Calmus to celebrate summer with 400 years of upbeat a cappella music



Lauren Hutchison | Staff Writer

Variety is the spice of life. For Calmus, it also is an important part of the group’s musical philosophy.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s a pop arrangement, a Bach motet or a Brahms setting or a secular piece,” baritone Ludwig Böhme said. “To bring the music to life is the most important thing that we do.”

The five members of the Leipzig-based a cappella group will make their Chautauqua debut with their program, “The Bright Side of Life,” featuring joyous music — from Johannes Brahms to Bobby McFerrin — at 4 p.m. today in Elizabeth S. Lenna Hall.

“We try to sing very different styles, different colors to entertain the audience,” bass Joe Roesler said. “Every piece has to be an event on its own.”

Böhme said the group’s varied repertoire, in addition to being entertaining, also fosters better understanding of the musical connections between styles.

“Ancient music is important to know for singing contemporary music,” he said. “And if you know something about singing popular arrangements, it helps you make pieces by Bach a bit more groovy.”

Böhme is one of the co-founders of the group, which was formed in 1999 by five members of the St. Thomas Boys’ Choir. Named for the first initials of each of the founding members, with an added C, Calmus quickly grew from a hobby into a professional endeavor. The current ensemble includes another founding member, countertenor Sebastian Krause as well as Roesler, soprano Anja Lipfert and tenor Tobias Pöche.

“The Bright Side of Life” opens with Hugo Distler’s Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied, Op. 12, No. 1, which translates as “Sing unto the Lord a new song.” Böhme said Distler is one of the most important composers of the early 20th century because he offered new solutions of how to write vocal music to contrast Romantic conventions.

In the first half of the program, Krause favors the selections from Heinrich Schütz’s “19 Italian Madrigals,” written in 1611, inspired by the young composer’s trip to Italy.

“He made a real new style, as a German composer, taking Italian works and composing them in a very intelligent, very expressive way,” Krause said.

Roesler also named Schütz’s madrigals as some of his favorite pieces on the program.

“More than many other composers, I think (Schütz) knows everything about the human voice in a way that makes the music very easy to sing and to find the idea behind the music,” he said.

In addition to Schütz’s madrigals, Roesler also said he enjoys the program’s selections from Brahms’ Lieder und Romanzen, Op. 93.

“Brahms has a very direct connection to the German soul,” he said. “It is very easy for us to understand the music, development and emotion of the piece.”

The first half of today’s program concludes with Adriano Banchieri’s “Il Festino nella sera del giovedì grasso,” which Krause described as a very comedic scene, featuring the voices of people getting ready for the Carnival of Venice.

Selections from Francis Poulenc’s “Huit chansons françaises” open the second half of “The Bright Side of Life.” Krause described these as small, sweet pieces that resemble folk songs.

Today’s concert closes with several pop songs, including Böhme’s own arrangements of Michael Jackson’s “Remember the Time” and Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.”

In addition to their busy touring schedule, the members of Calmus just finished their album, “Mythos 116,” which features different compositions, all set to the text of Psalms 116. The album will be released in September.

Chautauqua is Calmus’ second stop on its summer tour of the U.S. The ensemble held concerts in the U.S. this spring and will tour here again for Christmas concerts. Calmus first visited the U.S. in 2009, after it won the Concert Artists Guild International Competition.

“The people in the U.S. love a cappella music, so we want to be there as often as possible,” Krause said. “With this award, we are able to do that. It’s very important to the group.”

Roesler added that he’s  looking forward to seeing more of the United States.

“It’s a big country with very nice people,” Roesler said. “In our last tours, we learned that they all love a cappella music. I like to be there to sing for the American people.”