It has been over a year since the Halifax-based Helios Vocal Ensemble has performed together in front of a live audience. When they got the call from music presenter Cecilia Concerts that in-person shows were back on, the classical vocal quintet jumped on the opportunity.
“Normally, we are working on a repertoire for a particular gig, but in February, we were talking about just getting together and sing,” says Andrew Pickett, who, alongside Eszter Horvath, Elyse Delaney, Michael van der Gaag, and Spencer Gough, make up the five-member ensemble.
As luck would have it, the talk on social media at that time was all about what people were giving up for Lent. That chatter would ultimately become the genesis for the repertoire for Lamentations, the title for their April performances.
We found singing this music cathartic and therapeutic in this time, and we hope that listening to it will be like that as well.
“I realized there was some really interesting, sacred music for this time of year that is about penitence, lamentation and sorrow,” says Pickett. “When I got the call from Cecilia Concerts, I started thinking about how we could turn this into a program.”
Realizing there was also secular music that incorporates those themes, Pickett expanded the concert beyond the traditional to include contemporary music with similar reflective qualities.
But while the ensemble now had the theme and music, they needed a title for their concert that would not potentially scare off an audience.
“Finally, I realized that Lamentations would be the straight-up, straightforward title for this,” he says.
Besides, as others in the group pointed out, audiences would be grateful just to go to any concert right now and would instead be drawn to it.
“We found singing with music cathartic and therapeutic in this time, and we hope that listening to it will be like that as well,” says Pickett.
With Lamentations, Helios will perform works from the past and present, from Renaissance composers to twentieth-century Swedish songsmith Povel Ramel.
“Helios is a group that, because of our specialized training, we can tackle some beautiful repertoire that you have never heard from the 16th century up until today,” says Pickett.
Calling Thomas Tallis’s Lamentations of Jeremiah “a special treat to hear”
“It is a special treat to hear, a twenty-minute-long work of Renaissance polyphony that was written to be sung in Holy Week and is some of the most exquisite music written in the 20th century. The whole program will have that kind of unique impact, and we hope everything will feel like you hear something extraordinary.”
And while their next live concert beyond Lamentations will largely depend on loosening pandemic restrictions, Helios continues to keep busy offstage with a new CD, with a working title of Madrigal Mystery Tour slated to drop this fall.
Cecilia Concerts presents Helios Vocal Ensemble’s Lamentations with two shows on April 24. Visit ceciliaconcerts.ca for tickets and information.