Hailing from Britain, the Grammy nominated, highly acclaimed vocal ensemble Stile Antico will take the Skinner Music Hall stage on Sunday October 6.
The singers will perform a concert titled “Treasures of the Renaissance” at 3 p.m. as a part of their six-concert tour in the United States this month. It will feature Stile Antico’s 12 singers, with one replacement to its usual bass line.
The term “stile antico” literally means “old style,” referring to the seventeenth-century approach of Renaissance church composition. Indeed, the group focuses on works that are even in rhythm and strictly controlled in their use of dissonance. The mixed program they will use for their concert at Vassar showcases sixteenth-century works from Flanders, Germany, Italy and Spain, as well as the sounds of Tudor and Jacobean England and the polychoral works of Sebastián de Vivanco and Michael Praetorius.
The singers will also perform a twenty-first-century piece composed for the group in 2009 by British composer John McCabe. This twelve-part tour-de-force is the only non-Renaissance piece in the repertoire , set to a Medieval text.
Other works will split into four, five, six and even twelve parts. “There are no soloists as such,” wrote soprano Rebecca Hickey in an emailed statement, “but the pieces in eight and twelve parts are performed one voice to a part so you will have a chance to hear our individual voices.”
Stile Antico is much in demand and performs regularly in Europe and North America. The singers have toured extensively with Sting,and have performed in Australia and the Far East. They have produced several recordings that can be purchased on their website.
These chamber musicians perform a variety of music, including works by English Tudor composers, Flemish and Spanish schools and the early Baroque period. They also hold master classes with funds from the National Lottery and workshops for adult choirs, opportunities that encourage the development of listening skills, musical independence and understanding rhythms. Workshops are small, unconducted events that are fitted to meet the needs of their participants.
Stile Antico frequently leads courses at Dartington International Summer School and is currently Ensemble In Residence at the University of Buckingham, encouraging students to sing as chamber musicians and respond to their music. The group has plans for future educational work, recordings and international tours. It receives no public funding and relies solely on the support of its friends and generous private donors.
There are distinct aspects of Stile Antico, one of them being that the group performs without a conductor. Rather, the members rehearse together as a chamber group, each singer contributing to the pieces stylistically. Hickey revealed that working without a conductor is wonderful, but a challenge in self-discipline. “Our rehearsals could easily turn into a general chat!” she wrote.
“We do in fact talk a lot in our rehearsals as we have the luxury of being allowed to explore different interpretations of the music, so we like to discuss our thoughts on interpretation. We feel we have a lot of freedom to express ourselves as musicians.” When explaining why she wanted to join Stile Antico, Hickey wrote, “I…loved the idea of there being no conductor and having the chance to work as a chamber musician.”
“We practice in intense bursts!” she continued. “We will often have a weekend of rehearsing so that we can really have a chance to get into the music. So when we start to rehearse a new programme of music we really enter into it and unpick it thoroughly.”
Hickey has enjoyed singing in small groups as well as performing Stile Antico’s material. Still, she has difficulty pinpointing what she enjoys the most about being part of the ensemble. “[There] are so many enjoyable things,” she wrote. “First and foremost I suppose is that I love the music of the sixteenth century so I have the joy of singing music I love all the time.”
She also enjoys the group’s companionship. “I am really part of a team and there is a real sense of camaraderie between us all which makes working together fulfilling and fun!”
Hickey and the ensemble are looking forward to the performance.
“There is something very exciting about sharing this music with students. The pieces we have chosen for this programme are all mini masterpieces which we have every confidence you will love as much as we do.”