Vocal Arts Ensemble announces new season of live performances

Cincinnati’s Vocal Arts Ensemble has announced its new season and return to live performances beginning in January 2022.

The first program presents the world premiere performance of Moira Smiley’s commission for VAE titled “The Song Among Us” on Jan. 8 and 9 at the Harry T. Wilks Studio at Music Hall. This commission represents the first installment of a multi-composer, multi-season series of new works developed during the pandemic. The second program, featuring “Mass for the Endangered” by Sarah Kirkland Snider, will take place March 4 and 6 at the Jason Kaplan Theater at the Aronoff Center for the Arts. Both performances will be led by VAE Music Director Craig Hella Johnson.

Craig Hella Johnson
Craig Hella Johnson

“These are our first concerts since January 2020, so to begin, we wanted to create a feeling of reunion – of singers returning to form the ensemble and singers meeting the listeners in the audience once again,” said Johnson. “To come back and begin to rebuild, create, heal, and discover – after so much time apart – really underlines the preciousness of this artform. I am looking forward to being together with singers and audiences once again.”

The organization’s artistic leadership used this time to plan and develop a multi-season, multi-composer series of commissions to be premiered by VAE over the course of the next several years. These commissions will unite the ensemble’s year-to-year programming and allow the organization to better promote and share the work of underrepresented contemporary composers.

“For this and future seasons, we plan to commission a variety of concert-length works to share the voices of our time and do our part to deal with the essential issues of diversity, equity, inclusion, and access, which have been so often left outside of classical and choral circles,” said Johnson. “We want to clearly be a part of this important movement.”

Four of the ten works on the 2022 season are composed by women, including Smiley, Snider, Caroline Shaw, and Alysia Lee. Lee’s original song, “Say Her Name”, which will be part of VAE’s January program, was written as a vehicle to bring the Kwanzaa ceremony to the concert stage.

The choice of composer/performer Moira Smiley was purposeful for this re-entry concert as she works across musical genres in her writing, arranging and singing.

“I’ve been in conversation with Moira for a handful of years now,” said Johnson. “We’ve had very rich and meaningful conversations, and “The Song Among Us,” as a result, is an inclusive liturgy that combines traditional and contemporary choral repertoire. It will include spoken word and an element of audience participation. Guests will be invited to write responses to questions on grief and gratitude that will be used as a part of the performance. In true Moira-fashion, this piece will seamlessly blend the classical and folk music traditions, and I look forward to being a part of all of that.”

Sarah Kirkland Snider

The March program at the Aronoff will open with excerpts from J.S. Bach’s Cantata BWV 131: “Aus der Tiefen rufe ich, Herr, zu dir” (Out of the depths I call, Lord, to You). Sarah Kirkland Snider’s first large choral work, “Mass for the Endangered,” was released in September 2020. The work uses the traditional Catholic Mass – rooted in man’s appeal to God for mercy, forgiveness and intervention – and directs that appeal to Nature. The work expresses concern for non-human life and begs redemption for man’s transgressions against it.

“The Mass is a very moving piece with inspirations from Gregorian chant one moment and Arvo Pärt the next, and it will have liturgy juxtaposed with new text,” said Johnson. “We will be performing a chamber orchestration of the original work that really gives voice to the voiceless – a theme we can all relate to as we learn how to be again and coexist in this brave new world.”

VAE season:

Jan. 8, 4 p.m. & Jan. 9, 5 p.m. Wilks Studio, Music Hall

  • “The Song Among Us,” featuring a world premiere commission by Moira Smiley, plus music ranging from Heinrich Schütz to Caroline Shaw and Craig Hella Johnson.

March 4, 7 p.m. & March 6. 4 p.m. Jarson-Kaplan Theater, Aronoff Center for the Arts

  • “Mass for the Endangered,” by Sarah Kirkland Snider, plus excerpts from J.S. Bach Cantata BWV 131 (“Out of the Depths…”)

Tickets or more information: 513-381-3300 or vaecinci.com

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