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December 2, 2011

Q&A with Stile Antico


When UMS presented Stile Antico two years ago, it was one of the most talked-about events of the season. Stile Antico today is firmly established as one of the most original and exciting new groups in the choral music world. We asked the group a few questions.

1. Stile Antico work together without a conductor. What effect do you think working without a conductor has on the music you produce?

When we founded Stile Antico, we set out to explore the wonderful repertoire of the Renaissance in a new way.  Instead of turning up to rehearsals and being told what to do, we wanted to work as chamber musicians – like a string quartet – deciding amongst ourselves how the music should be shaped and performed.

This approach throws a huge responsibility onto the individual singers.  In a sense, we are all conductors: we need an extremely high level of collective listening to make sure that we always sing with good blend and ensemble.  We also have to feel and react to the overall sound that we are making, at the same time as singing our individual lines.  In our early years we sometimes rehearsed with our eyes closed, or facing away from one another, to hone our aural skills!

It also means that each singer has the opportunity to contribute creatively to our performances: we decide everything, from tempo and mood to dynamics and articulation, by discussion and experimentation.  This means that we rehearse far more than other groups of our type – perhaps three or four times as much! – but, most importantly, that our interpretations ‘belong’ to the individual singers in a unique way, and (we hope!) that our performances are warmed from the inside, since the ideas that underlie them come from the group itself, rather than a conductor at the front.   We can be spontaneous and fluid in performance, responding to one another as the mood takes us, and we find it an enormously rewarding way to work.

2. How do you put together a program in this kind of conductor-less collaborative environment?

As well as sharing in the musical decision-making, everyone in the group has individual roles – looking after our finances, website, travel and so on.  There are five members of the group who take a particular lead on musical programming, working intensively on developing themes for future concerts and recordings.  But everyone contributes to the discussion – our private website even has a ‘wish-list’ where we can all make repertoire suggestions.  We generally have three or four programmes on the go at any one time, and work about two years ahead.

3. It’s often noted that Stile Antico is a group of /young/ singers. Do you have any advice for other aspiring young singers?

According to one of our basses, be a high tenor – they’re always in demand!  But more seriously: have plenty of voice lessons. However natural your voice, it’s easy to fall into bad habits, and it’s great to have someone keeping an eye on you as you develop.  If you’re considering becoming an ensemble singer, then get as much experience as possible, practice your sight-singing, and listen as widely as you can – the better you understand a particular style, the better you’ll sing it.  But most importantly: always remember why you want to be a singer – it’s because you love the music!

4. In the spirit of the approaching holiday season, what is your favourite piece of holiday music to sing together?

In the spirit of collaboration, we discussed this at some length.  The most popular option was Tallis’ Videte Miraculum, the ethereal responsory which opens our Puer natus est programme.  But one tenor insisted that we record his preference for (his own arrangement of) Frosty the Snowman.

5.What are you looking forward to in your second visit to Ann Arbor?

A friendly and knowledgeable audience – and a return visit to Vinology!

Stile Antico perform at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church on Wednesday, Dec. 7th.