Birds of Paradise
After thirty years of absence, the Madrigals are back in Moscow. This Filipino choir, consisting mainly of students, professors and graduates of the state-run University of the Philippines, was first in Moscow in 1976 in the year Russia and the Philippines established diplomatic relations. This year the group is here again, on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of bilateral ties.
Created in 1963, the Madrigals – more affectionately known as Madz – have long borne the mark of excellence. Over the span of 42 years, the Madz has consistently won the top prizes in the most prestigious choral competitions, with those at Spittal, Austria; Arezzo and Gorizia in Italy; Neuchatel, Switzerland; Tolosa, Spain; and Marktoberdorf, Germany forming only part of a long list of laurels. In June 1997, the Madz was crowned the overall winner at the Champions League for choral singing on the planet – the Grand Prix Europeen du Chant Choral – held that year in Tours, France. They reaffirmed this winning touch by bagging top prizes in the Certamenes Internacionales de Polifonia y Habaneras in Torrevieja, Spain in 2004.
Nevertheless, the most fascinating thing about these songbirds from the sun-blessed islands in the East is not the ease with which they seem to win one major choral competition after another, but their trademark performance stance – singing in a semi-circle without a conductor. The only visible guidance to the choir on the part of the choirmaster is the slightest movements of his eyes or barely noticeable shrugging. All in all it seems as if their voices just move along with the logical development of the music and even more so they are guided by a spiritual unity among the performers, and that makes their performance look extremely exotic yet at the same time most natural. Every concert given by the Madrigals shows how unmatched virtuosity, impeccable professionalism and soulful singing come together to produce an impression that stays in people’s hearts and minds. As a critic writing for Pelo ponissos, the independent newspaper of Patras, Greece, said in December 1981: “Without exaggeration, we can only say that the 21 young voices made the audience unable to speak. And as the performance progressed, the more the audience wondered whether the angelic voices they were hearing were human, and above all, of amateurs.”
This renowned choir can trace its origins to the time when University of the Philippines professor Andrea O. Veneracion discovered the joys of a capella singing, Renaissance style, while studying at Indiana University in the U.S. for her Master’s Degree. As part of her studies she had to learn madrigals, a song form traditionally performed by an ensemble of singers seated around a table. Upon returning to Manila, Professor Veneracion started an ensemble comprised of both professors and students. As a group the Madrigals made their first appearance on the world scene in 1969 at the First Choruses of the World Festival held at the Lincoln Center in New York.
The repertoire of the Madrigals boasts an incredible variety of styles and time periods. They perform music of the Renaissance times and avant-guard, Filipino folklore and latest hits. What is more, they constantly enrich their collection by the folk music of the countries they visit and continue studying authentic Filipino music.
To maintain their high standards and competitive edge, the Madz tour constantly in Asia, Europe and North America. They will launch their seven-country, 10-city European tour this year in Moscow, which had heretofore not been part of their regular circuit. While they are scheduled for noteworthy performances with the Romeo & Juliet Choir in Stockholm and the Notre Dame Cathedral and Church of St. Louis des Invalides in Paris, their concert schedule in Moscow is the most elaborate and culturally diverse. They are giving a full program of ethnic Filipino songs at the DOM Cultural Center and a survey of European sacred music tradition at the Catholic Cathedral of Immaculate Conception. Despite its tight concert schedule, maestro Vladimir Spivakov’s Moscow International Performing Arts Centre has invited them to perform at the Chamber Hall while the Moscow Tchaikovsky Conservatory has set them up for a limited perform performance at the Radio Concert Studio to be broadcast live on Radio Kultura in the framework of the 4th Universe of Sound International Music Festival. This demanding weeklong schedule – seven appearances in seven days including two by invitation only – is intended to hone the Madz’ voices for the Concours International du Chant Choral of the top-level Florilege Vocal de Tours. Muscovites get their first hearing in three decades of voices from these birds of paradise on 12- 17 May 2006.
May 12 DOM Cultural Center, 7pm
May 13 Moscow International Performing Arts Center, 7pm
May 14 Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, 11am Moscow Conservatory, 7pm
May 17 Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, 7:30pm