The sounds produced by Seraphic Fire are hard to describe, but a couple of words come to mind: heavenly and rich. The choral ensemble has been making classical music accessible for 15 years to a hungry audience in South Florida. Now in the midst of its 15th season, they are also delivering new works commissioned to eight different composers that celebrate their anniversary. The choir is made up of singers from around the country, and they all come together to sing classical music and music composed within the last 10 years. The mix is personally appealing, as each program is packed with something new and unique to the ensemble.
This month, the choir will perform a new work by Shawn Crouch, a composer on faculty at the University of Miami. Crouch tells me that his new composition “When Music Sounds” is “a slight departure from previous works with more use of repetition.” Crouch composes pieces not only for choirs but also instrumental music. When he composes for a choir like Seraphic Fire he says his process “begins with the words.” As if he was bringing written words from poems to life through music. The process is intricate and detailed, wherein he diagrams and interprets the written word and gives it rhythmic dimension. Crouch’s new composition focuses on the prolific poet Walter de la Mare, who is known for inward examination.
It is remarkable that in a field known for “dead white guys” there are new compositions. If the field is to evolve, it is through new works and an audience that makes these works come to life. This is one of the main reasons why I found this new season so appealing. As Crouch puts it, “Classical music is no longer confined to the institutions of traditional music but rather can be heard in bars, clubs, living rooms and museums, often where drinks are served and a dialogue between performer and audience is encouraged.” It is indeed an exciting time, especially to be in South Florida, where these new works are premiering and being performed live.
The season, which so far has included a choral performance of Philip Glass, is inventive and shows some free-spirited choices. This is perhaps the beauty of a young organization led by young people and headquartered in the diverse city of Miami, and one of the youngest cities in the country. This kind of open environment has created an organization that is small and creative but also delivers some well-established classics to its fan base. Executive Director Rhett Del Campo says, “While the entire season does not necessarily have a theme, Patrick Dupré Quigley, Artistic Director, makes artistic choices that combine programs of those rare Classical and Baroque gems our audiences have come to love with more populous concerts like A Seraphic Fire Christmas or American Spirituals.”
For the January concerts, you can expect a group of dedicated artists that are making it work in spite the limited resources they have. It’s not just about money. Because the singers come from all over the country, they “have limited rehearsing time,” Crouch says. However, he is more than eager to share his new work with South Florida audiences, who have repeatedly received his work in the best way possible. In fact, during “The Genius of Philip Glass: Einstein on the Beach” program people were pleasantly surprised. Del Campo says that he was struck by “the amount of people who came afterward and said that Glass was never their cup of tea, but they were overwhelmed by our performance.”
These artistic offerings seem to have found a place with a loyal audience, but if you haven’t heard them you’re in for a treat. I will never forget my first Seraphic Fire concert. Looking around in the crowd I thought I would be bored, not being a classical music or choral expert, yet once the performance started I eased into a blissful space. They usually perform in smaller spaces, which make their events feel like you’re having a performance all to yourself, and if you’re lucky enough to see them in a church setting, it can even feel like a spiritual experience. Afterwards, the entire company comes out and you get that rare experience to talk to everyone. If you want a sneak peek at what Crouch’s music sounds visit his soundcloud.
Seraphic Fire will be performing Crouch’s new music, along with the Renaissance soundscape of Victoria — featured in the ensemble’s acclaimed Gregorian Chant album, the romantic melodies of Brahms and bold new harmonies of Herbert Howells. Performances run Jan. 18 – 22 in South Florida. For tickets and information on venues, please click here.