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Exposing the Tiffany Consort
by Elisabeth Avery for Vocal Area Network
Posted August 15, 2006

Tiffany Consort logoIn a year shouting "newsworthy," it would seem that Tiffany Consort would have had enough exposure: a 2006 Grammy nomination for its first CD O Magnum Mysterium; three significant grants from NYSCA, Con Edison and the Florence Gould Foundation; a glorious new home at Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church on the Upper West Side; a fall release of the group's second CD;  and a pre-season commemorative concert on 9/11. However, while appreciated, these milestones are not the exposure Tiffany Consort members crave most. They thrive on the exposure that comes from singing virtuosic music one-voice-to-a-part.

Depending upon your experience, chops and tolerance for extreme sports, singing solo lines in an ensemble is either the closest thing to nirvana or akin to a certain Descent into Hell (which most of us have experienced at some point in our performance careers). For the Tiffs, this level of vocal challenge is their life's blood and their trademark style.

Recently I asked founder/director Nicholas White what it takes for singers to achieve and sustain this sophisticated level of vocal performance.

White: "Stamina first comes to mind, especially breath control since there is no other section member with whom to stagger breaths. Intonation is key; consistency of enunciation. Ensemble soloistic singing requires a flexible voice, and sensitivity to the other singers--for blendability.

EA: What about musicianship, harmony?

White: "Indeed. Of course, superb musicianship-the ability to understand one's individual vocal line in relationship to the whole, and dead-on sight reading."

Not surprisingly, White also mentioned collegiality of spirit. "To get on together, to sing together a lot, to know and like each other can really determine whether one reaches the ultimate goal which is to perform this wonderful music well."

In earlier times, this wonderful music would have been written in part books in which singers would only have their own part in front of them--similar to today's orchestral scores. Although singers rarely work from that format today, White considers it a valuable exercise because it forces singers to use their ears instead of their eyes to understand the music.

For White, the challenge of composing one-voice-to-a-part is comparable to that of composing for a string quartet rather than a full string orchestra. The reward is that music for soloistic ensemble creates a clarity and openness to the textures that can be very stimulating--even if it may lack the sheer weight and power of music intended for larger groups.

For those interested in the challenge and joy of taking on this type of singing, the repertoire is enormous, ranging from 12th century polyphony to the ever-expanding and exciting contemporary scene. Audiences will enjoy an exciting survey of masterpieces from this repertoire in the three concerts offered by the Tiffany Consort in its 2006-7 season, which features works from the Eton Choirbook from about 1450; 15th and 16th century works by  Schütz, Hassler and Dufay; and 19th and 20th century works by Schumann, Mendelssohn, Debussy, Ravel, Finzi, Howells and Vaughan Williams, to name a few.

Tiffany Consort takes a bold leap into contemporary material in its pre-season concert on 9/11. Performing works all by Nicholas White, the concert features a substantial new piece, In Sure and Certain Hope, written expressly for the Tiffany Consort. For the text, White drew upon passages in the Burial Office in the Book of Common Prayer. On this 5th anniversary, In Sure and Certain Hope aspires to heal the loss of those who died on 9/11 while evoking hope for the future.

The Tiffany Consort includes sopranos Jolle Greenleaf and Melissa Hughes, altos Kirsten Sollek and Ryland Angel, tenors Philip Anderson and Oliver Brewer, and basses Joe Chappel and Mark Risinger.

For the complete 2006-7 season, or to purchase advance tickets, please visit www.tiffanyconsort.com or call (212) 678-1725. Evening concerts begin at 7:30. Holy Trinity Catholic Church, the lovely acoustical gem on 82nd Street between Broadway and Amsterdam, is the new home for the Tiffany Consort.

Attention VAN readers: The Tiffany Consort invites you to enjoy a discount at the 9/11 concert. Simply say you read this article on VAN, and you will receive $5 off the regular adult ticket price at the door (limit: 2 tickets per person).

Elisabeth Avery writes about medicine and music. She is a fan of The Tiffany Consort, The Pharos Music Project, Music & Arts at St. Michael's Episcopal Church, The Metropolis Ensemble, and…VAN.

Content Contact: Elisabeth Avery.
Revision Date: August 15, 2006.
Technical Contact: Steve Friedman.

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