There’s No ‘Can’t” With Kantorei
A preview by Marc Shulgold
It’s only his second season at the helm of Kantorei, but Joel Rinsema has big plans.
For starters, he has officially ended his 23-year tenure as president, CEO and assistant conductor of the highly respected Phoenix Chorale. “I’ve recently located to Denver,” he said with no lack of excitement. He’s now all in with the Denver chorus.
As artistic director, he’ll be rolling up his sleeves with renewed commitment, as Kantorei embarks on its 19th season. So, what’s in store? Glad you asked.
Rinsema will start by addressing the long-established Kantorei sound. He wants to refine it – as he put it, “expand the color palette.”
“In the past, Kantorei had a monochromatic voice,” the conductor observed, noting that the group’s musical choices had been similarly limited. “Before I came, the repertory didn’t include anything earlier than the Romantic Era (i.e., the 19th Century).” More music from the Renaissance and Baroque is in store, he promised – along with a greater emphasis on contemporary works.
In expanding repertoire, Rinsema will need to create a new choral color. “I’m trying to get (the singers) to recognize a different sound and style,” he said. But how?
As an example, he referred to a pair of widely separated choral settings of O Magnum Mysterium, whose text depicts the mystery of the manger scene at Christ’s birth. There’s the version by Tomas Victoria, the late-16th Century Spaniard, and one made in 1994 by American composer Morten Lauridsen. “With the Victoria,” explained Rinsema, “you need clarity.” He then demonstrated by singing the haunting opening phrase with his lovely tenor voice. “But the Lauridsen needs a lot of warmth” – again demonstrating the different sound. Subtle, but distinctive.
“I don’t know if the differences would be tangible,” he admitted. “I’m not sure if audiences would know why there are differences, but I think they can sense them.”
As Kantorei continues its season with a pair of holiday programs in December, Rinsema is hard at work in rehearsals to refine the color range of his chorus. But there’s much more on his plate.
“In January, I’m looking to create a publication project that I’m calling the Joel Rinsema Kantorei Choral Series, which will make our music available to groups around the world.”
That sounds mighty ambitious, but the conductor seemed unfazed, pointing out that the group’s reputation has grown: The singers impressed at various national choral conventions,he said, and have toured the country and performed in France and Italy (singing Mass in the Vatican’s St. Peter’s Basilica).
But Rinsema is welcoming other challenges. This year, Kantorei continues its relationship with composer-in-residence, Kim André Arnesen. The young Norwegian contributed his O Sacrum Convivium last season and will provide a half-dozen new works this season. “He has a melody-driven style of writing that our audiences enjoy,” the conductor said.
Meanwhile, the season continues with a pair of holiday programs next month – the first presenting once again a collaboration with the Meistersingers of Cherry Creek High School. “It’s a long-time tradition,” Rinsema said, reminding that 17 original members of Kantorei graduated from Cherry Creek, where Richard Larson, the group’s first artistic director, once taught.
Fresh challenges await in 2016, starting with a Russian program highlighted by a rarely heard work by Maximilian Steinberg, sung in Slavonic Russian. As if learning to sing in that unfamiliar language wasn’t tough enough, Steinberg’s score has no bar lines. Those February concerts also mark the premiere of new works by Arnesen.
It’s all in a day’s work for Rinsema and company, as they march confidently through the group’s 19th season – and gaze toward the 20th with heightened optimism…and, one expects, an expanded color palette.
At 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 1, the group will be joined by the Meistersingers for “A Winter’s Night” in Bethany Lutheran Church, 4500 E. Hampden Ave. On Dec. 11-13, the annual “Kantorei Christmas” will be presented in two Denver locations and in Colorado Springs. Information: kantorei.org.