Let there be light – Luminata Voices

Luminato altos. Pic: Rachel Frances Carson

RICHARD BETTS chats with the music director of the new women’s choir Luminata Voices ahead of its first performance.


Luminato Voices altos. Pic: Rachel Frances Carson

It’s said that there are more choir singers than rugby players in New Zealand. Luminata Voices is a new women’s choir featuring top singers and, so far as we know, no All Blacks whatsoever.

Richard Betts – What made you decide to form the choir?

Vanessa Kay – Last year I studied towards my MMus in conducting and as part of the assessment, I had to conduct a recital. I chose to conduct two choirs. One was my children’s choir Con Brio and I also put together a mixed-voice chamber choir. We had a great time singing together and after the recital, a couple of the women suggested that we continue, but maybe as a women’s choir. Many of the women that sang in my recital don’t sing regularly in a choir, for different reasons. Most sang at a very high level when they did sing in choirs, but life, children, careers and so on had been their priority for the last 10 years or so. There were also some women in my recital choir that did sing with other choirs, but many of those choirs were mixed-voice choirs and they were keen to sing in a women’s choir.


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Another reason for forming the choir was that many of the women who were keen still had life, work, children to balance but still wanted to sing and perform in a high-calibre choir. Therefore, our choir is project-based. With a project lasting around 10 or so weeks they can be involved in one project but take the next project off if necessary. I think it is important to create this kind of environment for women, for them to know that they can be part of excellence but also be everything else they need to be for their families and for their careers.

Richard – What are your aims for the Luminata Voices?

Vanessa – We are still adding to this list as we evolve. Our first aim is to launch the choir but going forward from there, our aims would be to perform women’s choir repertoire to a high standard, to commission new works for women’s choir, to make recordings of women’s choir repertoire, to become one of New Zealand’s leading women’s choirs, and, eventually to tour overseas.

Luminata Voices altos. Pic: Rachel Frances Carson

Richard – Is there much repertoire for women’s choir?

Vanessa – Overall, there is quite a lot of repertoire for SSAA [soprano, soprano, alto, alto, rather than SATB, the soprano, alto, tenor, bass of mixed groups] choirs and I am discovering new music every day. However, there is definitely scope for more repertoire when you compare the huge amount available for mixed-voice choirs. Many of our high school SSAA choirs are exceptional and sing quite a lot of repertoire that maybe 20 years ago might have been predominantly performed by women’s choirs. While it is wonderful that we have such a high level of choral singing in high schools, and it won’t put us off performing these beautiful works, it does mean that if we want to perform repertoire that is not performed regularly the search becomes a little more difficult. I see Luminata Voices as also being in a position to perform full sets of works, such as Gyorgy Orban’s Mass No.6, which we’ll perform at our launch event.

Richard – At your launch event you’re performing music by a couple of composers I’m unfamiliar with: Ola Gjeil and Josu Elberdin. What works and composers might people who are unused to choral music know?

Vanessa – We are also performing works by Johannes Brahms, David Hamilton, Gyorgy Orban, Te Taepa Kameta and Hori Tait. Those not in the choral scene will have heard of Brahms. David Hamilton is definitely well known in the Auckland choral scene and New Zealand wide. The other composers are 20th/21st Century composers, including two composers of Maori waiata.

Luminata Voices with Vanessa Kay at the piano

Richard – Is the fact you’re playing a new David Hamilton commission at your first concert a statement of intent? Can we expect more commissions?

Vanessa – Absolutely! Our next programme is Women Composers of NZ and we are currently making contact with a couple of people to see if they would be willing to write a commission for us. I would like to think that we will be able to commission a new work for each of our large projects.

Another factor to consider is that there is limited SSAA repertoire written before 1900. Some pieces have been arranged from SATB to SSAA – for example, madrigals, music from the Romantic period and so on – but most of the SSAA repertoire comes from the 20th century. It does mean that commissioning pieces becomes part of the life of a choir, which is very exciting!

Richard – Would Auckland audiences know any of your singers?

Vanessa – Many of our singers have been part of the choral scene for a number of years and most have sung in national choirs. We have quite a few singers who are currently part of Voices NZ and some of these singers performed with the APO at the recent Blue Planet concerts. We have a Starship paediatrician, an optometrist, a film producer, accountants, university lecturers, lawyers, music teachers, insurance specialists, orchestral musicians, personal assistants, stay-at-home mums and more.

  • Luminata Voices, 23 May at St-Matthews-in-the-City, Auckland.

More: http://www.facebook.com/luminatavoices


Richard Betts is an award-winning writer and editor. His musings on pop culture, the arts and technology have appeared in numerous publications including the New Zealand Herald, Tone, PC World and Top Gear magazine. Three of those no longer exist but he insists it’s not his fault.

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