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Vox Virtual, An International Music Festival, Is About To Launch

Aug 17, 2020
Originally published on August 20, 2020 2:21 pm

Most of us can't travel overseas right now but we can at least be aurally transported by way of music. Ten vocal ensembles whose members come from 15 different countries will perform in a new, weeklong festival called Vox Virtual beginning August 22nd. They include ANÚNA from Ireland, Insingizi from Zimbabwe, Ensemble Rustavi from Georgia, and Cantus from the U.S.

Vox Virtual is the brainchild of the Dutch/Icelandic group Olga and the international touring company Classical Movements. Olga singer Philip Barkhudarov, who lives in Reykavik, says, since almost all of these groups have had their in-person shows cancelled, it didn't take much to get their fellow artists on board.

"We have a lot of friends in different groups and ensembles around the world," he says. As soon as Barkhudarov and his bandmates started calling those friends "one thing led to another and we realized, 'Wow, this can be a big thing.'"

While they might live in different corners of the globe, many of these vocal ensembles are familiar with each other. Barkhudarov discovered the Kansas City-based ensemble Isaac Cates & Ordained when he found a video performance of theirs that blew him away. After he shared the video, the two singers connected. Turns out Cates was already familiar with Barkhudarov's work in M'anam, a vocal ensemble that also features ANÚNA composer Michael McGlynn.

"Most choir babies," like himself says Cates, are "always listening for great, inspiring, new music and things of that nature."

Cates says he's honored to be one of the groups representing the U.S. in Vox Virtual.

"For us to be a part of a global music festival I think is just the best way to represent unity in these times," he says.

The pre-taped performances include a collaboration between Olga and the French group Les Itinerantes doing an a cappella version of Dolly Parton's Light Of A Clear Blue Morning.

Barkhudarov says, "if ever we needed some light, it's now."

"I mean, we have to just deal with what the universe gives us. I can at least sing in my shower and that makes me a little bit happy every day," he muses.

Vox Virtual will be livestreamed on Facebook and Youtube. The festival also features Q&A with the musicians and workshops on such topics as composing, the history of gospel, Georgian polyphonic folk singing and incorporating sign language into vocal performances.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

NOEL KING, HOST:

A new international music festival called Vox Virtual launches this weekend. Singers come from all over the world, including Armenia.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NUBAR")

NAIRYAN VOCAL ENSEMBLE: (Singing in non-English language).

KING: ...Ireland...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DULAMAN")

ANUNA: (Singing in non-English language).

KING: ...And Zimbabwe.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "INGOMA")

INSINGIZI: (Singing in non-English language).

KING: These groups all face the same dilemma - how do you reach audiences when you're stuck at home? Here's NPR's Elizabeth Blair.

ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: Vox Virtual is the brainchild of the Dutch Icelandic group Olga. Singer Philip Barkhudarov lives in Reykjavik. He says since almost all of these groups have had their in-person shows cancelled, it didn't take much to get their fellow artists onboard.

PHILIP BARKHUDAROV: Because we have a lot of friends in different groups and ensembles around the world. And then one thing kind of led to another, and we realized, wow, this can be a big thing.

BLAIR: One of the groups in the lineup is based in Kansas City. Isaac Cates & Ordained. Barkhudarov became a fan when he found a video of one of their performances that blew him away.

BARKHUDAROV: But it starts with the "Lacrimosa" from the Mozart Requiem.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ISAAC CATES AND ORDAINED: (Singing in Latin).

BARKHUDAROV: And it's just this really cool reimagining of that piece and then connecting into a whole new piece of music.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ISAAC CATES AND ORDAINED: (Singing) And stay with me always...

BLAIR: Barkhudarov shared the video, and pretty soon he and Isaac Cates connected. Turns out Cates already knew of Barkhudarov.

ISAAC CATES: Most choir babies - I call them (laughter); choir geeks, nerds, whatever you want to call us, which I'm proud to be one - tend to know of different ensembles that are doing things and are kind of always listening for great, inspiring, you know, new music and things of that nature.

BLAIR: Isaac Cates says he's honored to be one of the groups representing the U.S. in Vox Virtual.

CATES: To kind of promote unity and people coming together and from different countries - it's just a beautiful thing.

BLAIR: Most of the performances in the festival will be pretaped, including a collaboration between Olga and the French group Les Itinerantes, doing an a cappella version of Dolly Parton's "Light Of A Clear Blue Morning."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LIGHT OF A CLEAR BLUE MORNING")

LES ITINERANTES AND OLGA VOCAL ENSEMBLE: (Singing) I can see the light of a clear blue morning.

BLAIR: Barkhudarov says, if ever we needed some light, it's now.

BARKHUDAROV: I mean, we have to just deal with what the universe gives us. I can at least sing in my shower, and that makes me a little bit happy every day (laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LIGHT OF A CLEAR BLUE MORNING")

LES ITINERANTES AND OLGA VOCAL ENSEMBLE: (Singing) I can see the light - see the light...

BLAIR: The vocal ensembles will also be giving workshops on vocal technique and composing, the group from Zimbabwe will give a dance class, and the group from Armenia will show how they incorporate sign language into their performances.

Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NUBAR")

NAIRYAN VOCAL ENSEMBLE: (Singing in non-English language). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.