Hosted by the Yale Glee Club and organized with the International Festival of Arts & Ideas, Yale School of Music, and Yale Alumni Chorus, the Choral Festival will welcome to New Haven ensemble cantissimo, a group of German and Swiss vocalists; the Muslim Choral Ensemble, a Sri Lankan group that was established in 2017; the Young People’s Chorus of New York City; Staccato, a group from the National Autonomous University of Mexico; the Yale Choral Artists; and the Yale Alumni Chorus.
Jeffrey Douma, director of the Yale Glee Club, founding director of the Yale Choral Artists, and artistic director of the Choral Festival, had tried to bring the Tehran Vocal Ensemble to New Haven but could not make that work. Still, members of that group will participate via live stream in Nahid Siamdoust’s June 14 lecture “Islam & Music: The Case of Iran,” which is informed by Siamdoust’s book Soundtrack of the Revolution: The Politics of Music in Iran. Siamdoust is a postdoctoral associate in the Yale Program in Iranian Studies at the MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies. While the Tehran Vocal Ensemble, Douma said, is largely a secular choir, the nascent Muslim Choral Ensemble is “the first ensemble devoted exclusively to Muslim choral music in South Asia, if not in the world.”
The Young People’s Chorus of New York City is no newcomer to the choral scene. Established 30 years ago with a mission “to provide children of all cultural and economic backgrounds with a unique program of music education and choral performance that seeks to fulfill each child’s potential,” the ensemble will perform the premiere of Paola Prestini’s The Glass Box alongside the Yale Choral Artists. In doing so, members of the Young People’s Chorus will sing about peers in terrible circumstances.
Prestini’s The Glass Box was inspired by Rachel Aviv’s April 2017 New Yorker piece “The Trauma of Facing Deportation” and the “resignation syndrome” described therein that has afflicted refugees in Sweden. The performance will include projections by Kevork Mourad, a New York-based Syrian artist of Armenian heritage. The Young People’s Chorus-Yale Choral Artists performance will be repeated in New York City on a program that will also include YSM faculty composer David Lang’s the national anthems, a piece that points to the violent themes that mark most national anthems.
The Choral Festival fits perfectly into the Arts & Ideas Festival, presenting compelling performances and talks aimed at connecting local audiences to the wider world through the human voice. “It is our hope,” language on the Choral Festival website reads,” that this year’s festival will be a concrete and vital demonstration of the ways in which the arts in general and choral singing in particular can help create understanding between people in a world that too often feels increasingly divided.”