hard to hold singers accountable when they’re dedicating their free time to Voce. However, it’s only been a fleeting problem for Giarusso.
“They’re all there out of interest and commitment to the organization and the production,” Giarusso said. “I’m heartened by the fact that the folks we have now are by and large are committed to that sense of what we’re trying to achieve together.”
Voce Chamber Singers will be performing on Sunday, May 19 at 4 p.m at the Falls Church Episcopal (115 E. Fairfax St., Falls Church).