Cantus to perform for ‘Alone Together’ concert

UNIVERSITY PARK — Cantus has been called “the premier men’s vocal ensemble in the United States.” The a capella octet will make its second appearance at Penn State when it performs “Alone Together,” an introspective look at what it means to connect in our modern world, at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 25, in Pasquerilla Spiritual Center.

As technology makes the planet feel as though it’s smaller, the divisions between nations, communities and relationships seem to be widening. “Alone Together” will explore the struggle to build meaningful connections in a world that has never been more connected.

A highlight of the concert will be the world premiere of a multi-movement piece, “You,” composed for Cantus by Grammy Award winner Libby Larsen. The Center for the Performing Arts at Penn State co-commissioned the piece through its membership in the national Music Accord consortium.

“‘You’ is a musical essay on the human condition of being alone together,” Larsen wrote. “It’s about us, and we are its theme. YOU are the subject and recipient of its message. Cantus is our essay’s narrator.”

In creating “You,” Larsen identified nine words — you, here, now, who, are, where, know, need and love — that describe being alive and used them to frame questions about being human. She then took inspiration from poems by Emily Dickinson and Edna St. Vincent Millay.

A Delaware native, Larsen is one of America’s most performed living composers. She has created more than 500 compositions in various genres, including vocal and chamber music, orchestral works and operas. Her music is included on more than 50 albums.

“Alone Together” is also anchored by Steven Sametz’s multi-movement setting of the Walt Whitman poem “We Two” and by David Lang’s modern exploration of yearning in his “Manifesto.”

The concert will include music by Arcade Fire, Ludwig van Beethoven, Sydney Guillaume, Jennifer Higdon, Lennon/McCartney, Dave Matthews, Don McDonald, Ingrid Michaelson, Laura Mvula, Pasek and Paul, Camille Saint-SaÎns, and Simon and Garfunkel.

One of America’s few full-time men’s ensembles, Cantus is known worldwide for its trademark warmth, exceptional vocal blend and engaging performances of music from the Renaissance to the 21st century.

A Washington Post reviewer described the ensemble’s sound as having both “exalting finesse” and “expressive power,” and called its singing “spontaneous grace.”

Cantus, based in Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minn., is unusual for not having a music director. The members rehearse and perform as chamber musicians, each contributing to the entirety of the artistic process.

The chorus regularly commissions works and has released 17 albums. The ensemble is a frequent guest on public radio, including Performance Today’s annual “Thanksgiving with Cantus.”

Cantus is also scheduled to perform a mini concert at Classical Coffeehouse, a Center for the Performing Arts-Penn State Alumni Association collaboration that takes place at 8 p.m. Sept. 24, in Penn State’s Hintz Family Alumni Center. Larsen will speak about her work at the coffeehouse.

Designed for Penn State students but open to community members, Classical Coffeehouse aims to expand the audience for traditional and contemporary music by offering a relaxed atmosphere with discussion and socializing among audience members and artists.

Classical Coffeehouse partners include Blue & White Society, PSU Music Service Club and Penn State Coffee Club. The coffeehouse is free for University Park students. A $10 donation is suggested for each non-student. Donations help to sustain the series. Complimentary beverages and snacks are served. Seating is limited, but standing room is available when seating is full. Doors open at 7:30 p.m.

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