Most kids want games and toys for Christmas. Not six-year-old Philip Brunelle. He wanted the vocal score to Handel's "Messiah." Now an internationally renowned conductor, choral scholar and performer, he is the founder and artistic director of the Minneapolis-based VocalEssence, one of America's premier choral arts organizations. He has appeared as guest conductor with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Minnesota Orchestra, the Berkshire Choral Festival, the Swedish Royal Opera, the New York Philharmonic and the Chicago Symphony, among others. His many awards include the Royal Order of the Polar Star from the King of Sweden and Commander of the Royal Norwegian Order of Merit. Brunelle appeared on the very first broadcast of A Prairie Home Companion, July 6, 1974.
Based in the Twin Cities, Cantus is recognized as one of America's finest professional male vocal ensembles. The artist-led group is known for adventurous programming spanning many periods and genres — chant to spirituals, art song to folk song, Bach to the Beatles. The Washington Post described their sound as having both "exalting finesse" and "expressive power," and referred to their music-making as "spontaneous grace." A brand-new album, Christmas with Cantus, was just released.
Chanticleer, under the direction of Matthew D. Oltman, is the San Francisco-based, Grammy Award-winning "orchestra of voices" that has been winning praise around the globe since 1978. Named for the "clear-singing" rooster in Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, the group was called "the world's reigning male chorus" by The New Yorker magazine and honored as 2008 Ensemble of the Year by Musical America. Their 2009-2010 season takes them across the U.S. and Europe. The Best of Chanticleer, the most recent of their dozens of recordings, was released last year on Rhino Records.
Bill Holm is an essayist and poet whose books include Coming Home Crazy: An Alphabet of China Essays (for which he won a Minnesota Book Award); The Heart Can Be Filled Anywhere on Earth; Eccentric Islands: Travels Real and Imaginary; The Dead Get By with Everything; Box Elder Bug Variations, and his recent poetry collection, Playing the Black Piano. He teaches at Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall, Minnesota, and when the school year is over, he frequently spends his summers on the north coast of Iceland, about 30 miles from the Arctic Circle. The grandson of four Icelandic immigrants to Minnesota, Bill grew up listening to the old people speak their native tongue and tell stories of the stubborn stoicism and fierce independence of his ancestors. Bill calls his house in Iceland "The Windows of Brimnes," and he is currently writing a book and a collection of poems about his summers there. He is also working on a book about cabins for Minnesota Historical Society Press.
The Fóstbræður Male Choir
There is a strong tradition of choral singing in Iceland. And one of the leading groups is the Fóstbræður Male Choir. First formed in 1916, the organization will be 90 years old this year. To celebrate, there will be a special anniversary concert on November 4, with The Fóstbræður teaming up with the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra. Currently under the direction of Arni Hardarson, the choir gives keeps up a busy concert schedule in Reykjavik and elsewhere in Iceland. The group has performed on radio and television, with the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra and with the Icelandic Opera. The choir has also travelled widely abroad, visiting many European countries as well as North America. Fóstbræður (the name translates as "sworn brothers") has three times won prizes at international choral competitions: the silver prize at Llangollen in Wales in 1972, the bronze prize at Linderholzhausen in Germany in 1987, and the gold in Prague in 2001. The choir has a recording of traditional Icelandic music called Arvasalda. There is also a concert recording, Islenskir Karlmenn. Arni Hardarson has directed the choir since 1991. He was educated as a pianist and composer at the Royal College of Music in London. He is now director of the Kopavogur Music School.
Metropolitan Opera tenor Raúl Melo has sung principal roles with major opera companies worldwide. He made his Met debut during the 2005-2006 season as the Duke in Rigoletto. Other recent performances include the roles of Pinkerton (Madama Butterfly) and Cavaradossi (Tosca) with the New York City Opera, the tenor soloist in the Verdi Requiem with Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires, and Alvaro in Verdi's La Forza del Destino at the Ĉeský Krumlov International Music Festival in the Czech Republic.
Frederica von Stade
Since her 1970 debut with the Metropolitan Opera, mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade has appeared with every leading American opera company and throughout Europe from Teatro alla Scala and Royal Opera Covent Garden to the Vienna State Opera and the Paris Opera. She has made more than 70 recordings, including Songs of the Cat (HighBridge), a collaboration with Garrison Keillor. In addition to her six Grammy nominations, two Grand Prix du Disc awards, the Deutsche Schallplattenpreis, and Italy's Premio della Critica Discografica, she was appointed as an officer of L'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, France's highest honor in the arts. Nicole Rodriguez joins von Stade for today's performance. James Meredith is at the piano.
The St. Olaf Choir
The St. Olaf Choir was organized in 1911 by F. Melius Christiansen, born in to a musical family in Berger, Norway and later trained in Leipzig, Germany; a young man whose first interest was instrumental music, particularly concert violin, and who came to St. Olaf in 1903 to build a music department. By the time he retired in 1941 he had managed to change the voice of American collegiate choral music, setting a style and standard that have given St Olaf an international reputation.
They began touring in their first year, to Wisconsin, Illinois and North Dakota, and in the next season, 1913, shipped out to Scandinavia. Since then they've seen just about every place from Tijuana, Mexico, to the Great Wall of China; from Des Moines to Dusseldorf, including Australia, New Zealand and Korea.
The current conductor is Anton Armstrong, selected by a search committee from a national field on January 2, 1990. He grew up on Long Island, New York, toured Italy with the American Boychoir in 1971, and graduated from St. Olaf in 1978. He earned a Master of Music degree at the University of Illinois and a Doctor of Musical Arts at Michigan State. He is a frequent guest conductor and lecturer throughout Europe, Scandinavia, Asia, the Caribbean, and the Pacific.
University of Minnesota Morris Concert Choir
The University of Minnesota Morris Concert Choir was founded by its current director, Ken Hodgson, in 1978, and since that time the group has established a national — and international — reputation. Under Hodgson's direction, the choir has collaborated with the Minnesota Orchestra and conductor Eiji Oue, and has made numerous tours. They have traveled the East and West Coasts and throughout the Midwest. They've also done concert tours to Canada, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Germany and the United Kingdom. Next month they are off to the West Coast again, and in May, they return to Europe to give concerts in Norway, Sweden, Finland and possibly Estonia. Over the decades, this organization has come to exemplify professionalism, enthusiasm and an excellence in choral artistry that is a credit to Minnesota's choral music tradition.
VocalEssence Ensemble Singers with Philip Brunelle, Artistic Director
The Oxford Times (UK) wrote, "VocalEssence have a blend that could — and should — be the envy of every choir in the business." Since 1991, the acclaimed VocalEssence Ensemble Singers — the 32-voice core of the full VocalEssence Chorus, 130 voices in all — have toured extensively. Under the direction of founder Philip Brunelle, the Minneapolis-based group is featured on two CDs with Garrison Keillor: Over the River & Through the Woods and Hymn to Potatoes, both on VocalEssence Records. Charles Kemper is at the piano.
Garrison Keillor was born in Anoka, graduated from the University of Minnesota ('66), and lives in St. Paul. He is the author of numerous books, including Pilgrims: A Wobegon Romance, and Guy Noir and the Straight Skinny (Viking), and the editor of several anthologies of poetry, including Good Poems: American Places (Viking).
The Guy's All-Star Shoe Band
The Guy's All-Star Shoe Band is led by A Prairie Home Companion music director Richard Dworsky. Keyboard player, composer and improviser in any style, he also writes all the script themes and underscores. His latest CD is So Near and Dear to Me.
Chet Atkins called Pat Donohue (guitar) one of the greatest fingerpickers in the world today. And he writes songs too — recorded by Suzy Bogguss, Kenny Rogers, and others. Nobody's Fault (Bluesky Records) is the most recent of Pat's 10 albums.
Gary Raynor (bass) has performed with the Count Basie band and Sammy Davis Jr., with whom he toured for several years. He was first call for dozens of touring Broadway shows, including the first presentation of The Lion King. Gary teaches at the McNally Smith College of Music in St. Paul.
Peter Johnson (percussion) has played klezmer music with Doc Severinsen and jazz with Dave Brubeck. He was a drummer for The Manhattan Transfer and for Gene Pitney. He has toured the world, but he always comes back to home base: Saint Paul.
One minute he's mild-mannered Tim Russell; the next he's George Bush or Julia Child or Barack Obama. We've yet to stump this man of many voices. In other roles, Tim played the part of Al, the stage manager, in the Robert Altman film A Prairie Home Companion and a detective in the Coen brothers' A Serious Man.
On APHC, Sue Scott plays everything from ditzy teenagers to Guy Noir stunners to leathery crones who've smoked one pack of Camel straights too many. The Tucson, Arizona, native is well known for her extensive commercial and voice-over work on radio and television, as well as movie and stage roles.
Lovingly selected from the earliest archives of A Prairie Home Companion, this heirloom collection represents the music from earliest years of the now legendary show: 1974–1976. With songs and tunes from jazz pianist Butch Thompson, mandolin maestro Peter Ostroushko, Dakota Dave Hull and the first house band, The Powdermilk Biscuit Band (Adam Granger, Bob Douglas and Mary DuShane).