|Vox Luminis at the Brighton Festival - photo Victor Frankowski|
My first question though, was about the choir's distinctive sound. For Lionel it is about richness of sound, he likes using many different voices with varying vocal colours, rather than all similar, to create the sound that he imagines in his head. He tries to use each voice in its best range, and describes the process as a kind of alchemy. The ensemble's name is a good indicator, Vox Luminis, and Lionel is interested in the vocal brightness which can be achieved from overtones, rather than something artificial sounding. This interest in the quality of sound, and the issue of vocal placement, Lionel admits, something of an obsession.
Whatever language they sing in, they have a native speaker in the group
Discussion of the quality of the group's sound leads directly to the question of language and clearly for Lionel the two of intimately linked. From the outset the ensemble has had members from a variety of different nationalities. This means that whatever language they sing in, they have a native speaker in the group, who can then coach the others. Though Lionel admits that they can never hope to achieve the fluency of native speakers, they can aim for (and achieve) a sense of unified approach to the language. Being a non-native can, Lionel feels, also be an advantage. He points out that in his native French, the singing is almost routine and requires little effort to shape the syllables.
In a foreign language the singers take care to ensure a unity of approach to the shaping of syllables. At this point in our discussion Lionel demonstrates a couple of English words and with one like 'Lord' points out details in the articulation of the 'L' and the placement of the dipthong that I was completely unware of. It is this understanding which in English, for instance, helps ensure the singers do not fall into the trap of making the English vowels flat.
Beyond simple sounds, most importantly for Lionel, the singer ensure that they understand and express the text. There is a balance here to be achieved between over doing things and being too low key. Lionel feels they do not always reach their goal, but keep striving.
They perform the music in they way that it speaks to them
|Vox Luminis rehearsing at the Cadogan Hall|
Lionel likes to check the original sources and tries to perform works the way they would have been done originally. This means, where possible, sticking to the original pitches. Lionel discovered a lot of the repertory through listening to ensembles like the Tallis Scholars and Stile Antico, but does not attempt to imitate them. The group performed Tallis's 40-part motet Spem in Alium for the first time last summer. Many of the British singers taking part found the performance refreshing as Lionel and Vox Luminis took such a different approach to the work.
Vox Luminis had sung English works to French and Belgian audiences and finally decided they would just do it, and bring a programme of English music to England. Lionel said that they tried simply to sing the music, and felt that it was important that the singers liked it, that they made music and enjoyed it. We return to the important point that the words need to mean something, but have to be shaped. Here Lionel demonstrates the complexities and potential pit falls of a phrase like 'the spirit of truth' (something I as a native rather take for granted).
The World Youth Choir gave him the experience of choral singing
I was interested to find out about how Lionel came to create the choir in the first place. He studied recorder at the Institut Supérieur de Musique et de Pédagogie, Namur before going on to study voice at Royal Conservatoire of the Hague. It was whilst studying recorder in Namur that Lionel first heard the World Youth Choir. He went on to join the choir (by now studying voice and recording, and in fact shared a flat with the tenor Michael Spyres) which gave him the experience of choral singing and he found he was happy to be on-stage communicating.
|Vox Luminis at St John's College, Cambridge|
Finding a CD label which trusted them was important step. When they signed with the Ricercar label (now part of Outhere Music) the group had only done 10 concerts in three and a half years, but the label trusted them. They then moved to doing six concerts per year and by then Lionel felt that they had something to say. He admits that the group's approach is very particular, and he doesn't mind people not liking it. What he dislikes is people say they have no opinion of the group's performance.
When the group's recording of Schütz's Musikalische Exequien got a Gramphone Award in 2012 there was a complete storm. Lionel was only able to stay sane by switching off his phone and computer, and simply concentrating on Vox Luminis.
There was a lot more we could have talked about. Lionel is a lively and engaging conversationialist who has clearly thought about Vox Luminis' performance style and can articulate his ideas with great charm. However our interview had to be cut short as the concert hall was closing for the night (and Lionel had a tour schedule to attend to, with a concert in Cambridge the following night).
Vox Luminis has further UK dates planned, so watch their website for details. And I hope tob e able to catch up with Lionel then, and talk more about the way he creates the ensembles sense of vocal identity.
Vox Luminis on disc:
- English Royal Funeral Music
- Schütz Musicalische Exequien
- Domenico Scarlatti Stabat Mater
- Bach (Johann, Johann Christoph, Johann Michael) motets
- Roland de Lassus: Musical Biography
- Reinhard Keiser Brockes Passion
- Samuel Scheidt Cantiones Sacrae
- Cipriano de Rore Ancor che col partire
Elsewhere on this blog:
- Last but not least: Rachel Podger and the European Union Baroque Orchestra - concert review
- Irresistible warmth & charm: Profeti della Quinta in Salomone Rossi - concert review
- The 1810s in Song: First volume of Vivat's Decades project - CD review
- God spake the word: Handel's Israel in Egypt - Concert review
- Energetic Shakespeare celebrations: Ex Cathedra in Arne and Sally Beamish - concert review
- Listening as if for the first time: Handel's original Dublin version of Messiah - concert review
- A work in progress: Bellini's first opera Adelson e Salvini - concert review
- The power of five: Songs to the Moon from the Myrthen Ensemble - CD review
- The art is in putting people together: artistic director Douglas Boyd talks about Garsington Opera's new season - interview
- Firmly intent concentration on the music itself: Vox Luminis at the Cadogan Hall - concert review
- Strength, discipline & delicacy: Alexandra Dariescu, Fabien Gabel and RPO - concert review
- Adelina Patti, hurdy-gurdies & a Scots dance band: How to be HIP at Kings Place - feature article