On a wintry afternoon during a rehearsal break, I caught up with not one but three ladies of the Lorelei Ensemble and, over stolen breadsticks and a pizza that had too many onions, chatted about the Spice Girls, Barbie, and gummi bears.
Kyle Thomas Hemingway Dickinson: So, ladies of Lorelei, the Spice Girls of the early music scene in Boston, I’m very excited to chat with all of you!
Emily Marvosh [to Margot Rood]: You’re Baby. You’re totally Baby.
Beth Willer: I’m Sporty!
EM: And I’m Posh
KTHD: And Christina’s obviously Ginger.
Margot Rood: Who’s Scary?
KTHD: Everyone else? So, how did the Spice Girls come to be?
BW: I have no idea, but Lorelei Ensemble… I founded Lorelei in 2007 as a sub-project of all the work I was doing at Boston University and had contact with a few really fantastic singers. It grew out of a vision that had been in me for a long time and my love of singing in women's choruses but my knowledge of the repertoire, both what was there and what was lacking. Mary Koppel, who is our composer in residence to this day, actually handed me a set of music for women’s voices and that became the first piece that we built a concert around. It was a good start doing some new music by our friends, and we started adding early repertoire to that. We grew into a more substantial thing in 2009, started officially paying our singers, and decided to put on a full season the next year in 2010.
EM: Chamber vocal ensembles are really hot right now; there’s a growing movement of them in America, specifically. They’re flexible, they can be innovative, they’re nimble. It’s a more affordable way to put on exciting music than a large symphony chorus. It was interesting to see the group grow from the inside and deal with the growing pains.
MR: Out of the blue, when I moved here, I got an email from Beth Willer saying “Hey I heard you’re in town and I’d like to hear you for this ensemble,” and I was immediately excited about it. It was unlike anything I had ever experienced, I never sung in a women’s choir in college. I had always done SATB-type things. As soon as I could do a [Lorelei] concert, it was where I knew I wanted to be. I like to think of myself as a new music specialist in a way, and I knew this was a combination of the two things I love: early music and new music.
EM: The quality of the group has been steadily increasing over time since 2010 when we established a core group of singers. A group like this is unusual that has a set core. We know each other, we trust each other, we see a larger vision and can work the music into that. It’s very exciting to see a group that is led by and populated with women, that is producing an exciting and innovative product.
BW: It took us a couple years to just define what we were and what we were doing.
EM: Margot spoke about only being in SATB choirs, and there’s a perception in college and in high school that the good choirs are the SATB choirs, and the bad choir is the freshman women’s ensemble. The perception is that it’s only good if you include men.
BW: This is one of the main reasons I feel so strongly about what we’re doing is that it’s an opportunity for us to showcase the virtuosic possibilities for an ensemble that is all treble. There are a lot of virtuosic treble ensembles in the world but many of them are children’s choruses or the exceptional college where the women’s chorus is the best ensemble. Like Emily was saying, what that ends up affecting is what type of music is written for women’s choruses, thus we end up with far less advanced repertoire for women’s voices. The hope is to create new music with composers that beefs up that repertoire in a way that has not happened before; but also to reclaim some of this early repertoire that maybe wasn’t originally sung by women but could be, and create a completely unique aural experience. So in a way, I consider the early music we’re doing to be new music as well.
KTHD: Speaking of early music and new music, I love how unexpected all your repertoire choices are. What informs those choices?
BW: [laughs] I just have a bias!
KTHD: It’s an appealing bias!
BW: Certainly, the repertoire that is early is a cappella and suits this type of an ensemble. I hate saying this when I know I’m being quoted, but there is a similar aesthetic in contemporary vocal music and early vocal music. There is plenty of drama in Renaissance and Medieval repertoire; but we’re also looking for a more contemporary drama, a showcasing of ensemble and soloists in a way that is unique and hopefully stretching the boundaries of classical music. We’re trying to innovate in the entire chamber world, not just in this particular type of ensemble.
KTHD: And what’s the experience for you ladies singing this amazing repertoire?
MR: I love it!
EM: I would have never called myself a new music person until I started singing with Lorelei. I was sort of a high Baroque person, a lot of Bach. To really dig into new music, especially music that was written for me, not only for a women’s ensemble but specifically for my voice, is wonderfully exciting. Knowing how I can depend on these women is great. We all like new music, we all like early music, and we all like gummi candy.
MR: We eat a lot of gummi bears.
BW: I’m sure that’s also unprecedented!
KTHD: You need a gummi bear corporate sponsor!
EM: I’ve been saying this for years!
MR: We need Haribo!
KTHD: So, I hear you have a CD that just came out and a release party coming up!
BW: Some might say, finally. Recording a CD is much different than “recording.” You have to go into it with a real concept and decision about what the product is going to be. We landed on a set of minimalist repertoire in the last couple of seasons that really suits us and we combined a lot of those pieces that had never been on a program before.
EM: The CD is a good combination of intimate vignettes and large scale multi-movement pieces. We’re hoping the CD expands our reach and our name recognition because the music deserves to be heard and the composers deserve the recognition of an audience.
MR: It’s also important to mention that every piece on our CD we’ve also performed live at least twice.
BW: It’s important that our CDs are always of repertoire that we perform live. This one is a mix of premiere recordings and the second recordings of pieces, sometimes the only existing recording of one of these pieces is a live performance. One of the problems with new music is that something gets commissioned, it’s performed once, and you never hear it again. A lot of these pieces haven’t seen the light of day since their premiere.
EM: Just having one recording of a piece doesn’t offer anyone a choice. There are a thousand recordings of the Messiah, and they’re all different. and every person, conductor, group, producer puts their own stamp on it, and the more versions that are out there of any piece, the better.
KTHD: Outside of the repertoire you usually sing, what kind of music do you like to listen to? Any death metal or gangsta rap?
BW: When I’m cycling I usually listen to Adele and Rihanna.
EM: I like the dulcet tones of Terry Gross.
MR: I like hardcore bluegrass.
KTHD: So now, ladies, it’s come to that time, it’s James Lipton time.
EM: Fuck. Fuck.
KTHD: I have three questions…
KTHD: Oh no! That’s not one of the questions, although I suppose we now all know Emily Marvosh’s favorite curse word! Outside what we just learned about you, what is one thing that most people don’t know about you?
BW: I majored in trumpet performance in undergrad!
EM: I have a tattoo.
MR: I once sang backup in an animated Barbie film called The Princess and the Pauper.
KTHD: Do you get any royalty checks from that?
MR: I’m not even named in the credits.
KTHD: What is a recent #BosArts thing that you saw and loved?
EM: I loved the Sargent watercolors at the MFA.
MR: My favorite thing was a Groupmuse held at the home of two lovely French men in Beacon Hill. It was a violinist and a theorbo player playing early Italian Baroque, and it was really exciting to see young people who are not musicians very excited about salon classical music!
BW: I apparently have to leave town to see music, so at the Baltimore ACDA Convention I saw both Emily and Margot and several other Bostonians—so it’s almost like going to a Boston event—singing with Seraphic Fire doing Monteverdi Vespers.
KTHD: And finally, and perhaps most importantly, what is your favorite cocktail?
MR: French 75.
EM: Toronto. I changed my mind. It’s a Toronto. Maybe a Hanky Panky.
BW: A neat bourbon.
KTHD: What kind of bourbon?
BW: Maker’s Mark. I like nice bourbon, but I’m a musician.
KTHD: Even the Spice Girls need to be balling on a budget!