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October 7, 2005

Finding common threads

Gainesville Sun (FL):

When Christopher Gabbitas, a baritone with the English vocal group the King's Singers, first heard the idea behind "Sacred Bridges," he found it intriguing. And when he began working on the piece that will make its U.S. premiere in Gainesville Tuesday, his enthusiasm began to build. For "Sacred Bridges," the King's Singers will team with Sarband, a musical group that combines Eastern and European styles. "Sacred Bridges" draws its text from the Psalms, weaving together Islamic, Christian and Jewish musical settings from the 16th and 17th centuries for scripture all three faiths hold sacred.

"I think the focus in the modern era is to look at the differences between the three faiths and to see the ways in which they conflict and ways you can drive wedges between them," Gabbitas said by telephone from England. "Sacred Bridges" takes the opposite approach.

Tuesday's performance - sung in Hebrew, French and Turkish - will feature composers Salamone Rossi Hebreo, Clément Marot, Théodore de Bèze and Ali Ufkì. Gabbitas says Sarband founder and director Vladimir Ivanoff pulled the strands together to show the "extreme similarities." "He's shown that the same words and themes, even the same melodies are used in the Jewish faith and also in the Islamic faith," Gabbitas says.

The King's Singers formed in 1968 at King's College. They are six men: bass, two baritones, a tenor and two countertenors. The sound is unique, with a vocal range in which the falsetto of the countertenors can reach the F of a soprano, while the bass can explore the basement with a low B flat. Since forming there have been only 19 singers in its exclusive membership; and Gabbitas is the newest, joining in 2004. "To be honest, they welcomed me with open arms, they're extremely kind and caring and a generous bunch of people with their time and the way they welcomed me in," said Gabbitas, jokingly calling himself "new guy."

The King's Singers' unique style is complemented by the wide variety of music. In a church concert it may be works from the Renaissance. Visitors to the group's Web site may be serenaded by the tight harmony a capella version of the Beach Boys classic "Good Vibrations." The group travels all around the world, performing about 100 concerts a year. When the group joined Sarband in May 2005 to record a CD at St. Andrew's Church, Toddington, Gloucester, it crossed a couple of new musical bridges, as well. Gabbitas said Sarband vocalist Mustafa Dogan Dikmen did 99.9 percent of the singing in Turkish, "and did it jolly well," allowing the King's Singers to add a new language to its musical résumé, albeit, briefly.

"It has been an interesting experience; we're used to singing in French, we're used to singing in German and Latin, even Hungarian, Finish and Polish, but not so much Turkish," he said. And while they've sung with church organs and symphonies, being accompanied by Sarband's reed flute, bowed three-string fiddle and trapezoidal zither, was a first. "The three-string fiddle is unlike any Western instrument. It's a tiny instrument played resting on the knee of the player. You don't push the strings down, you place your finger by the side of the strings, which gives it a slightly reedy harmonic sound," Gabbitas says. "It was fascinating."

Posted by acapnews at October 7, 2005 12:15 AM