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16th century pop songs with 21st century pizzazz

Cantus Abu Dhabi, an amateur chamber choir, will perform a collection of songs in the madrigal style.

ABU DHABI // The style of music is centuries old, but the way in which it will be performed in the capital tomorrow will be brand new.

The chamber choir Cantus Abu Dhabi will hold its first concert, Lessons in Love and Life, which is a collection of songs in the madrigal style.

The music has its roots in 14th century Italy but the 14 singers have given their performance a 21st century makeover.

"With this group, I really want the concerts to be engaging and accessible," said Simon Green, the choir's British conductor, who started Cantus several months ago.

"We're not just going to stand there and sing at the audience. We have some artwork, and will be doing a short narration to accompany each piece."

The visual and narrative aids, said Mr Green, who is also a music teacher at Raha International School, have been included to help explain the style of classical music to anyone unfamiliar with it.

He said it was part of a greater plan to make the audience understand and therefore appreciate the music more.

"For this one, our first concert, we really wanted to set a precedent. That's why we asked one artist from the group, and another colleague of mine, who is an artist, to draw some sketches based on the music.

"The pictures will hopefully help the audience on their journey."

A madrigal traditionally involves a small number of unaccompanied singers performing a secular composition.

The choir will perform in a semi-circle, with the audience seated around them. The layout, Mr Green said, would help the audience to feel like part of the performance.

The group, which is evenly divided between men and women, will sing 10 pieces in a 45-minute performance.

Their repertoire will include works from the noted 16th century Italian composer Orlande de Lassus, and the French-born 16th century composer Philipe Verdelot, who played a major role in the madrigal movement in Italy.

Lisa Burke, one of the performers, said being part of such a small group was enjoyable.

"Singing just makes you happy. We're all there for the love of music, and Simon has chosen the music very well."

Mrs Burke, from Ireland, moved to Abu Dhabi at the beginning of the year. She has previously sung at the annual Proms concert at London's Royal Albert Hall with the BBC Symphony Chorus. Yet this performance would be like nothing she has done before, she said.

"The pieces are like the pop songs of the 16th century. They are all about love, and all the usual themes, and it's been great, but there is one piece that's going to be really tough.

"It's made up of five to six different parts, and is between eight and 10 minutes long, so if we pull it off I'll be very happy," she said.

"The problem with the piece - called La Guerre - is that once you start, you can't stop. It's constant, and there isn't much space for breath. It's about a war, and we're all playing lots of different parts. It's fast, and it's relentless, so we can't lose the pace. It's great though."

Mr Green said this sort of commitment by the singers will help the choir "raise the bar" for amateur music in Abu Dhabi.

"This is interesting whether you are an aficionado of 16th century madrigals or not. The idea is that the music will take you on a guided tour, stopping off at all the good spots," he said.

"It's something that's going to be really enjoyable."

The concert will be held at Al Muna Primary School tomorrow at 4.30pm. Entry is free.


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