"We like to open doors," explains Paul Smith of the British vocal ensemble Voces 8. "This idea that we might find someone who loves Tallis but hasn't heard of Massive Attack, or loves Massive Attack and hasn't heard of Tallis actually, if we can just open people's minds to the wide array of music that exists in the world. We're a group with eclectic tastes. We like to include those tastes but also really share them and encourage people to broaden their horizons."
When Voces8 began to compile pieces for their latest recording, Lux, Paul's brother Barney says it made sense to consult with ClassicFM, the largest commercial classical radio station in the U.K. "For us as a group to get our music heard, we want to give people what they want to listen to," Barney says. "Getting in touch with a radio station that caters to the needs of a wide market is quite important for us. They have so much feedback on all the tracks they play that we wanted to get their input, to make sure that we were singing music that people really wanted to listen to."
The end result is a rollercoaster adventure spanning four centuries of choral arrangements from the Renaissance to 21st-century popular music. Barney explains the concept behind this new release. "We call this recording Lux," he says. "Many people associate choral singing and the sound of a choir with radiance. The image on the front cover portrays that well. It's a wonderful shot of the sun shining bright into the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern in London. And I think for me, that's a fantastic image that I have in my head when I hear a glorious choir singing. So with that theme of light we wanted to choose music that was glorifying and uplifting. And so that's 'how we settled on Lux.
"From there, we looked for great texts, great melodies and built a playlist which we are really, really proud of," Barney continues. "One of the most interesting things is the track by Eriks Esenvalds called 'Stars,' where this luminous effect is created by the harmonics of water glasses. And they create this beautiful halo under which we sing some beautiful music. So the theme of light is very important, and I think a great way to demonstrate the choral sound."
According to soprano Emily Dickens, it took a village to record this piece. "We needed to get hold of about 16 glass players for this," she says. "We decided we'd ask our family and friends. We got to the church and Barney tuned the glasses to a pitchpipe, he was immaculate. We had my sister, Barney's family, Chris's wife, and they all sat down and played glasses to Barney's conducting and us singing an experience we've never had before. We've only recorded with just us or a professional orchestra, and these were just amateur musicians or not musicians at all who just enjoyed being a part of the process."
Paul agrees it was pretty special. "Actually," he says, "on Facebook when the album went to No. 2 on U.K. charts, I saw Emily's sister send a post saying, 'I'm delighted to get my first classical number No. 2. My sister's on the album, too'."
Emily recalls another memorable moment during the making of this new CD. "Recording 'The Luckiest' by American singer-songwriter Ben Folds that was really special," she says. "It was something the group already knew before I joined, and I learned really for the first time in the last couple of years. Bringing it into a recording setting, where you have to learn it inside out and really get into the music, was brilliant. We've been performing it in America. It's one of the audience's favorite pieces over here they really love it."
"And actually, we had some good friends come over from the U.S. to spend time with us at the Gresham Center," Paul adds. "They were celebrating their 20th anniversary and wanted to renew their vows. So as a special gift to them, we had them join us. As they spoke their vows to each other, the only people in attendance were the eight of us and we sang 'The Luckiest' to them afterwards, and there was not a dry eye in the house. And we were with them again on this tour. When we performed, we dedicated the song to them. It's one of the hardest emotional things to avoid crying on stage."
Lux opens with "Ubi Caritas" by Norwegian-born composer Ola Gjeilo, who next year will be the composer in residence for Voces8. Barney explains that this recording actually opens and closes with this beautiful sacred text, which speaks of goodness and love.
"It's a personal favorite text of mine," Barney says. "I was reading a magazine the other day where the writer was saying that he feels the text 'Ubi Caritas' always brings out the best in choirs, the best in their singing. Well, I often feel it brings out the best in composers. We have two fantastic settings on the CD to open and close. The first by Ola Gjeilo. The second by Paul Mealor, who shot to fame in 2011 when that setting was sung at the wedding of William and Kate.
"The thing I love about it it carries our message at the ethos of our group because our education work is very, very important to us. We feel extremely fortunate to have had such a fantastic opportunity both as individuals and as a group. And we'd like to give that opportunity back and to inspire other people to be creative, to use their voices, to express themselves. The text of the 'Ubi Caritas' sums that up it's an important text to the group so it was nice to be able to open and close with it."
Great texts and great melodies make up a radiant collection of choral pieces, all of which make for a very satisfying listening experience on Lux with Voces8.