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February 12, 2005

Serenade of noble voice

Arizona Sun-Times (AZ):

Their name, Voci Nobili, means noble voices, and Flagstaff will have a chance to experience the lushness of their music when this 25-woman choral group sings tonight at Ardrey Auditorium. Led by conductor Maria Gamborg Helbekkmo, they will sing in the second half of a host concert with two NAU choral groups, Chamber Singers and Shrine of the Ages. The sold-out concert is the centerpiece of the university's 2005 Jazz/Madrigal Festival. About 1,000 of the 1,450 seats will be filled by choral students who are here for the festival.

The Voci Nobili singers are a long way from their home at the Bergen University College in Norway. They arrived by bus, via Las Vegas, after performing at the National Convention of the American Choral Directors Association (ACDA) in Los Angeles. "They were just delightful; they were so stylistic with such great intonation and phrasing," said Edith Copley, director of choral studies at NAU, who heard the group in Los Angeles. "The conductor is just a joy to watch. I'm just really excited about this. This is the first time we've had an international choir sing at the Jazz/Madrigal Festival."

Helbekkmo, who will be 63 on Feb. 18, is an associate professor at Bergen University College, where she teaches choir conducting, piano and solo voice. She conducts two choirs at Bergen University College, Jentekoret and Voci Nobili, and is artistic director of Bergen Philharmonic Choir. "We will perform a variety of pieces, but many Norwegian pieces," she said at a gathering Thursday night in the Radisson lobby. "We will sing Norwegian folk music and two, maybe three, Grieg pieces. We are also singing pieces by two of our most important choral composers, Knut Nystedt and Egil Hovland."

Edvard Grieg, born in Bergen in 1843, and is one of Norway's best-known composers. The incidental music he composed for "Peer Gynt" is probably his most beloved work. The choir has gained wide recognition as an exceptionally fine vocal ensemble, and has won a number of national and international choral competitions. "They were in Great Britain in competition and won three of the four first-place prizes," Copley said. "You hear more mixed choruses than women's choirs at festivals and conventions. They all dress in Norwegian traditional dress."

Helbekkmo started the group in 1989 and members are selected by audition. None of the members are professionals, but all have spent an average of 500 hours a year rehearsing, performing and competing with the choir. The performers range in age from 18 to 36. "We're looking forward to seeing Flagstaff; the only impression we have is it looks like Norway, in the middle of the woods," said Maike Flick, 23, who has studied and performed with Helbekkmo since she was 8 years old. As rain started to fall after they arrived, the group felt more at home. "If it's raining here tonight, it will be more like Bergen because it rains a lot in Bergen," said Wibeke Wetas, 25. "But when there's sun in Bergen, it's worth all the rain."

Voci Nobili will perform about 15 works, and some of them will showcase pianist Geir Botnen and soloist Anne Catherine Eiken, both from the lovely Hardanger area by the fjords. The mountains here will also be familiar because Bergen is called the City of Seven Mountains. "It's a beautiful city and the climate is warmer than people usually think," said Eirik Fluge, group tour manager. "Bergen was the capital approximately 150 years ago. It was a European cultural city, and it was very active. It has a strong music tradition."

The Jazz/Madrigal Festival, part of the Winterfest celebration, starts today and runs through Saturday. The festival features 110 choirs, including 70 from high schools. A new choir will sing every half-hour at three classical and two jazz sites in the city . "It's probably the biggest festival of its size in the Southwest," said Gary Weidenaar, associate director of choral activities at NAU and coordinator of the festival. "This festival is of such a magnitude. We've got choirs from all the western states including California, Nevada and a lot of Arizona choirs." The idea to invite Voci Nobili came up when he and his colleagues found out the group would be appearing at the ACDA conference. "We thought, maybe we could tap into one of the international groups that come over to perform," he said.

This choir was quite the hit at the ACDA convention and created quite a stir. What a wonderful tradition of choral excellence there is in Scandinavia!

Posted by acapnews at February 12, 2005 12:45 AM