craig kingsbury

‘Cycles of Eternity’: In Mulieribus spins out a winner

Portland vocal ensemble's new recording features music by contemporary choral composers

by BRUCE BROWNE

A great CD needs to have at least four components: first, an excellent group of musician-singers; second, a great acoustical space; third, a gifted producer and fourth, a superb recording engineer. The latest release by In Mulieribus, Cycles of Eternity, boasts all these attributes.

  1. The nine women represented on the CD (some are on only a few tracks; there are usually seven total in concert) are first-rate singers, able to sing in the highest and lowest ranges with tonal beauty and nuance.
  2. The Proto Cathedral of St. James the Greater, in Vancouver, Washington, is one of the finest acoustical spaces in the Pacific Northwest. This recording takes full advantage of its resplendent ring time, which supports the singers’ voices throughout their ranges. 
  3. & 4. Producer Blake Applegate and recording engineer Rod Evenson are a talented duo who together help provide balance and focus throughout the recording process. Applegate is a long time director of Cantores in Ecclesia, and this year was guest director with Cappella Romana; Evenson has recorded most groups in town at live performances, and for CD.

This CD’s focus is a departure for the Portland women’s vocal ensemble, representing choral works by 21st century (and a few late 20th century) composers instead of the Medieval and Renaissance works that dominated their four previous recordings. Several have been commissioned over the past years by IM, and get their first “hearing” here. It’s a first class selection of composers, reflecting what’s been going on in the past thirty years on the choral scene, without pandering to the vox populi of, say, the Whitacre/ Lauridsen/ Gjeilo orbit. The former two are likely the most performed choral composers in the past 25 years.

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In Mulieribus preview: from medieval to madrigals

Women's vocal ensemble's tenth anniversary season continues with madrigals, new music — and men

Like so many of the best musical ideas, Portland’s finest female vocal ensemble got its start in a bar. Recently relocated to Portland from Chicago, Anna Song was unwinding with her new friends from the choir Cantores in Ecclesia after a 2006 rehearsal when another Portland classical singer, Tuesday Rupp, met up with them after a rehearsal with a different group. They got to chatting, discovered a shared love for early music, and a desire to sing more intimate ancient repertoire for women’s voices. “If you choose the songs,” Rupp, a veteran of the city’s classical scene, told Song, “I’ve got the singers.”

A few days later, several of the city’s top female singers sang together at Song’s house  and enjoyed it so much that they decided to do it again — and again. “This is really so fun, we sound pretty good, and we’re having a good time” Song remembers thinking. “Why don’t we put on a concert?”

Anna Song, center, leads In Mulieribus in concerts March 3 and 4.

They rented southeast Portland’s St. Philip Neri church for a solstice performance in December 2006. “I’ll take care of the logistics,” Rupp said, “and you take care of the music.” They needed one more thing: a name. A male friend suggested In Mulieribus for the all female ensemble, a Latin phrase meaning “among women.” Spreading the word via email in those pre-social media days, they were surprised when 150 people showed up. “This is crazy,” thought Song, accustomed to the rigid Chicago and East Coast classical music establishments. “It’s so easy!”

They certainly make it look that way. In the decade since that first informal concert, In Mulieribus has drawn ecstatic reviews and ardent applause from Portland listeners enraptured by their radiant voices and intrigued by the rarely performed repertoire they’ve sung several times per year for the past decade.

This weekend, Song leads In Mulieribus in tenth anniversary concerts that display both those resplendent voices and the group’s enthusiastic pursuit of ever-different sounds, including a first-ever venture into madrigals and a newly commissioned work by an Oregon composer.

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