Voice is a remarkable female vocal trio, 15 years in existence. The two concerts they gave as part of the Three Choirs Festival, Hereford, were quite simply outstanding. The abilities, dexterities and qualities of these exquisite voices defy description or explanation. Indeed, these performances were the subject of many an animated conversation in the bar and surrounds of the Festival Village. And it seems all are in total agreement: the two concerts by Voice were spectacular highlights of the entire Festival.
In the first, late night concert, given by candlelight, together with a wonderful array of special lighting and sometimes rather 60’s lava lamp-ish projections by visual artist Innerstrings – and in association with composer, cellist, vocalist, songwriter and theatre-creator/performer, Laura Moody – Voice took us on a concert-theatre journey celebrating St. Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179) through song, psychedelic lights and live visuals.
Voice return to the music of Hildegard over-and-over again, saying “what draws us to her music time and again are the soaring, melismatic lines, the flourishes and ornamentation and especially the ensemble sound we can create”. In addition to music taken from Hildegard’s Symphony of the Harmony of the Celestial Revelations (1140s-1150s) there are complimentary, contemporary compositions by Laura Moody, Marcus Davidson, Tim Lea Young, Stevie Wishart and Emily Levy.
This was a deep, intense, often profound listen, and keeping one’s concentration was a big ask; yet the performance lasted just over an hour; maybe sometimes less is more? And as for the 60s psychedelic projections? Sorry, they were awfully garish, intrusive, and frankly a bit hammy; sometimes piercingly uncomfortable. Simple candlelight would have been so much more effective, preferable and, hey, candlelight worked for Hildegard so why not for Voice?
A mere twelve hours later Voice were on the stage again, this time in the Cathedral for their second concert Megaphones for the Unheard, a programme of music that, once again, took as its starting point the remarkable Hildegard, but this time presented specially commissioned pieces developed from Hildegard’s ideas, words and music.
A common musical device uniting many of the numbers in the programme is a single vocal line expanding and flowering into rich multipart textures. This technique highlights the unique quality of this ensemble. Their voices are all quite different, but they work together, blending their contrasting but complimentary timbres to create a unified sound of remarkable depth and complexity. This core sound is quite magical. And it is at moments when the three voices sing in unison, then diversify into a multiplicity of parts, they somehow manage to maintain a sense of a single voice; a single voice miraculously singing in harmony with itself: simply magical.
This phenomenon was used to great effect in the music of Hildegard herself and in the 13th century anonymous French song Trois Sereurs.
Throughout the concert the singers complemented their astonishing musicality with a sense of theatricality. This included the use of stylised gesture in the traditional Judeo-Spanish song Tre Hermancias, arranged by Victoria Couper. They also used the vast, cavernous acoustics of Hereford Cathedral to terrific effect, such as when they moved into the audience to perform Ivan Moody’s The Troparion of Kassiani. This last number was delivered with total conviction and a real sense of storytelling.
The theatricality of the concert culminated in compositions by Stevie Wishart and Ayanna Witter-Johnson based on texts by Jasmine Ann Cooray. These were miniature pieces of contemporary music theatre utilising a range of extended vocal techniques and, again, a highly dramatic use of the space to confront the audience with the difficult realities of challenging and demanding poetry. The total and uncompromising commitment of the three performers to these pieces drew a rapturous response from the festival audience. Stunning.
Voice – Emily Burn, Victoria Couper, Clemmie Franks