The University of Delaware Chorale advanced to the "grand prix" round of competition in the Béla Bartók International Choir Competition this week in Hungary, where the singers finished a close second behind a choral group known as one of the best in the world.
In addition to that prize, Paul D. Head, professor and chair of the Department of Music as well as director of choral studies at UD, won a festival award as best conductor.
"With a powerful and perfect performance, [the UD Chorale] nearly displaced the tough front-running Latvian group," George Watson, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, wrote in an email from the competition in Debrecen, Hungary, which he attended. "Our students were fearless and wonderful as they concluded two days of fierce competition with an inspired and inspiring performance."
The four-day Bartók competition was one of the highlights of a European tour by the Chorale and UD-17, a premier vocal chamber ensemble. The Delaware ensembles were the only U.S. choral groups competing at the festival.
The competition included amateur and professional choirs in five categories: children's choirs, youth choirs, equal voices, chamber choirs and mixed choirs. The UD Chorale competed in the mixed choir group and UD-17 in the chamber choir group. Three stages of competition led to the grand prize.
In a student blog, a Chorale member wrote that UD's performance won praise from the composer of a song the group sang in the finals of the competition and from one of the judges who later described the competition as one of the most difficult he had judged. The Latvian choir that won first place, the student wrote, had an "incredible" performance and is "truly one of the finest choirs in the world."
As for the University singers, the student wrote, "We have the ability to touch people's souls, including our own. The UD Chorale is something that will be a part of me forever, and that is the true grand prize."
UD's European tour began with invitation-only performances at the International Society for Music Education Conference, held July 15-20 in Thessaloniki, Greece, and also will include stops in Austria and Germany. The opportunity for vocal music students to perform in Europe is invaluable, Head said in preparing for the tour.
"The choral tradition comes out of Western Europe, and Europeans seriously value choral singing as part of formal music education," he said. "Singing in Europe is a pilgrimage of sorts."
About UD Chorale and UD-17
The UD Chorale is among the most highly regarded college choirs in the eastern United States. In recent years, the choir has been invited to perform at both regional (Pittsburgh in 2002 and Hartford, Conn., in 2008) and national (Los Angeles in 2005) conventions of the American Choral Directors Association (ACDA).
The chorale also has performed at Carnegie Hall in New York and Verizon Hall in Philadelphia's Kimmel Center for the Arts.
In addition to annual regional tours, the chorale has traveled extensively throughout Europe with appearances in Scotland, Wales, France, Germany, Austria, Finland, Spain and Estonia.
In 2007, the chorale competed in the Tallinn International Choral Competition hosted by the Estonian Choral Directors Association as part of a 10-day tour of Sweden, Finland and Estonia where they took the first place grand prix award over 40 other choirs.
In June 2009, they were invited on a performance tour of China where they were featured in several collaborative concert appearances on Chinese university campuses in Shanghai and Beijing.
The chorale was a featured choir in a master class with Helmuth Rilling at the February 2010 ACDA Conference Bach Institute in Philadelphia.
In the fall of 2010, the chorale won three second-place awards and a third-place award at the 42nd International Tolosa Choral Contest in Spain, placing in every category in which it competed against choirs from around the world.
UD-17, the University's premiere vocal chamber ensemble, is a select 17-voice choir. Formed in 2009, the ensemble performs imaginative, innovative programming of a cappella and accompanied sacred and secular works spanning five centuries, with a strong commitment to performing contemporary and Renaissance repertoire.
UD-17 makes frequent appearances throughout the mid-Atlantic region. In its first international performance, the ensemble took second place awards in both categories in which it competed at the 42nd International Tolosa Choral Contest in Spain.