University Singers International Tour 2015
After several years of planning, 90 members of the UVa University Singers represented both the McIntire Department of Music and UVa on a two-week concert tour of Europe in May 2015, the group’s first international tour in several decades. Armed with cell phone cameras, musical scores, tour buddies, selfie sticks, and a fortnight’s worth of travel attire, the singers visited four countries, performing in England, the Czech Republic, Poland, and Austria.
Arriving in Cambridge, the Chamber Singers immediately joined the renowned Jesus College Choir of Cambridge University in a collaborative Evensong. Jesus College Choir director Mark Williams wrote UVa conductor Michael Slon, “I am full of admiration for [your choir] and their extraordinary commitment and concentration in an unfamiliar setting and after a long flight.” After tours of the historic university and a concert in Great St. Mary’s, the singers moved on to London, where choral text overlapped with reality when the group gave an impromptu performance of “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square” in the middle of Berkeley Square.
The University Singers’ full evening concert in St. John’s Smith Square was attended by a large group of London alumni, following a pre-concert UVa reception. One alum later wrote to Pres. Sullivan: “I have attended many athletic games, fund raising events and alumni lectures, but this experience was the most uniquely cultural and emotional connection since I graduated over 30 years ago.”
In between performing and rehearsing, the students enjoyed tours of Stratford-upon-Avon, the Tower of London (where they saw the Crown Jewels), and St. Paul’s Cathedral, snapping pictures of Big Ben, Royal Albert Hall, Baker Street, Buckingham Palace and Westminster Abbey along the way. In the blink of a London Eye, the group was off to the Czech Republic, switching English accents for Central European consonants.
An impromptu performance of the Czech folk song “Tancuj” on a bluff overlooking Prague’s picturesque old town entertained a lunchtime crowd, and this was only the beginning of a series of appreciative Central European audiences the group enjoyed. In St. Salvator Church the next day, people teared up listening to Whitacre’s “Sainte-Chapelle” and the revolutionary strains of “Do You Hear the People Sing.” And Prague, with its indulgent horizons, infectious energy, and glamorous and delightful evenings, was a highlight for many of the singers.
On the way to Krakòw, assistant conductor Clay Pulsipher (UVa ’13) led the group in an impromptu performance in the Wieliczka Salt Mines. And once in the historic city, the Singers delighted in beautiful churches (including the Krakow Cathedral, where St. John Paul II was archbishop), the slightly wet flower petals sold in the square, the perfectly unfinished notes of St. Mary’s Trumpet Call, and the acoustics of our concert in St. Anne’s. An evening meal was accompanied by live music and dancing, leading to a joyfully raucous rendition of “Tancuj.”
On a roundabout way to Vienna, our final stop, the U-Singers had the chance to slip back into the Czech Republic to join the Brno Philharmonic Choir at the Cathedral of St. Peter and Paul. The performance resonated – literally, the reverberation from some the chords in the space hung in the air many seconds after Professor Slon stopped the sound – and a joint “Hallelujah Chorus” with Brno treated the standing-room only audience to the power of collaboration across continents. From there, tour closed out with an afternoon performance in Vienna’s extraordinary Schönbrunn Palace.
“This is one of the most extraordinary outreach projects the music department has ever sponsored,” says conductor Michael Slon. “The Singers were tremendous ambassadors for UVa, and we are grateful to all those administrators, tour guides, and generous supporters who helped make the trip possible.”
As for the students, singer Katy Greiner summed it up: “two of the best weeks music had given the University Singers. [After tour] I sorely missed the chaos and camaraderie of traveling with a hundred of my closest friends. I kept hearing their voices—their ‘Ave Maria,’ in the salt mines, their Whitacre angels in the stained glass of the Jesus College chapel, their tear-inspiring march of ‘tomorrow comes’ in Prague, their dancing ‘la-la-las’ in the restaurant in Krakow, their resounding ring of ‘Hallelujah’ in Brno.”
For more coverage of the U-Singers tour see: