USU hosts German a capella singers

When fans ask Ludwig Bohme what Calmus means, he laughs a little. Often they expect a deep historical reference or some type of symbolism, he said.

“It was the initials of the founding members. And I think it’s the root of a plant,” he said.

Bohme is one-fifth of the Calmus Vocal Ensemble, which will perform Tuesday, March 22 in Logan. After flying 5,300 miles from their hometown of Leipzig, Germany, the quintet will use their voices to share a combination of classical repertoire, folk songs and a little pop music.

When Craig Jessop, head of the music department and dean of Caine College of the Arts, received a call from the Ensemble’s manager last year asking if Utah State would like to be a stop on the group’s first-ever West Coast tour, he didn’t hesitate.

“I said absolutely,” he said. “This is the only professional vocal ensemble that is totally a cappella. They’re exceptional.”

Sebastian Krause, the group’s countertenor, said singing in the United States is almost like starting over. The group has a large fan base in Europe, but is almost unknown in the U.S., especially on the West Coast. He said they tailor their music when they perform in the states so they can show variety while still representing their culture.

“We enjoy (being) here in the United States because the audience is very open-minded,” Krause said. “The German people are not so lively after the concert.”

Both Krause and Bohme, the group’s baritone, started singing with the St. Thomas Boy’s Choir at young ages. Even after he graduated from the choir, Bohme never saw vocal music as anything more than a hobby. When the Calmus Ensemble was born, he said it was mostly just four guys singing at birthday parties.

“Young people’s lives are not clear,” Bohme said. “We have experienced it from the beginning on.”

Bohme described the first concert as a hit, and the first time he saw the ensemble as having the potential to become career. However, they were still missing a piece of the puzzle. That piece was found with the arrival of soprano Anja Lipferti in 2001.

“She changed the sound of the group dramatically. It’s getting better and better,” Bohme said.

The Calmus Vocal Ensemble specializes in a unique mixture of early and contemporary repertoire. Jessop said their music is an unbroken German tradition of hundreds of years, with roots in men like Johann Sebastian Bach, who also originated from Leipzig.

Bohme said the Bach is a sacred figure to Germans, one that they take inspiration from. His music is often written for voices; a good fit for the ensemble. Calmus also focuses on renaissance pieces and contemporary music specially commissioned for them.

“In the 15th century they loved singing drinking songs, we sing those,” Böhme said. “We sing from other periods as well. Our concerts usually end with pop or folk songs.”

When Jessop first saw Calmus preform a few years ago, he said he was taken back by the variety of the group. He said the group was reminiscent of the King’s Singers, a world famous vocal ensemble, but their young ages made them unique, one of the reasons they are performing on a college campus.

“They have a different timbre, an international flare,” Jessop said. “What I saw was a diverse repertoire from the middle ages to contemporary music. It’s a great perspective.”

In the future, Krause envisions larger concerts, bigger venues and steady growth. The group already preforms 70 times a year, flying back and forth from Europe to the United States. If anything, said Krause, they’d be happy to simply continue what they’ve been doing.

“We hope everything goes like it has for the past few years. We want to have more concerts and better fees. That’s what I wish for,” Krause said.

Jessop said this performance is a one-of-a-kind show, and an opportunity for Utah State to open itself to another culture.

“It should be a fantastic night, musically and culturally,” he said.

The Calmus Ensamble will preform Tuesday, March 22 at 7:30 p.m. in the Performance Hall. General admission is $8, or free with a student ID.

– allee.evensen@aggiemail.usu.edu

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