Arizona ArtBeat: Phoenix Chorale New Album

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The Phoenix Chorale is a Grammy-award winning musical group. Their latest album, All-Night Vigil, is a collaboration with the Kansas City Chorale. All-Night Vigil is a work by Rachmaninoff and the album celebrates the 100th anniversary of the piece. The Chorales put a decidedly modern-day twist on their album release by hosting a worldwide interactive listening party. Jen Rogers of the Phoenix Chorale and Toby Kidd, one of the singers, will tell us about the release party, the album, its significance and the history of the ensemble.

Ted Simons: Tonight's edition of Arizona Artbeat looks at the Grammy-award winning Phoenix Chorale.

Ted Simons: The Phoenix Chorale's latest album is titled, "All-night Vigil." It's a collaboration with the Kansas City Chorale and the recording will be released by way a worldwide interactive listening party. Here to talk about all this is Jen Rogers of the Phoenix Chorale and one of the group's singers, Toby Kidd. Good to have you both here. Thank you so much for joining us.

Jen Rogers: Thank you.

Ted Simons: What exactly is the Phoenix Chorale?

Toby Kidd: Well, the Phoenix Chorale is a professional a capella choir. It's been around since 1958, and it's 28 singers. It's all professional. But it's not full-time. They all have day jobs. But many of them have at least a minimum of a bachelor's degree to a master's degree to a doctorate, Ph.D., in vocal or conducting.

Ted Simons: And two Grammys, eight nominations? This is pretty impressive.

Jen Rogers: Yeah. We're really proud of what we've been able to accomplish.

Ted Simons: And as far as the all-night vigil, talk to us about this, what is this piece about, what composed it and why did you choose it?

Toby Kidd: Well, the work was chosen by the artistic director, and our release is actually commemorating the 100 year anniversary of the world premiere in 1915. So it's kind of a nice milestone for us to be able to release it on time with that anniversary. It was composed by Rachmaninoff and it uses a high church Slavonic as the language.

Ted Simons: I know for pianists can be really difficult. Is it the same kind of thing for singers?

Toby Kidd: It's a very challenging work to sing, to learn, and to perform. Especially once we've gotten the artistic touch on top of it, it becomes quite an undertaking.

Ted Simons: I'll bet. And 100-year anniversary might be a nice reason to perform it. Why take the extra step to record and how does the chorale take a step to say this is something we want to put down on record?

Jen Rogers: This is one of the great choral works and we've had this body of albums that we've released over the last decade with our label, and it was something that our artistic director, he really kind of struggled with what the next project was going to be, and this was such a seminal work, something that his mentors had recorded and it was something that was really special to him. And so I think we all kind of felt like it was time for us to put our stamp on it.

Ted Simons: Is there ever a time when the chorale says we're going to record x and you record x or you start rehearsing x and it just ain't happening?

Jen Rogers: No.

Ted Simons: Never happened.

Jen Rogers: Everything is very intentional. We always will -- we often will actually program the next recording project as a concert. And so part of I think the magic of this recording is that we just had come out of performances over a couple of weekends, then we go right into the studio, into a church, and record it.

Ted Simons: And again for you, singing these things, as part of the choir, I mean are times it's really clicking and you're going I don't know if we're going to make this or not?

Toby Kidd: Sometimes, yeah, you do have that moment where you might feel a little unsure of yourself. I think that's the beauty of being able to perform with others. Oftentimes when you feel yourself not quite being on point, somebody else is backing you up.

Ted Simons: And you teamed with the Kansas city chorale for this recording? How was that?

Toby Kidd: It was brilliant, actually. It was a great opportunity to sing with them because there was the same artistic director, a lot of us had the same feeling that it was like getting to sing with, you know, a long lost choir you didn't know was there. For me, especially it was my first time pairing up with the K.C. chorale. The way things came together so quickly and so easily was really rewarding and a lot of fun.

Ted Simons: Why would you team up with another chorale? Is there a reason for that, other than the artistic director has a relationship? I mean, do some pieces just demand more voices?

Jen Rogers: Yes, absolutely, some pieces demand more voices and each choir has actually released solo albums, they're ensemble solo albums but there are times, this is actually the fourth recording in our kind of double two choir series, and it really just Charles is actually really the reason that these two ensembles come together. We rehearses both groups the same way, both groups really understand his hands. He develops a certain relationship with ensembles and really shapes them. When they come together, they just fit together in this really fantastic it's really magical. I remember the first sounds they made earlier last year, and it's kind of mind blowing.

Ted Simons: Wow. Okay. You've also got worldwide interactive listening party for the album release. Anyone want to take that on? What are we talking about here?

Jen Rogers: I can talk about that. Just on Tuesday, we had a worldwide listening event and, you know, classical artists, top artists have listening parties and they'll have them online and in the classical world, it doesn't really happen too much. You might get together with people in a room and have a listening, where everybody hangs out and has some d'oeuvres and listens. We wanted to create a fan experience and we wanted as many people around world to hear this album as possible. We teamed up with classic Minnesota radio's stream and our label gave us one time permission to stream the whole album, and then we had a hangout afterwards, a google hangout and then Kansas city singers and artistic director were in Kansas city and the Phoenix Chorale was in Phoenix and we had our host who runs the choral stream, he was actually in Minnesota.

Ted Simons: Yeah, did you take part in this?

Toby Kidd: Yes.

Ted Simons: What was it like?

Toby Kidd: It was fun. It was pretty interesting to see the big machine start to work and jen did a great job organizing everything, making sure we had what we needed for the event, and then to be able to connect and see everything that was happening in the other cities and the interview process and I thought it was also cool that they had arranged to have some high school singers from the area in Minnesota also be on the stream with us, which I thought was neat to see them getting involved.

Ted Simons: It sounds very high tech, it sounds very modern, very innovative. Is this kind of stuff, you're in the belly of the beast here. Is this what classical needs to expand its audience and to keep going?

Toby Kidd: Yes, I think so. You really do hit it on the head here. It's something you're missing a lot with classical music is the willingness to connect with a modern audience and by doing things like this, the rock party as we called it, I think it does a lot to help reach out to audiences that wouldn't normally hear about us but not get a chance to hear about us.

Ted Simons: Talk about the idea of innovation and looking for new ways to connect.

Jen Rogers: Oh, wow. It's a real challenge. I mean, I think without I don't even it's tough. Classical music in general I think what we've seen is artists will create something, and then they let their label go out and promote it and what we've done is we've really tried to work with our label, work with our distributor to really get and empower everyone that's involved with this project, to help spread the word. And that's been one of the things that's been instrumental is that the artists themselves, all of the singers themselves have been personally invested and that's not something you always see with classical artists. You have pop artists, they have people for that. So we kind of have to be our own people.

Ted Simons: Well, it sounds like you're your own people. Congratulations on what sounds like a great success. Good luck with your career, as well. Thank you so much for joining us.

Ted Simons: Friday on "Arizona Horizon," it's the Journalists' Roundtable. We'll have the latest on lingering fallout from the budget. And with the budget a done deal, how much longer will the legislative session last? Those stories and more, Friday on the Journalists Roundtable. That is it for now. I'm Ted Simons. Thank you so much for joining us. You have a great evening.

"Arizona Horizon" is made possible by contributions from the Friends of Eight, members of your Arizona PBS station. Thank you.

Jen Rogers:Phoenix Chorale; Toby Kidd:Phoenix Chorale;

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