The main reason Charleston becomes a Mecca for choral music buffs every Spoleto is the presence of the Westminster Choir.
It's the top ensemble from the nation's premier choir college. In addition to serving every year as the chorus in multiple performances, it makes a major appearance with an orchestra under Joseph Flummerfelt.
But these wonderful singers also get to shine on their own in a pair of concerts under the inspired direction of Joe Miller, on May 29 and June 2, where we'll hear entirely different kinds of music and performance styles.
In an interview, Westminster's distinguished director of choral activities revealed a program that has a varied and appealing array of mostly a cappella classics and modern fare (both sacred and profane) that spans half a millennium.
Among the menu's European selections will be a florid Renaissance-era motet by Josquin des Prez, Ave Maria Gratia Plena. We'll also hear two movements from Swiss composer Frank Martin's Mass for Double Choir, one of the 20th century's most sublime choral masterpieces. The work of living composers includes Wedding Dance by rising Serbian tunesmith Ivan Markovic and Singing Aboard Ship by Estonian master Veljo Tormis.
American classics will include a set of "social harp" pieces (related to the "sacred harp" tradition) in the brash, historic New England style. On the contemporary side, we'll hear modern sensation Eric Whitacre's A Boy and a Girl. I'm particularly excited about three spiritual arrangements from Moses Hogan: Great Day, Deep River, and Elijah Rock. Hogan's work represents a synthesis of the authentic African-American idiom with modern choral refinement. Amazing stuff.
"Our program touches on a wide variety of choral traditions, styles, and sounds, while exploring some important new trends," Miller told me.
But fair warning: Year after year, no Spoleto events are as jam-packed as these annual WC events at the Cathedral. If you don't have your tickets already, you'd best move fast — or be prepared to sell your soul to a scalper. A fair exchange, I'd say, given the exalted quality and spirit of what you'll hear.