The Clare College choir from Cambridge, England filled the St. Thomas Aquinas Chapel with music Saturday evening, performing in front of a full assembly of alumni, students and guests.
The concert was the choir’s last performance on its “Tour to the United States of America.”
“We hope the audience will get a flavor of the the kind of music and style of singing that is common to the English Choral Tradition, which can be heard on a regular basis in cathedrals and colleges around England,” said Clare College Choir Director Tim Brown. “We are excited and privileged to have the opportunity to make this offering to the people of St. Paul and the surrounding area.”
Two of the choir’s new compositions, “Hubbub” and “The Word,” were commissioned by a St. Paul couple, Linda and Jack Hoeschler, and were debuted Saturday in honor of the Rev. Dennis Dease, university president.
“My husband and I had been looking for a way to honor Fr. Dease for several years, since we are great admirers of him as a person, and for his extraordinary vision and accomplishments at St. Thomas,” Linda Hoeschler said.
The Hoeschlers are heavily involved in the St. Thomas community and in the Minnesota Commissioning Club, which they founded. The club includes five other couples who support the creation of new and serious music in a variety of genres.
“The College Choir is the top mixed college-level choir in England,” Linda Hoeschler said. “Because of its fame, they do a U.S. tour every other year. This is Brown’s final year of conducting, so the concert at St. Thomas is a true historic event.”
The Hoeschlers decided to bring together English author and librettist Kevin Crossley-Holland, English composer Giles Swayne and the Clare College choir to work on the new compositions in England.
Linda Hoeschler said they didn’t exactly know what gift they were giving because they hadn’t heard the compositions before the concert, but they trusted Brown and the collaborators who worked on the new pieces.
“[Brown] manages to draw out the musicality of every singer so they feel personally committed to the music,” said Clare College choir alumnus and Saturday’s concert coordinator Philip Blackburn. “The overall sound is as tight and responsive as a BMW while being a living organism. It is choral music at its most sublime: professional yet intimate The choir matches the acoustic of the Clare College Chapel perfectly, and the size of St. Thomas is similar; it will be a match made in heaven.”
Blackburn, who introduced Brown to the Hoeschlers, said that once he had heard the choir’s last event would be in St. Paul, he wanted to make the celebration special and wanted to offer the choir a place to premiere its works.
“The women had great volume, pitches, and strong voices … really great stage presence,” sophomore Linda Thomas said. “I really like that the director had a sense of humor. I’m happy I came.”
Sophomore Jessica Nesbit, a St. Thomas chamber singer, said she also enjoyed the concert.
“They have beautiful sopranos and I liked that they picked a variety of pieces,” Nesbit said. “My favorite piece was ‘The Word’ because it was different, very pretty and expressive.”
Ariel Kendall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.