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December 4, 2006

As world music turns, Bulgarian choir returns

Boston Herald (MA):

Whether the singers hail from Mongolia, South Africa or Ireland, world music fans have long been open to sampling off-the-beaten-path vocals that make Colombia’s Shakira sound as mainstream as Barbra Streisand. Which is why a troupe of women from the Bulgarian countryside with gorgeous voices and an otherworldly sound became unlikely world music darlings in the late ’80s and early ’90s.

Le Mystere des Voix Bulgares (The Mystery of the Bulgarian Voices), an a cappella ensemble of more than 20 singers, shed its original stilted moniker - the Bulgarian State Radio and Television Female Vocal Choir - and for several years shone as brightly in world music circles as the Buena Vista Social Club and Ladysmith Black Mambazo. The former Grammy winners are back in town on Tuesday at St. Sava Serbian Orthodox Church in Cambridge. It’s an appearance which begs these questions: Where have they been lately? And why are they playing in an out-of-the-way venue that’s a far cry from the major concert halls that hosted them a decade ago?

“At the beginning the group was very popular among pop music fans,” said conductor Dora Hristova. (Jazz guitarist Pat Metheny is an avowed fan, as was the late Jerry Garcia.) “But the interest (in the group) changed. It’s a little different audience now, more like the classical audience. But the music itself hasn’t changed. We’ve preserved the vocal technique, and the arrangements have become more modern and complicated.”

While Le Mystere des Voix Bulgares hasn’t made Boston a regular stop, this is its seventh U.S. tour. The group primarily performs in European churches. “The atmosphere and acoustics (of a church) fit more with the choir’s voices than other kinds of venues,” Hristova said. The St. Sava performance will include a mix of traditional religious songs, Orthodox chants and Christmas songs. Maure Aronson of World Music Inc., the organization that brought the ensemble here in the past, said he passed on hosting them this year because he felt there was already strong local competition with other Christmas concerts. But he felt the decision to perform in a church made sense. “I remember seeing them for the first time at a church on Tremont Street and their voices were beautiful there,” he said. “Churches are a good place for them.”

As Boston’s top presenter of the genre, Aronson has witnessed the popularity of world music acts ebb and flow. “Just like rock artists, world music artists go through peaks and valleys. With a group like (Le Mystere des Voix Bulgares), their very specialized vocal technique has a certain longevity with audiences. You’ll always have the core audience come out, but the people who came because it was a new sound and have now seen them two or three times are moving on to something else.” These days, Hristova considers St. Sava just right for the ensemble, which will number 24 members on Tuesday. The event kicks off - in case you were unaware - Bulgarian Cultural Week in New England.

Posted by acapnews at December 4, 2006 10:58 PM