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Cantus: One Giant Leap

Cantus 3 (Steven Garcia)

Acclaimed men’s vocal ensemble Cantus presented a concert in Boe Chapel on Sept. 19. The program featured the premiere of a piece composed by current student Grace Brigham ’20 and the performance of a piece by alumni Mari Esabel Valverde ’10. Filled with students and choral fans alike, the evening was a terrific example of musical excellence.

The concert celebrated the 25th anniversary of Cantus, a Twin Cities ensemble founded by four St. Olaf students in the Viking Chorus

During the concert, titled “One Giant Leap,” Cantus also commemorated the 50th anniversary of the moon landing. The group performed music pertaining to space, science and exploration. Cantus examined what it means to explore and go beyond with pieces that celebrate innovation and recognize the impact of marginalized voices on progress.

Standout pieces from the first half of the set include “Follow the Drinking Gourd,” a traditional spiritual arranged by Vicente Chavarria which showcased the artistic range of Cantus, as well as “And Death Shall Have No Dominion” by former St. Olaf professor Kenneth Jennings ’50.

After a brief intermission, the second half of the concert began with Eriks Ešenvalds’ ethereal “Stars.” The piece used water glasses to create a background of overtones and was a clear audience favorite. However, the essence of this set was the premiere of Brigham’s work and the performance of Valverde’s piece.

Brigham’s composition, titled “Discoveries,” was a powerful and dynamic compilation of quotes from female scientists. The piece was premiered as the winner of Cantus’ Young and Emerging Composer Competition, which is part of the ensemble’s efforts to support the development of young musicians.

Through daring harmony, exquisite text-painting and remarkable sensitivity, “Discoveries” was a celebration of the accomplishments of female scientists, a recognition of their marginalization and a strong call to action. These themes were reinforced when the reminder, “we still need more progress,” was sung by a soloist toward the end of the piece.

Valverde’s piece, “Darest, O Soul,” used text by Walt Whitman. It was a thought-provoking exploration of one’s position and role in time and space. The song was filled with beautiful vocals and stunning use of consonance and dissonance, expressing extraordinary depth and maturity.

The final pieces of the concert were an ode to creativity and wonder. “Silver Deity of Secret Night” by Catherine Dalton was an example of great creativity through its use of spoken word. After a standing ovation, Cantus returned to the stage for an invigorating encore before a final bow with the composers in attendance.

Throughout the evening, Cantus provided consistent and strong vocals. Comprised of eight singers (four tenors, two baritones, and two basses), Cantus maintained excellent balance throughout the concert. A standout in the ensemble was tenor Alexander Nishibun, who possessed an electrifying upper range and exceptional musicianship. Also notable were the two basses, Chris Foss and Samuel Green, who consistently provided a firm and vibrant foundation to the ensemble’s sound.

“One Giant Leap” was unique and entertaining. Dressed in crisp gray suits, the eight singers of Cantus delivered a powerhouse performance that proved through unique programming and excellent singing why Cantus is one of the country’s best choral ensembles.