Four years ago, Tony Thornton began Illuminati Vocal Arts Ensemble with a mission to create a professional-caliber vocal arts ensemble with the heart and dedication of an amateur chorus. Dr. Thornton is well acquainted with professional ensembles, as you can see from his biography.
The Illuminati Vocal Arts Ensemble is beginning to realize Tony’s vision. A unique chamber chorus, we draw our volunteer singers from throughout Massachusetts and beyond. We have received rave reviews from audiences and newspapers, and have earned the respect of area cultural institutions.
The ensemble performs choral miniatures and masterworks from all periods and styles, and collaborates with other community/professional organizations.
“Performances at the level of Illuminati's give the listener a clear window into the composer's soul.” - Clifton Noble Jr, The Republican, Oct. 15, 2016
Active as a conductor, educator, clinician, and author, Tony Thornton received his Bachelor of Music degree in Music Education and Voice from Westminster Choir College, a Master of Music degree in Choral Conducting from Louisiana State University, and his Doctor of Musical Arts degree in Choral Conducting and Historical Musicology from the University of Arizona. He studied conducting with Joseph Flummerfelt, Kenneth Fulton, Frauke Haasemann, Margaret Hillis, Bruce Chamberlain, and Donald Neuen.
Trained first as a singer, Dr. Thornton has performed as a tenor soloist throughout the United States, Europe, and Asia. As a member of the Westminster Choir, he performed at the Spoleto Festival in Italy and the United States, and he has recorded with Leonard Bernstein, Riccardo Muti, Robert Shaw, Claudio Abbado, and Zubin Mehta. He sang for seven years as a member of the Grammy Award-winning Robert Shaw Festival Singers.
As a guest conductor and clinician who is active on the national and international choral scene, Dr. Thornton has worked with over 300 women’s, men’s, and mixed choruses in public schools, colleges, churches, community, and professional organizations in 24 states, Japan, and throughout Europe.
Dr. Thornton is the author of The Choral Singer’s Survival Guide (giamusic.com) and he maintains a choral series in his name at Colla Voce Music. He is currently Director of Choral Studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where he oversees an extensive choral program, guides the graduate program in choral conducting, and serves as Director of the Choral Area for the UMass Summer Conducting Institute. He is the Founding Artistic Director of Illuminati Vocal Arts Ensemble.
Dr. Thornton holds active memberships in the American Choral Directors Association (ACDA), Chorus America, International Federation for Choral Music (IFCM), National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS), and the National Collegiate Choral Organization (NCCO). He is President of the Massachusetts chapter of the American Choral Directors Association.
Sarah Ehle received her Bachelor’s degree in Piano Performance from Wheaton College, and her Master’s degree in Collaborative Piano from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Her experience includes working with choirs as well as collaborating with musicians of almost every instrument, working as rehearsal pianist for a student opera program, and playing for several student musical theatre revues.
Ms. Ehle is on staff at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where she works with the UMass Chamber Choir and several studios. She also accompanies Suzuki group classes at the Northampton Community Music School, and has worked as a staff accompanist at the Hartt School of Music in Connecticut.
After successful collaborations with Joseph Flummerfelt and Ian Watson in October, our season continues in 2018 with a performance of the Rachmaninoff All-Night Vigil with the UMass Chamber Chorus on February 24 (details below). On April 28, we will perform the Verdi Messa da Requiem with the Springfield Symphony Orchestra and Chorus. Finally, our season will close with a solo outing of Baroque music at Grace Church in Amherst on June 16, when we will present a program centered on Bach’s Christ Lag in Todesbanden. A favorite piece of John Eliot Gardiner, he has called it “a bold, innovative piece of musical drama.”
Illuminati will perform Rachmaninov’s All-Night Vigil on Saturday, February 24, 2018, at 8:00 pm at Our Lady of the Valley Catholic Church, 33 Adams St., Easthampton. We will be joined by the UMass Chamber Choir, also under the direction of Tony Thornton.
The All-Night Vigil, a work of almost unbearable beauty, is regarded as the pinnacle of Russian Orthodox choral music, and is one of the most challenging pieces in the a cappella repertory.
Rachmaninov composed it in under two weeks, early in 1915, when he had just spent a year touring cities in support of Russian troops. Its 15 texts, which span Vespers through Matins to Prime, are his response to the chaos and suffering of World War I. Nine of the movements are based on traditional chant; the other six are original. In mood, they move from praise to meditation, from penitence to appeals to God to deliver humankind from death and calamity. Crystalline pianissimos suddenly swell into enormous full-throated cries and then subside again. Soprano lines float ethereally over bass notes so low they seem almost beyond the range of human hearing. The music makes enormous demands on singers’ intonation, breath control and emotional engagement.
At the time of its composition, the All-Night Vigil was seen as the masterpiece that would breathe new life into the tradition of Russian Orthodox liturgical music, but history turned in another direction. In post-revolutionary Bolshevik Russia, religious expression was suppressed, and church choirs were disbanded. The Vigil was not recorded until 1965. Rachmaninov left Russia in 1917, in the wake of the Bolshevik revolution and the seizure of his family’s estate. He fled to Finland and eventually the U.S. He considered the All-Night Vigil one of his finest works, and in his will asked that it be sung at his funeral and that he be buried in Moscow. But he died in 1943, in Beverly Hills, and he was buried in Westchester, N.Y., and his wish went unfulfilled.
Entrance into the ensemble is by audition only (see audition process below). Dr. Thornton seeks singers with considerable choral experience. While perfect sight reading is not required, all singers must fully prepare repertoire before the first rehearsal. Illuminati makes music from the beginning.
Dr. Thornton is building an ensemble with a beautiful, communicative sound: tall, warm, vibrant, and round vowels; a wide dynamic palette; an inner rhythmic drive; and in-tune and balanced resonance. In the soprano section he is looking for lyric, energized purity; in the alto section a rich, full sound; in the tenor section a lyric, high/forward, yet warm sound; and in the bass section a rich baritone sound with forward placement that is not overly dark.
If you are interested, please complete the form here and we will email you an audition confirmation with possible times.
The audition takes approximately ten minutes. Singers will be asked to perform scales using a variety of articulations (legato, staccato, and marcato) and dynamics to demonstrate color, range, quality, and flexibility. A segment of the audition will emphasize sight-reading and tonal memory (with accompaniment). Finally, each singer should prepare his or her vocal part of this PDF excerpt from BWV 76 (Die Himmel erzählen die Ehre Gottes, measures 20-36 only). The excerpt will be sung without accompaniment. Singers should perform as close to quarter=96-100 as possible. German is preferred, but a neutral syllable may be used.
If you have any questions, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
We need your help. While our unique structure permits us a much smaller budget than most ensembles of our caliber, no arts organization can be funded by ticket sales alone. Your financial support makes our music possible. Please consider donating at one of the following levels:
• Recognition in concert programs and on our website
|Above benefits, plus a concert recording of your choice|
|Above, plus prominent recognition as a concert sponsor|
|Above, plus prominent recognition as a season sponsor|
When you join the FRIENDS’ CIRCLE with a gift of up to $999, you help to meet the immediate needs of Illuminati and enjoy special recognition and opportunities throughout the season.
When you become a member of the CONDUCTOR’S CIRCLE with a gift of $1,000 or more, you are eligible for an array of exclusive benefits in gratitude for your substantial support of the Illuminati Vocal Arts Ensemble.
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