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Logo for the Quintessence: A community of singers in Albuquerque. Photo courtesy of Quintessence ABQ.

Quintessence fools Beliebers, engages community

 

Matthew Greer, the artistic director of “Quintessence: a community of singers,” has addressed questions about the piece they will be performing for their annual Summer Choir Festival in a letter posted on Saturday, April 1.

“We have commissioned a new piece, from one of the most popular and controversial musical artists of the last two decades,” Greer wrote. “Justin Bieber.”

The letter redirected readers to the choir’s website, which said that the group will actually prepare a performance of Johannes Brahms’ “German Requiem” --- the other JB. Registration to sing at the festival will open on April 20.

Quintessence is a nonprofit music ensemble formed in 1986 and located in Albuquerque. Quintessence originated as a choir called “Quintessence: Choral Artists of the Southwest,” but this season they changed their name to reflect the group’s ongoing initiatives toward education and community music-making, Abby Greenwald, the executive director of Quintessence, said. 

“Right now is a really good time for choral music, especially coming out of the lockdown when we couldn’t sing together,” Greer said. “People seem really energized about singing together, and what we’re looking to build is in our name — a community of singers.”

The group is made up of both community members and paid professional performers. Greer said this provides a chance for the two groups to collaborate and learn from one another.

“The bread and butter of Quintessence for years has been very committed volunteer singers … There’s a high commitment level, there’s a high preparation expectation,” Greer said.

Greenwald believes that Quintessence brings a unique voice to the Albuquerque community.

“We like to say that we are one of Albuquerque's best and definitely Albuquerque's most quirky or eclectic ensemble. We have a little sense of humor,” Greenwald said.

Greenwald said that the music for the concerts ranges from works by modern composers to more traditional works. In the past, the concert has included technology in their music.

“One year we sang an entire cycle of songs about cicadas, and that was very memorable,” Greenwald said. “We have sung an entire cycle of songs that are Shakespeare texts put to music. There's another set of poems set to music that are funny. I vividly remember the bass section needing to ‘moo’ at one point. It must have been about cows.”

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Recently, Quintessence finished a work titled “The Sacred Veil,” a set of songs written by a poet that lost his wife to ovarian cancer. Quintessence was able to partner with community organizations such as The Grief Center, The Gynecological Cancer Awareness Project and Southwest Women’s Oncology.

Their upcoming concerts on May 21 and 22, entitled “Homeward Bound,” are the last of this season. One of the compositions, “Home” by Andrey Stolyarov, was written as a part of the group’s first-ever run of the Estella Gahala Lange Emerging Composer Competition. Tickets to the Monday night concert are free for students.

Alongside their main four-concert season, Quintessence has been working to create community through events like Park Sings in warmer weather and Beer Choir at local pubs.

“Another huge fan favorite is beer choir and we meet in pubs around Albuquerque,” Greenwald said. “We come prepared with song leaders and song sheets and the people in the bar become the choir and it's just really casual, silly, good times.”

The group also has a Summer Choral Festival where a chorus of around 200 singers from the community prepare and perform a work over the course of a week, according to Greenwald. Quintessence aims to make the festival accessible, with discounts for students and scholarship opportunities.

“It is tremendously hard work to program seasons, to always be thinking about what we could be doing creatively here in Albuquerque, but it is so joyful, it is so wonderful to be in an organization that is … working hard to create something beautiful,” Greer said.

These opportunities allow people to connect in a way that is unique to the choral environment. He said he hopes that the group fosters interaction between its audience and its performers, encouraging all to get involved in any available opportunities to sing as a group, Greer said.

“There is something that happens when a group of people in a room come together and sing something. I think there is no quicker way to build community than getting people to sing together,” Greer said.

Addison Key is a freelance reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be reached at culture@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @addisonkey11 

Zara Roy is the copy chief at the Daily Lobo. She can be reached at copychief@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @zarazzledazzle 


Addison Key

Addison Key is a senior reporter at the Daily Lobo and served as the Summer 2023 culture editor. She can be reached on Twitter @addisonkey11. 

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