Illuminating Renaissance music

The renowned Belgian vocal ensemble Vox Luminis makes its Israeli debut in the Holy City.

May 30, 2013 11:54
3 minute read.
Belgian vocal ensemble Vox Luminis

Belgian vocal ensemble Vox Luminis. (photo credit: Courtesy)

"We are very happy to be going to Israel,” says Lionel Meunier, 32, the bass singer and artistic director of Vox Luminis from Belgium.

The vocal ensemble will perform Scarlatti’s Te Deum and Stabat Mater for 10 voices as well as Antonio Lotti’s Cruxifixus for eight voices and Giacomo Carissimi’s Historia di Jephte at the Jerusalem Festival. The 14-member chamber ensemble will be accompanied by organ, viola da gamba and theorbo.

“Sacred music constitutes a significant part of our repertoire and where else, if not here, where it all happened, should these pieces be performed? We will come to Jerusalem a day before the concert, and we plan to see all these holy places in order to be inspired. We still don’t know how exactly it will affect our performance, but it will certainly give it a very special sense of authenticity. It is similar to our experience in Germany last year, where we performed madrigals by Schutz in the composer’s birthplace.”

Vox Luminis, which is regarded as one of the world’s leading ensembles in the field of Renaissance music, was founded in 2004.

“We created the ensemble because we wanted to perform Scarlatti’s Stabat Mater for 10 voices,” says Meunier, the ensemble’s founder, in a phone interview from his home. “Before that, I performed the piece with a big choir, but then I realized that I wanted to sing it with my friends, with a small choir of soloists.” Since the first performance was successful, they decided to continue. At the time, they were all music students in The Hague, which is an important center for early music. From a founder and organizer, Meunier became the ensemble’s artistic director “but not the conductor who leads the ensemble from outside,” he stresses. “I sing, I choose the music, I lead rehearsals, but by no means am I a big boss who tells to everybody what to do. Just the opposite. Everybody has the right to say what he or she thinks, and we discuss it together and reach the final decision. We perform pieces for four, six, 10 singers, even 12 – but that is the maximum you can perform without a conductor. I would say that this is very much like a string quartet or octet, and I can be considered the first violin, nothing more. Everybody in the group is very involved in the process of the performance.”

It took the group two years to realize that this was the form of work they preferred, “and this is what makes us special – people like it.”

After the first concert, the ensemble performed a concert or two a year and kept rehearsing, trying to bring something of their own to the fore, as competition in the field is very strong.

“Until 2007 we stayed sort of underground, and then we offered to record Scarlatti’s piece on the Ricercar label. The disc was a huge success and was awarded the 2012 Gramophone Record of the Year, among others,” he says.

Since then, the career of the ensemble has been on the rise. Today, they perform several concerts a year, “and the requests are increasing. We are actually doing very well,” says the singer. “We also sing opera and a lot of madrigals, but sacred music constitutes the core of our repertoire. We started as students and sang for free, never thinking that one day we would become a professional ensemble. We got older, got married, became parents. In fact, one of our sopranos is bringing her baby to Jerusalem, as the child is too young to be left at home with a babysitter. And people in the ensemble understand it well because half a year ago we were in the same situation with another choir member!”

The Vox Luminis concert takes place on June 8 at the YMCA in Jerusalem.

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