VOCES8 launches its twentieth-anniversary US tour in New York

United StatesUnited States Various, VOCES8’S ‘Twenty Songs from Twenty Years’: VOCES8. Merkin Hall, Kaufmann Music Center, New York, 11.10.2023. (RP)

VOCES8: Andrea Haines, Molly Noon (soprano), Katie Jeffries-Harris (mezzo-soprano), Barnaby Smith (countertenor), Blake Morgan (tenor), Euan Williamson, Christopher Moore (baritone), Dominic Carver (bass)

Gibbons – ‘O Clap Your Hands ‘
Ola Gjeilo – ‘Ubi Caritas ‘
Jake Runestad – ‘Let My Love Be Heard’
Rachmaninov – ‘Bogoroditse Devo’
Nat King Cole – ‘Straighten Up and Fly Right’ (arr. Jim Clements)
Otis Blackwell  – ‘ Fever’ (arr. Jim Clements)
Yazoo  – ‘Only You’ (arr. VOCES8)
Mendelssohn  –  ‘Denn er hat seinen Engeln ‘ (Elijah)
Caroline Shaw  –  ‘and the swallow’
Elgar – ‘Lux Aeterna’ (arr. James Cameron)
Enya – ‘May it Be’ (arr. Matthew Sheeran)
Kate Rusby –  ‘Underneath the Stars’ (arr. Jim Clements)
Ben Folds – The Luckiest (arr. Jim Clements)
Weelkes – ‘As Vesta Was’
Di Lasso – ‘Dessus le marché d’Arras’
Paul Simon  –  ‘The Sound of Silence’ (arr. Alexander L’Estrange); ’59th Street Bridge Song’ (arr. Emily Dickens)
Don Mclean – ‘Vincent’ (arr. Jim Clements)
Marvin Hamlisch & Carole Bayer Sager – ‘Nobody Does It Better’ (arr. Jim Clements)
Gershwin – ‘Slap That Bass’ (arr. Jim Clements)

If you like random play, VOCES8 approach to programming will suit you just fine. It certainly did the audience at the second of the vocal ensemble’s New York concerts. Then again, this was an audience primed for VOCES8’s singular blend of musicianship and style.

The crowd that filled Merkin Hall seemed to be made up entirely of choral music aficionados and practitioners. Barnaby Smith, who sings countertenor with VOCES8 and serves as artistic advisor, said as much in response to one particularly hearty round of applause. Some had been there the evening before.

There was nothing random about the programming of this concert, ‘Twenty Songs from Twenty Years’: the diversity of repertoire is part of the VOCES8 brand. It has served them admirably and continues to do so as they celebrate their twentieth anniversary. Whether it is a classical gem or a pop favorite, the group imbues each number with beautiful, clear, penetrating sound and immaculate musicianship. What is more, they make a choral concert fun.

An equally important part of the group’s work is spreading the joy of choral music, not only through live performances and recordings but by fostering the tradition through the VOCES8 Foundation. Its artists perform 200 concerts a year and reach up to 40,000 people annually in workshops and masterclasses in schools and community groups. It is a legacy of artistry and entrepreneurship to salute.

When stitched together, the songs told the history of the ensemble in sound. Almost every work was associated with a milestone in the group’s existence, whether it was a commission, the result of a collaboration with superstar performing artists such as Paul Simon, or an arrangement by the group’s longtime collaborator, Jim Clements. As engaging as the performances were the singers’ introduction of the works, which were as informative as they were witty and amusing.

The classics were represented by a handful of works that included Gibbons’s ‘O Clap Your Hands’, ‘Denn hat er seinen Engel’ from Mendelssohn’s Elijah and Elgar’s ‘Lux aeterna’, a choral setting of ‘Nimrod’ from the Enigma Variations. In a world where clicks count, a YouTube video of VOCES8 performing the Elgar has received over 5 million hits.

Caroline Shaw’s ‘and the swallow’ was especially notable for the simplicity, sincerity and purity with which it was sung. The work is a setting of Psalm 84, with its images of a sparrow finding a house and the swallow a nest in which to raise their young. For Shaw, those words prompted connections with the Syrian refugee crisis, the situation on the US’s southern border and the Covid pandemic and importance of a safe home. It is a haunting work, made even more poignant by the singers’ ability to capture in music images such as the effortless flight of the bird and the falling rain.

Contemporary pop songs are at the core of the VOCES8 repertoire. Their performance of Enya’s ‘May it Be’, composed for Peter Jackson’s 2001 film The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, left no doubt as to why it has received 11 million streams on Spotify. They sang it in an arrangement by Matthew Sheeran, brother of Ed, one of the world’s best-selling musical artists, that captures the haunting serenity of the song in sounds that can best be described as out of this world.


There were solo turns by each of the eight singers throughout the program, and it is unfair to single any out: the focus is on the ensemble. So much so, that the program did not list their names. An exception will be made however for Blake Morgan’s rendition of ‘Vincent’ by Don Mclean in an arrangement by Jim Clements. With his beautiful tenor voice, Morgan captured the melody and poetry in Mclean’s tribute to Vincent van Gogh.

Not everything that VOCES8 sang, however, was so profound and moving. Apart from forays into romance, there were saucy renditions of madrigals by Weelkes and Di Lasso. Further spice was added in the final number, an arrangement of Gershwin’s ‘Slap That Bass’. The jazz technique, from which the song took its name, was not used on the instrument but rather on bass Dominic Carver, the newest member of VOCES8.

With touring comes travel and often travails. When introducing the encore, Andrea Haines, whose realm is the soprano stratosphere, told of flight woes, especially one particularly memorable experience in Charlotte, NC. VOCES8’s sole encore, a mix of ‘Come Fly with Me’ and ‘Fly Me to the Moon’, evoked the travel of one’s dreams fueled by romance and sophistication. But then again, we had been traveling in such style with them the entire evening.

Rick Perdian

1 thought on “VOCES8 launches its twentieth-anniversary US tour in New York”

  1. Nice to read this review. VOCES8 sang last Friday night in St. Louis and their concert here was excellent. [edited]


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