VocalEssence, Cantus return to live and in-person performance; Ragamala Dance at Lyndale Gardens

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Before too long, voices will rise and songs will be sung by VocalEssence and Cantus, the Minneapolis-based choral music organization and men’s vocal ensemble that survived the pandemic and arguably emerged stronger. Both continued serving audiences when everything was shut down.

VocalEssence produced a high-definition, on-demand 2020-21 digital subscription season that is still available. Founder and artistic director Philip Brunelle livestreamed a daily series of Musical Moments. Associate conductor G. Phillip Shoultz III (aka GPS) livestreamed his own daily series of “Take 5 with GPS” musical warm-ups.

Cantus quarantined together and made a series of videos called “The COVID-19 Sessions.” The music was later released digitally by Signum Classics. The ensemble presented a virtual Hometown Series of concerts, including a reimagined version of “Alone Together,” moved the Cantus Idol Competition online and released their first new recording since 2012, “Manifesto.”

Each has announced an exciting and imaginative 2021-22 season that will include live and in-person concerts and online concert streaming. By coincidence (or by not checking in with each other, LOL), their seasons start on the same weekend in October.

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VocalEssence highlight: Stewart Copeland’s “Satan’s Fall”

You’ll have to wait for this until May 8, 2022, but it should be so worth it. Stewart Copeland, drummer for the British supergroup the Police, has written an oratorio inspired by John Milton’s epic poem “Paradise Lost.” VocalEssence will give the regional premiere at Central Lutheran Church. Theater Latté Da’s Peter Rothstein will provide the stage direction, tenor Nathan Granner and soprano Jamie Chamberlin will be the guest soloists, and Copeland will attend and give a pre-concert talk.

Photo by Shayne Gray

Stewart Copeland, drummer for the British supergroup the Police, has written an oratorio inspired by John Milton’s epic poem “Paradise Lost.”

Also in the 2021-22 season, themed “Music Moves Us”:

Oct. 16 at Orchestra Hall: “Hope Lives Here.” New music from Minneapolis-based composer Kyle Pederson and New York-based Gabriel Kahane, a fresh interpretation of Bernstein’s “Chichester Psalms” and the Company of Minnesota Dance Theatre dancing to Astor Piazzolla’s tango-infused tribute to Vivaldi, “Four Seasons of Buenos Aires.”

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Dec. 3 at the Basilica of St. Mary: “Bach’s Christmas Oratorio.” Performed with the Bach Society of Minnesota, led by Brunelle and Matthias Maute.

Dec. 11 and 12 at Plymouth Church in Minneapolis and Roseville Lutheran Church in Roseville: “Welcome Christmas.” The mystery of the season through a mother’s eyes. Includes José Maurício Garcia Nunes’ setting of the “Magnificat” (Song of Mary).

March 6, 2022 at Orchestra Hall: “WITNESS: Rejoice!” Special guests for this year’s “Witness” concert will be the Aeolians, the world-renowned choir from Oakwood University in Huntsville, Alabama, an HBCU (Historically Black College or University).

April 1, 2 and 30 in Detroit Lakes, Grand Rapids and Red Wing: “2022 Bob Dylan Revisited Tour.” In which the VocalEssence Ensemble Singers reimagine Dylan in “The Times They Are A-Changing’: The Words and Music of Bob Dylan,” commissioned in honor of his 2016 Nobel Prize.

April 24: “Choosing Love” at the Ordway Concert Hall. This concert program hasn’t yet been created. It will feature several new works from a year of interactive workshops and conversations held in Twin Cities neighborhoods.

May 8: “Satan’s Fall.” See above.

Season tickets are available now. Individual tickets go on sale Sept. 17. FMI. Online concert streaming will move from VocalEssence On Demand to a new home on the main VocalEssence website. The new digital streaming service will be free and available to all. Brunelle said in a statement: “By continuing to offer our concerts as digital streaming experiences, we can keep connections we formed during the pandemic going, encouraging choral appreciation in everyone with an internet connection.”

Cantus highlight: A reunion with Chanticleer

If you were at Orchestra Hall in 2016, when Cantus and the Grammy-winning, San Francisco-based vocal ensemble Chanticleer performed separately, then together, you won’t want to miss their reunion on Jan. 30, 2022. The 2016 concert was one of the 25 best things we saw and heard that year.

For spring 2021, Cantus has planned a series of three live and in-person concerts they will actively tour to several locations.

Courtesy of Cantus


Cantus, now in its 27th year, will present 6 new programs in 10 venues statewide and resume national touring for the first time since everything closed. It will continue making concerts available online as pay-what-you-can.

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The “COVID-19 Sessions” will be available as a physical album for Cantus audiences in time for Christmas, then launched internationally in spring 2022.

Here’s the 2021-22 season. All concerts except the Cantus/Chanticleer reunion will be held at multiple locations throughout the metro.

Oct. 15-24: “My Journey Yours.” A program that explores the courage of those who leave their homes in search of a brighter future, whether by choice, force or necessity.

Dec. 10-21: “Christmas with Cantus: Three Tales of Christmas.” Ten Twin Cities venues and a new venue in Rochester will host the holiday show featuring narrated passages from “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” “The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree” and “Dakota and the Snow Phoenix,” a new work written by Cantus bass Chris Foss.

“My Journey Yours” and “Three Tales of Christmas” will be toured to Michigan, Iowa, Wisconsin, Texas, Alabama, Tennessee and Virginia.

Jan. 30, 2022: Cantus and Chanticleer at Orchestra Hall. See above.

March: “A New World.” A program of rarely performed works by Dvorák and Janácek plus an encore performance of Margaret Bond’s recently rediscovered “Fields of Wonder,” a song cycle for low voices set to the poetry of Langston Hughes.

April/May: “Legends and Lies: The Story of Till Eulenspiegel.” This Cantus/Bach Society of Minnesota collaboration was originally scheduled for 2020-21 but delayed by COVID. (The Bach Society of Minnesota will also perform on VocalEssence’s season.)

June: “Cantus Covers: A Change Is Gonna Come.” Songs about journeys toward freedom by Diana Ross, Sam Cooke, Lady Gaga and others.

July 19-22: “Ramas y Raices: Songs from Latin America.” A summer chamber music program of solos, duets and performances by the full ensemble.

Season tickets are available now. Individual tickets go on sale Sept. 20. Pay-what-you-can tickets for online concerts will be available a month ahead of each program.

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The picks

Tonight (Tuesday, Aug. 24), 7 p.m.: Illusion Theater: Live at Lyndale Gardens: Ragamala Dance. Rescheduled from earlier this summer, a rare opportunity to see this internationally renowned Bharatanatyam dance company before they head to the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts for the world premiere of their latest evening-length work, “Fires of Varanasi.” Outdoors in the amphitheater at 6400 Lyndale Avenue South, Richfield. Free.


Courtesy of Malamanya


Wednesday, Aug. 25, 7 p.m.: Illusion Theater: Live at Lyndale Gardens: Malamanya. On Tuesday, Ragamala will do the dancing at Lyndale Gardens. On Wednesday, this wonderful Afro-Latin band will bring you to your feet. Two nights in a row at the same venue? Two good reasons. Outdoors in the amphitheater at 6400 Lyndale Avenue South, Richfield. Free.

Wednesday-Sunday, Aug. 25-29, 7:30 p.m.: Open Eye Theatre: Teresa Mock Presents “The Uncertainty Principle.” With America’s exit from Vietnam much in the news, as a point of comparison to Afghanistan, Mock’s play seems especially timely. Her father is a working-class Vietnam Veteran who grew up in 1950s Minnesota suburbia. As a result of his experience, her life has been permeated by war. Her play, a solo performance, is a collection of humorous, gritty and expansive family stories that examine the idea of transgenerational trauma. This will be Open Eye’s first full production back inside its theater since March 2020. Proof of full vaccination or negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours is required. A video will be available for streaming starting Sept. 2. Ages 13 and up. FMI and tickets ($15/10). An ASL interpreted show is available Sunday, Aug. 29 at 2 p.m.

Thursday, Aug. 26, 7-9 p.m., Walker Art Center: August Green Roof Poetry. Su Hwang, Jim Moore, Sagirah Shahid and Moheb Soliman will read in the Walker’s green upper garden. Free. FMI.

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