“The Singers is easily one of the best choral ensembles in America, if not the entire world. Their precision, passion, and musicality are awe-inspiring.” – Jim Svejda, KUSC-FM, Los Angeles
“[Conductor Matthew] Culloton has cultivated a cooly sweet, Scandinavian-style sound and endearing warmth of expression.” – Lindsay Koob, American Record Guide (July/August 2011)
“The Singers is a remarkable ensemble that combines precision and craft with the highest vocal standards and downright love for the choral art!” – Steve Staruch, Minnesota Public Radio
REVIEW: Twin Cities choir launches virtual season with a trip to outer space
REVIEW: “Helios” offers a grand tour of solar system by ensemble.
By Terry Blain Special to the Star Tribune
NOVEMBER 5, 2020 — 11:08AM
A computer screen, a downloaded program booklet and a decent pair of headphones. These are the accoutrements you need to “go” to classical concerts this fall, with the coronavirus wiping live events from the schedule.
The Singers are the latest Twin Cities ensemble to go virtual. They recently launched their 2020-21 digital season with Timothy C. Takach’s “Helios,” an hourlong choral work in 12 movements that the composer-in-residence with the Singers calls “a musical exploration of our solar system.”
The online stream of “Helios” was a video recording of the piece’s premiere in May 2019 at First Lutheran Church in Columbia Heights. A superbly prepared and immaculately executed performance, it must have thoroughly delighted the composer.
“Helios” has plenty of technical difficulties for the choir, beginning with a string of precisely etched staccato rhythms in “Pluto,” the opening movement.
These were dotted in effortlessly, while the manifold challenges of “Neptune” — with swooping glissandi and rippling undulations mimicking “the swollen sea” in lines from Virgil’s “Aeneid” — were met with unassuming conviction by the choir’s 44 singers as artistic director Matthew Culloton shaped the performance beautifully.
A variety of camera angles and close-ups gave insight to how Takach put “Helios” together compositionally. But there’s a limit to how interesting you can make a choir look on video over a 60-minute period — a point at which you crave the raw immediacy of a live performance.
That’s not possible at present, however, and fans of choral music can confidently invest in the three remaining concerts (in December, March and May) of the Singers’ digital season. They come at $16 each, and can be pre-booked online at the choir’s website, singersmca.org.
Terry Blain is a freelance classical music critic for the Star Tribune. Reach him at email@example.com.
Concert Review: Robert Shaw Centennial, May 2016
By Michael Anthony – Special to the Star Tribune (MAY 22, 2016)
Robert Shaw, widely viewed as the dean of American choral conductors, died in 1999 at the age of 82. The enterprising Twin Cities choral ensemble known as the Singers devoted the final program of its 12th season — Saturday night at Nativity of Our Lord Catholic Church in St. Paul — to Shaw, his music and his remarkable, path-finding career just a few weeks after the conductor’s 100th birthday, April 30.
Though he was music director of the Atlanta Symphony for 21 years and a feisty champion of new music, Shaw was most respected for his work with choruses. He once said his goal with his 40-voice Robert Shaw Chorale, formed in 1948, was to produce a chorus of professionals who sang with the enthusiasm of amateurs.
A tireless educator, arranger and publisher — and by many accounts, a singularly complicated man given to periods of restless self-doubt — Shaw toured the world with his orchestras and choruses and made hundreds of recordings. To him, music was more than a luxury or an entertainment. As a form of communication, it was a spiritual and moral force.
He lived up to his ideals. In the early 1940s, having formed his first group, the Collegiate Chorale, Shaw was asked by the deacons of the church in New York City where the chorus performed to trim its membership of Roman Catholics, Jews and blacks. Shaw responded by packing the whole group off to more tolerant quarters.
Putting together Saturday’s program was no small task, given Shaw’s vast repertoire. Even so, Matthew Culloton, the Singers’ artistic director, made wise and interesting choices. He began the evening with a brief set of Renaissance madrigals, then moved on to French songs by Debussy and Hindemith. The centerpiece of the second half was portions of Rachmaninoff’s “Vespers,” the All-Night Vigil of the Russian Orthodox Church.
Between these, Culloton put folk song arrangements and spirituals, pieces of special charm and vitality that Shaw arranged, some in collaboration with his former student Alice Parker. The set included composer Gail Kubik’s bright arrangement of the spiritual “Soon One Mornin.’ ” Shaw’s recordings of these pieces were among his most popular.
The 43-voice Singers, spun off from the revered Dale Warland Singers when that group disbanded in 2004, performed this varied and challenging repertoire with impressive polish and precision. Some words were swallowed up in the high-ceiling space at Nativity, but the musical sound was clear and, for the most part, unfailingly warm and resonant.
The aura of reverie, of dreamy landscape, came through beautifully with immaculate intonation and wide dynamic range in the Debussy set — three songs on texts by the 15th-century poet Charles of Orleans. The four numbers from “Vespers” were given expansive readings with vivid tone colors and a feeling of sheer ecstasy in the final number. (The Singers will perform the entire “Vespers” June 15 at the Ravinia Festival outside Chicago.)
One imagines that Shaw, a demanding listener, would have approved of the performance as the audience did.
Concert Reviews: What Sweeter Music, December 2014
The Singers’ celebration of Stephen Paulus is a gift
By Rob Hubbard
Special to the Pioneer Press
Perhaps, upon hearing of the October death of St. Paul-based composer Stephen Paulus, you responded to the plethora of praise accorded him with a desire to hear more of his work. Well, the Christmas concerts of local choral group the Singers provide an excellent opportunity.
The day after the composer received a posthumous Grammy nomination for “Best Contemporary Classical Composition,” the Singers mourned his passing yet celebrated the brilliance and beauty of his work at the first of four concerts dubbed “What Sweeter Music.” Four Paulus pieces were on the program at Minneapolis’ St. Olaf Catholic Church on Saturday night, offering a tantalizing taste of the composer’s inventive, adventurous way with constructing choral harmonies, and also presenting a marvelous mix of “Magnificats,” all splendidly sung.
Many a composer has written something around the “Magnificat” theme, inspired by the story of the Virgin Mary learning of her unique role in forging a new connection between Heaven and Earth. The Singers dipped into four centuries of examples, beginning with Paulus’ “Splendid Jewel,” and moving on to beautifully blended harmonies and captivating solos on works such as 20th-century German composer Hugo Distler’s variations on “Lo, How a Rose E’re Blooming” and John Paynter’s ethereal song “The Rose.”
While conductor Matthew Culloton and the Singers are known primarily for their interpretations of contemporary fare — a specialty inherited from the group from which they grew, the Dale Warland Singers — Saturday’s concert demonstrated their facility with Renaissance polyphony, as evidenced by involving takes on Christmas music by Jan Sweelinck, Giovanni Palestrina and Peter Philips.
But this was an evening on which Paulus made the strongest impression with his arrangements of “Joy to the World,” “The First Nowell” and, especially, a hypnotic, mysterious “Silent Night” that almost overshadowed the premiere of a deconstructionist adaptation of Daniel Kantor’s lovely “Night of Silence” by another talented Minnesota-based composer, Jocelyn Hagen.
Culloton served a reminder that he’s as talented an arranger as he is a conductor with harmonically complex versions of “Infant Holy” (another premiere) and “Angels We Have Heard on High.” As throughout this program, the Singers gave the music the ideal balance of heft and lightness, creating a sound that could scarcely be sweeter.
VocalEssence and The Singers offer winning Christmas concerts
WILLIAM RANDALL BEARD, SPECIAL TO THE STAR TRIBUNE (Excerpt of review)
The Singers are a smaller and less familiar chorus than VocalEssence, but they presented an equally successful concert, heard Saturday night at St. Olaf Catholic Church in downtown Minneapolis.
The program focused on music related to Mary, primarily compositions from the mid-20th century on, but among the most engaging performances were three rousing 16th-century pieces by Palestrina and two of his contemporaries. The world premiere of a new arrangement by Jocelyn Hagen was especially moving.
Artistic director Matthew Culloton’s haunting arrangement of the Polish carol “Infant Holy” was another highlight.
The program featured four selections by the late Stephen Paulus, a longtime supporter of the Singers — three carol arrangements and the composer’s “Splendid Jewel.” From a full-throated, harmonically complex arrangement of “Joy to the World” to a much more moody “Silent Night,” this was a reminder of the great talent and generous spirit we recently lost.
The ensemble was best in the quiet moments, where it sang with bell-like clarity. But it still was capable of rousing climaxes. Culloton used a solo voice in nearly every number, but rather than emerging from the chorus, they remained embedded in the ensemble, demonstrating the high proficiency of the individual members.
Concert Review: Sticks and Tones, February 2013
Magnum Chorum and The Singers concerts take risks with premiere, global focus
WILLIAM RANDALL BEARD , Special to the Star Tribune (Excerpt from article. Click here for full article)
How do small choruses manage to stand out in the overcrowded landscape of the Twin Cities choral music scene? Two of the best, if not the best known — The Singers and Magnum Chorum — went head-to-head last weekend and staked out similar territories, with varying degrees of success.
The two directors, Matthew Culloton of The Singers and Christopher Aspaas of Magnum Chorum, are both young and talented, passionate about choral music and willing to take chances.
The highlight of Culloton’s program, “Sticks and Tones: Music for Chorus and Percussion,” heard Sunday at First Lutheran Church in Columbia Heights, was the Minnesota premiere of Stephen Paulus’ “Poemas de Amor (Love Poems).” In these settings of 16th-century Spanish texts. Paulus’ trademark lyricism and complex harmonies were used in thoughtful service of the texts.
Percussionist Dave Hagedorn accompanied effectively on a variety of instruments, from xylophone and marimbas to blocks and bongos. He was an asset throughout the program.
Janika Vandervelde also represented Minnesota with “O Viridissima Virga.” Hers was a richly melodic setting of poetry by Hildegard von Bingen, melding the feel of chant with adventurous rhythms and an accompaniment of drum, woodblock and castanets. The chorus produced a rich, burnished sound that filled the space.
Especially creative was John Tavener’s “Village Wedding.” The chorus stood in two circles, women on the inside, men on the outside, with the women circling around. This created unique resonances and gave it the sense of a ritual.
Concert Review: What Sweeter Music, December 2010
“The Singers’ Matthew Culloton has a shy, more reserved podium presence. He inspires a gentler utterance from his choir. This perfectly suited his more serious program, including the somber and haunting “Magnificat” of Arvo Pärt. Morten Lauridsen’s “Ave Maria,” with its soaring melodic lines and robust harmonies, was more emotionally accessible”
– Star Tribune, Minneapolis [read entire review]
Concert Review: What Sweeter Music, December 2008
“Musically, The Singers are a wonderfully well-shaped instrument, with pure and balanced vocal textures and pristine articulation. It is a clean-sounding ensemble, enormously flexible, and, for its size, it is capable of a sonority that can be equally fulsome or transparent. . . Matthew Culloton organized the Singers, and the group has built an admiring fan base and has produced a handful of equally admired recordings.”
– Pioneer Press, Saint Paul [read entire review]
Concert Review: What Sweeter Music, December 2006
“…a rock solid ensemble that sings with passion and technical mastery.”
– Star Tribune, Minneapolis
CD Review: Shout the Glad Tidings
“This Minnesota group features former members of the Dale Warland Singers, who broke up after Warland retired. It’s simply the best singing you’ll ever hear. They are just unbelievable.
– Gerry Grzyb, host of the Dr. Christmas radio shows on WRST-FM
CD Review: Shout the Glad Tidings
“After hearing the Dale Warland Singers give their last concert over a year ago, I wondered who would miss it more—Dr. Warland, the singers, or the audience. While there are cathedrals full of great choral groups in the Twin Cities area, a new group called The Singers—Minnesota Choral Artists most clearly aimed to fill the gap, and a good many of its members were former DWS members. Under the leadership of Matthew Culloton, it is already one of the finest choral groups around. Their first CD is Shout The Glad Tidings, and the contents are very much like that of a DWS Christmas concert-familiar carols in fresh arrangements of highest quality, and unfamiliar works that fully embody the Christmas spirit.”
– Gerry Grzyb, host of the Dr. Christmas radio shows on WRST
CD Review: Shout the Glad Tidings
“Shout the Glad Tidings combines deeply-felt passions with a subtle Midwestern restraint that adds up to glorious performances of carols of the season both timeless and new. It’s been a real pleasure to share The Singers with listeners across the country.”
– Martin Goldsmith, XM Satellite Radio