Saturday 25 May 2019

An eclectic mix: I chat to Clare Stewart of the vocal group Apollo5 about their latest release, O Radiant Dawn

Apollo5  (Oliver Martin-Smith, Penelope Appleyard, Greg Link, Josh Cooter, Clare Stewart)
Apollo5  (Oliver Martin-Smith, Penelope Appleyard, Greg Link, Josh Cooter, Clare Stewart)
O Radiant Dawn, the new album from the a cappella group Apollo5, comes out on 31 May 2019. The album, taking its title from the motet by Sir James MacMillan which is included on the disc, is a typically eclectic mix of composers with music by Byrd, Pérotin, Monteverdi, MacMillan, Schumann and Finzi, plus arrangements written especially for Apollo5 and new commissions from contemporary composers Alexander Levine and Fraser Wilson. Clare Stewart, who sings with the group, feels that the new album reflects the embodiment of what Apollo5 is about, its programming and approach. The new disc is very much about the human journey, with MacMillan's motet O Radiant Dawn representing the dawning of a new day.

A professional vocal quintet based at the VCM Foundation's Gresham Centre, the five singers in Apollo5 (Penelope Appleyard, Clare Stewart, Josh Cooter, Oliver Martin-Smith, Greg Link) mix performing with leading educational programmes at the Gresham Centre and elsewhere, Clare feels that it is important for the singers to inspire another generation of young singers by leading workshops.

All five members of Apollo5 come from the British choral tradition with training firmly rooted in the collegiate/church choral background. But the group also explores other styles of music and tries to perform its repertoire in an engaging way. Clare comes from a standard choral background, studying at Edinburgh and St Andrews, where she had a choral scholarship, and this involved a wide range of styles from plainchant and polyphony to contemporary, so she was used to a varied repertoire and she sees Apollo 5's eclectic mix of styles as an extension of this.

As there are only five singers, their approach to traditional choral repertoire requires a new approach, rethinking the performance so that it feels appropriate for just five voices. The five are all individuals who can step out into a variety of solo roles, but also create a blended ensemble texture.

Apollo5 education event (photo credit VCM Foundation)
Apollo5 education event (photo credit VCM Foundation)
All performances are 'off the book', and Clare feels that it is important to step away from the written music as it removes a barrier between performer and audience. Inevitably, a group like Apollo5 is very much influenced by the King's Singers (which celebrates its 60th anniversary this year), and Clare admires the senior group for its combination of a great blended sound and ability to deliver a romantic, jazz or pop standard.

Apollo5's audience varies from country to country, and also if the engagement includes an element of out-reach. The group recently was performing in Weimar with families from 3 year olds to 83 year roles.

One of the VCM Foundation's key roles is to encourage people's participation in music as well as inspiring other skills. So outreach is an important part of Apollo5's life, and the foundation provides on-going training and skills to the singers of Apollo5. The group gives around 50 performances per year, and the remaining time is split between preparation for performances and participation in outreach and education events.

Apollo5 will be performing as part of the Milton Abbey Summer School on 29 and 31 July, and this will represent the UK debut of the group's new Reflections programme, with a matching disc being released at the same time. On 31 July, Apollo5 will join with the singers from the VCM Foundation's group Voces8 and the Academy of Ancient Music to perform Bach's St John Passion, conducted by Barnaby Smith, artistic director of the VCM Foundation. This will be the first time the two groups have collaborated on this work, but they performed Handel's Messiah together  with the Academy of Ancient Music last year, an event which Clare describes as 'great fun'.

Apollo5: O Radiant Dawn

Apollo5: O Radiant Dawn is available from Amazon on 31 May 2019

Elsewhere on this blog
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    • Visions of the original sound: colour, texture & timbre to the fore in the opening concert of the 2019 Dresden Music Festival (★★★) - concert review 
  • Incredibly informative & inspiring: Charlotte Bray discusses her mentor Oliver Knussen in advance of her piece in his memory at the Aldeburgh Festival - interview
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  • Far more than choral virtuosity: Handel's Israel in Egypt from the BBC Singers & Academy of Ancient Music (★★★★½) - Concert review
  • French inspiration, spectacular scenery & classical music: I chat to festival director Christoph Müller about this year's Gstaad Menuhin Festival  - interview
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  • Telemann from Toulouse: music for strings in stylish modern instrument performances (★★½) - CD review
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