The sound of tuneful Voces8 headed to Israel

ONE OF the more recent Voces8 ventures is called Stardust, which was unveiled in London last summer, and forms the basis for the gigs here.

 VOCES8 – a mix of  hymns, Christmas carols, gospel songs, rock and pop numbers and much more. (photo credit: ANDY STAPLES)
VOCES8 – a mix of hymns, Christmas carols, gospel songs, rock and pop numbers and much more.
(photo credit: ANDY STAPLES)

There is something so alluringly primeval, so pristine, almost virginal about a cappella music, especially when it is performed to the highest standard. You could certainly place Voces8 in the upper echelons of the vocal group hierarchy. The British octet is now back here on a return visit and is currently on a three-concert tour of Israel with shows lined up for the Elma Hotel in Zichron Yaakov on Saturday (11 a.m.) and the YMCA in Jerusalem on Monday (8 p.m.). The group is also running a master class for our own vocal outfits at the University of Tel Aviv, on Friday (11 a.m.).

Interestingly, Voces8 has gone through numerous changes in personnel since it was founded, in 2005, by brothers Barnaby and Paul Smith. Only the former remains of the original lineup, with soprano Andrea Haines, who joined in 2008, the only other veteran.

Rather than bemoan the logistics that singer turnover, surely, involves Smith, who also serves as artistic director, opts for the sunny side of the ensemble street ethos. “I think actually, for the group, change has been a very positive thing,” he posits. “I think, in general, change is a very positive thing.”

Indeed, over the years, there appears to have been a revolving door mechanism built into Voces8. “I would say, on average, we turn over one singer a year,” That, says Smith, is down to all kinds of considerations, personal and professional alike.

“Some want to spend more time at home. Some leave to go and do other musical activities. Some change careers completely. In fact, our bass [Jonathan Pacey, who joined the group in 2015] is leaving at the end of this season to become a civil servant,” he chuckles.

voces8 311 (credit: Courtesy)
voces8 311 (credit: Courtesy)

Optimistic take on the personnel ebb and flow notwithstanding, it can’t be easy for Smith and the others to take on newcomers at such a fast and furious pace. While the music is the core of what Voces8 is about, any group situation also entails social interaction and how people get on with each other is just as important as how they harmonize musically.

Smith explains that he tends to use the departure momentum to bring in new blood and a couple of breaths of fresh air, and to launch the venture towards previously untried artistic horizons. “Of course it’s a challenge [when someone leaves]. You never look to replace a person. Once you get to the level of the individuals we have in Voces8, they tend not to be particularly replaceable people – like for like. Instead we look for another brilliant individual who brings something to the table.”

Then again, there is a requisite bottom line. “There are elements of what we do which every new singer needs to learn to do,” Smith adds. “We look for that in the audition process. But, otherwise, we are just looking for another brilliant individual and, of course, the group adapts and we ask that individual to adapt to us.”

Judging by the Voces8 bio over the past, close to two decades, Smith et al has been coping with the flux well, and has maintained a quality creative and entertainment continuum, with the founder’s talented hands firmly on the repertoire and performance tiller.

There don’t appear to be any disciplinary or stylistic limits to the octet’s programmatic intent. The Voces8 concert and studio work includes pop numbers, church music, compositions from the Renaissance era and spanking new commissioned pieces.

ONE OF the more recent Voces8 ventures is called Stardust, which was unveiled in London last summer, and forms the basis for the gigs here. The chart was written by American composer Taylor Scott Davis, who has gained a stellar reputation following work with vocal groups and a slew of orchestras on both sides of the Atlantic, and his synergy with veteran Grammy Award-winning choral ensemble Conspirare.

He was hailed by the Wall Street Journal for his “dreamy vocal lines” that “overlap and intensify to stunning effect.” That sounds spot on in the context of the Voces8 artistic and entertainment line of attack.

The project was spawned by the COVID-19 restrictions on freedom of movement, which ruled out live performances for a while. “We asked Taylor to write a work for a program that we were putting together for our digital concert series, which we put out during lockdown, called Life in London,” Smith explains, adding that he tries not to interfere with the writing process too much.

He feels a natural go-with-the-flow ethos generally begets better results for all concerned. “We try to give the composers carte blanche because, the more freedom you give a creative person, the better the results and the less tied down they are in their writing.”

With such a generous conceptual domain in which to maneuver Davis eventually found inspiration from an unlikely source. “He actually found some poetry on Instagram, an Instagram poet,” Smith laughs, referencing a scribe by the name of Clairel Estevez who has yet to achieve global fame.

Considering the Voces8 stylistic reach throughout its highly active lifetime dipping into the lesser trod recesses of the Internet for textual source material is no surprise. Thus far, the group has performed deft arrangements of hymns, Christmas carols, gospel songs, rock and pop numbers and much more. And it has not all been exclusively vocal with quite a few collaborations with chamber and larger instrumental troupes in the octet’s bio, too.

I wondered if there is anything Voces8 can’t do? “I would, of course, say no,” says Smith who laughingly notes that one of his first musical idols was Michael Jackson. “The boundaries are limitless. One of the keys to what we do is, when we bring something into the world of a cappella, we try to give a different spin so we try not to just imitate the original song. We try to provide a new slant.”

That is a philosophy that has served Voces8 well over the past decade and a half, and counting, and one which Voces8 endeavors to disseminate, not only to audiences around the world, but also to singers and vocal troupes of all ilks through the wide-raging Voces8 educational vehicles.

Hence, Friday’s encounter with a bunch of Israeli vocal acts. The Voces8 professional purview also takes in fundraising for a wide range of worthy causes, as well as providing free tickets to concerts for schools and higher education students. Clearly Smith and company are looking to spread the musical word as far and wide as possible.

One of the group’s pop ventures, “The Sound of Silence,” the title track from Simon & Garfunkel’s second studio album which came out in 1966, produced a surprising result. “We are currently finishing an album with Paul Simon,” says Smith. “He heard our ‘Sound of Silence’ recording and invited us to take part in his next album.”

That could very well introduce Voces8’s music to new generational spheres of music lovers, if there are any market sectors yet unturned and unmoved by the group’s work.

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