The midcoast Maine-based a cappella vocal ensemble VoXX: Voice of Twenty will present its annual
summer series with four June 2023 concerts in Belfast, Rockport, Newcastle, and Cushing. This year’s program theme is Prayers and Answers: Choral Meditations on the Many Aspects of Love.
While modern English uses the word “love” to encompass a variety of meanings, the ancient Greeks had at least four different words: agape, or supernatural, self-giving love; eros or romantic love; philia, or the love between friends; and storge, or familial love, like the irrepressible love of a parent. As we all emerge from a global pandemic, we find ourselves searching for answers and—if we are lucky—sometimes finding them in the love that surrounds us. Hence, this concert series is replete with songs of love that date from Medieval times to the present.
VoXX will welcome early summer, which many consider to be the season of eros or romantic love, with a selection of madrigals. These will include the lively “I am the Rose of Sharon” by William Billings, the heart-rending “The Silver Swan” by Orlando Gibbons, John Farmer’s upbeat “Fair Phyllis,” “I Love, Alas, I Love Thee by Thomas Morley, and, in an obvious nod to the season, the venerable round “Sumer is Icumen In.”
Well-known early sacred works on offer will include Josquin’s elegiac “Ave Maria, Virgo Serena,” “Ave Verum Corpus” by William Byrd, “Sicut Cervus” by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, and “Hear My Prayer, O Lord” by Henry Purcell. The last was written in 1682 and is based on Psalm 102:1.
VoXX is known for its presentations of early choral repertoire. In addition, the group delights in singing more contemporary works, and nothing says “prayers answered” better than the end of a war. Parisian composer Francis Poulenc wrote “Huit Chansons Françaises” in 1945 to celebrate the end of the Nazi occupation with settings of traditional French folk poems. VoXX will perform three of the eight chansons: “Margoton va t’a l’iau,” “Clic Clac, danzes sabots,” and “Ah! Mon beau Laboureur.”
John Tavener’s “Mother of God, Here I Stand,” is a poignant setting of a poem penned by the romantic nineteenth-century Russian poet Mikhail Lermontov. Set in a simple, chant-like style as part of the much larger work titled “The Veil of the Temple,” “Mother of God” had its premiere in 2003.
The newest work on the program will be the world premiere of “Storge,” by Music Director John Mehrmann. The piece was written for VoXX, is dedicated to his young children, and depicts the challenges little ones face as they try to get a good night’s sleep despite recalcitrant pillows and lurking dragons. Parents everywhere will be able to relate.
VoXX was formed around the turn of this century as Ave Maris Stella, a group of passionate singers who gathered in living rooms to challenge themselves with early, a cappella music. Since then, the ensemble has grown in size and skill and has built a loyal following while performing at many venues around Maine, from Portland to Blue Hill and many towns in between.
Today the ensemble enjoys the challenges of both well-known and unusual a cappella vocal music, with a wide-ranging repertoire that includes more familiar works by composers such as Byrd, Dufay, Josquin, Monteverdi, and Palestrina, along with less-familiar discoveries from the Medieval to the modern. The group’s full-length recording, “Favorites Old and New” will be available at the group’s concerts (while supplies last).