Monday, May 30, 2011

Holy Toledo! High Mass & Festival Performance

Friday, May 27 was a full day for the UGA Chamber Choir and our accompanying guests. Scheduled to sing for High Mass in the Cathedral of Toledo at 10:30 AM, we were up, in concert attire, and heading to town by 9:30.

High Mass at the Primate Cathedral of St. Mary of Toledo

Javier, our city guide from yesterday, had explained to us that the term "Holy Toledo" (Toh-lee-do) originated here in Toledo because Toledo is considered the Catholic motherland of Spain. Before King Phillip II moved the royal court to Madrid in 1651, Toledo was the political and religious capital of Spain. As such, the cathedral enjoys pride of place, and religious festivals such as June's Corpus Christi, are huge affairs. The choir was thus grateful and appreciative of the
space in which they would sing for the Mass.

In a beautiful and--especially important--resonant side chapel with a high dome, the Chamber Choir split into the choir seats on either side of the main altar. For the entrance hymn, they performed the Duruflé Ubi Caritas with Joshua Elder on the incipit. The celebrant also asked for the T.L. de Victoria Kyrie, a particularly suiting piece as Victoria was one of the most famous Spanish Renaissance composers. At the offertory, the choir performed their best rendition yet of F. Guerrero's Ave, virgo sanctissima, the notes resounding off the dome and almost swirling with the cloud of incense.

To close, the Chamber Choir presented Franz Liszt's Ave Maria. After the Mass, several people approached Dr. Andaya to congratulate the choir on their performance and express their sentiments. One German couple in particular was moved by the Ubi Caritas and was visibly crying.

Following their performance at Mass, the group enjoyed the rest of the morning and afternoon at leisure in the city, using the opportunity to find tapas for lunch, wander through the streets, and pick up souvenirs of "Toledoware," knives, and ceramics. The rest of the day was not entirely free, however, as the final concert of the 2011 Tour was fast approaching.

Final Concert - Sinagoga del Tránsito, Toledo

At 8:00 PM, the UGA Chamber Choir presented their theme concert, Cantos del Corazón al Cielo (Songs from the Heart to the Heavens) at the Sinagoga del Tránsito, a 14th century synagogue which became a church, then a military barracks, and is now restored to its original architecture but designed as an important culture heritage and museum. The Sinagoga del Tránsito is not used for services.

Performing to a packed house and standing room only, the Chamber Choir took the audience on a whirlwind tour of geographical and stylistic periods: from the early Spanish and Portuguese Renaissance to fiery German and Italian pieces with Dr. Martha Thomas (bio here), accompanying; from the didgeridoo and overtone sounds of Australian composer Sarah Hopkins to Swedish and American a cappella vocal jazz (James Sewell, solo in When I Fall in Love); from the quiet and reflective That Lonesome Road (Nathan Schreer, solo) to the joyful African American spiritual ending (Kevin Wickware & Joshua Elder, soloists in Daniel, Daniel, Servant of the Lord), the Chamber Choir received a standing ovation from the very appreciative audience.

After a pre-concert introduction by Incantato Spain Concert Manager Katia Oceransky, Dr. Andaya introduced each song or theme to the audience. UGA rising senior and Spanish major David Okun translated.

Following their final performance, the Chamber Choir changed and enjoyed another night in Toledo on their own. It's hard to believe, but there's only one more full day left on the Iberian Peninsula!

Day 8: The Route of Don Quijote -- Castilla y La Mancha, Spain

On Thursday, May 26, the choir traveled from Seville to Toledo, Spain, traversing across the region of Castilla y La Mancha, home to Cervantes' novel Don Quijote de La Mancha. Enroute, Stefania arranged for a stop to the famous windmills along the Ruta de Don Quijote. We stopped for pictures and to stretch our legs, then continued on to Toledo.

Toledo, as seen from our panoramic ride

After checking into Hotel Mayoral at the base of the hilltop city, we met our local guide, Javier (pictured at right), who led us on a panoramic bus tour around the city and then guided us by foot inside. We started in the old Jewish Quarter and got to take a sneak peak inside the Sinagoga del Tránsito, site of our final performance the following evening.

Following recommendations for local and authentic cuisine from Javier, the group split off to find dinner on their own.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Sevilla: land of enchantment, tapas, flamenco, and performance!

Day 6: Tuesday, May 24: Spain & Sevilla

After leaving Serpa on Tuesday morning, the UGA Chamber Choir crossed the border into Spain and the magical land of Andalucía: home to flamenco, the tapas culture, and cities including Córdoba, Granada, and of course Sevilla! Here's a map of the trajectory:

Arriving ahead of schedule, the choir and friends explored the city center of Sevilla, including the Barrio Santa Cruz and surrounding areas, at leisure on their own. That night they checked into Hotel La Motilla and had a group dinner.

Day 7: Wednesday, May 25: Exploring Seville +Impromptu Performance + CONCERT

Wednesday was a busy day for the UGA Chamber Choir, as they kickstarted with a guided tour
of the city conducted by professional guide Daniel. Starting in Plaza España (pictured at right), they then explored the old Jewish Quarter, passing through a maze of streets into the Barrio Santa Cruz, the ancient heart of Seville. After a short break for a pick me up (some enjoyed espresso, others churros con chocolate), the tour continued as they learned about the Alcázar and ended by the cathedral.

Following an Incantato lunch at Restaurant El Cabildo across from the cathedral, the Chamber Choir then entered the Cathedral of Seville (one side pictured below), the third-largest church in the world and an absolutely stunning masterpiece of Gothic architecture, inside and out. The Chamber Choir came prepared with Ave, Virgo Sanctissima, a work by the native Sevillan composer Francisco Guerrero, who lived and worked in the Seville Cathedral during the 16th century. After finding an arched alcove to the right of the main altar, the Chamber Choir gathered in a circle and gave an impromptu performance of the Guerrero work. Surrounded by a hushed audience of surprised tourists, the choir enjoyed a special moment performing the piece in the setting most likely in which it was composed. The choir also performed the Kyrie of Tomás Luis de Victoria's Officium Defunctorum as an encore.

After two more hours of leisure around the city, the choir transfered back to the hotel to freshen up for our evening concert at the Conservatorio Superior de Música Manuel Castillo. At 8:30 PM, the choir walked onstage to a beautiful outdoor plaza of the Conservatory (performance picture, below. Dr. Mitos Andaya, conductor). They were joined by an appreciative audience which included a group of University of Georgia study abroad participants from the UGA en España - Sevilla program. Nothing like seeing some friendly, English-speaking faces! Go Dawgs!

Following the concert, the group split up to grab a bite to eat. For their last night in Sevilla, some had pre-booked tickets to a professional flamenco show in the Barrio de Santa Cruz; others wandered the lamp-lit winding streets to enjoy tapas and impromptu shows; while others took advantage of the bus transfer to get a good night's sleep after the jam-packed day!

Photo credit: Bonnie Krider and David Okun

UGA performances on the web

Dear members and friends of the UGA Chamber Choir,

Below are a selection of links containing media coverage of your concerts:

Friday, May 27 Toledo concert at Sinagoga del Tránsito:

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Évora, Serpa, and More-- Oh my!

Évora: exploration & exchange performance

Yesterday, Monday, May 23, the UGA Chamber Choir checked out of Hotel Roma in Lisbon and made their way to the town of Évora, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, known for its University, Roman ruins (including the Temple of Diana), and several unique churches, like the St. Francis Church, a work of Franciscan origin.After a guided tour of the town by a local, registered, and extremely knowledgable guide, the choir enjoyed a few hours' free time to wander the lazy streets and buy local artisan souvenirs of cork, a product heavily produced in the region. The town has over 1,000 uses for cork, including cork purses, neckties, wallets, lunch boxes, and jewelry.

Following free time, the group enjoyed lunch at local restaurant "Mr. Snob," where the waitstaff brought trays of pork, clams, and potatoes along with other local delicacies.
After lunch, the choir arrived at the University of Évora and met with representatives of the Choir of the University of Évora and participated in a musical exchange with the University of Évora "Tuna Academica." A tuna in this case does not refer to a type of fish, but rather a type of collegiate musical ensemble native to the Iberian peninsula. Evocative of medieval troubadours, university tunas feature string instruments, drums, and voices (usually male, although there are co-ed tunas) dressed in "trajes" of tunics, boots, and cloaks embellished with patches signifying members' hometowns, majors, etc.

Standing in an open sunlit courtyard in the university complex, the UGA Chamber Choir took turns with the University Tuna, each performing two or three songs for the other group. UGA began with an early music component of Egressus Iesus secessit and portions of the Victoria Officium Defunctorum, and then moved through musical styles to showcase the eerie overtones of Past Life Melodies, the cool vocal jazz of When I Fall In Love (solo credit: Joshua Elder), and finally ending with an African American spiritual. Truly a gamut of repertoire!

In turn, the Tuna wowed and entertained us and many passersby with fun, upbeat, and rhythmic songs, many of which are native to the Alentejo region and to Portugal. In particular there were flag twirlers and acrobatic tambourine players! After the exchange, members and leadership of the Choir of the University of Évora and a few tuna members accompanied us to a gelato treat to cool off!
Serpa: local gastronomy and bellas vistas!

Culminating the Portuguese portion of our Incantato Performance Tour 2011, the choir traveled to the southern town of Serpa for dinner and overnight stay, at Hotel Estalagem de San Gens. As we soon learned was typical of the southern Alentejo region, the choir was warmly greeted at a beautiful hotel overlooking a sprawling valley, with olive groves, fruit trees, and an endless expanse of terrain. Set on a hilltop with each room affording marvelous views, it was truly a treat to spend the evening and night in Serpa.

For dinner, Tour Manager Stefania led us into the center of town where we found restaurant Molhó Bico eager to accomodate a spontaneous and very hungry group of 27. In lieu of individual ordering, the choir opted to eat "family-style" and tried all manner of local delicacies, including the famous Serpa creamy cheese, wine tastings, perfectly grilled steaks, ribs, pork, salads, and an unbelievable dessert tray. This family-owned restaurant enabled unforgettable experiences that night, with the choir and our non-singing members bonding over a truly wonderful meal.

Off to Sevilla, Spain and the Andalucía province on Tuesday. Looking forward to our next performance at the Conservatorio Superior of Seville on Wednesday!

¡Adeus Portugal, y hola España!

Photo credits: Sara Katherine Braucher, James Sewell, and David Okun

Monday, May 23, 2011

Next stop for the UGA Choir: Serpa, Portugal

Famous for its creamy cheeses, Serpa is a agricultural hilltop town of white houses located in the south-eastern corner of the Alentejo. Situated just 30 km from the Spanish border, it is an excellent base from which to explore the lower eastern side of Portugal, as well as neighboring parts of Spain. The town itself, which is walled, was founded in 400 BC by the Turdelos, one of the original peoples of Iberia. Known to the Romans by the same name, Serpa was later conquered by Geraldo Sem-Pavor in 1166, taken again by the Moors and finally regained in 1232. The town bravely resisted subsequent attacks over the centuries until a brief Spanish occupation occurred in 1707/8. Visitors to Serpa are sometimes serenaded by the town's traditional singers, who are genuine descendants of medieval troubadours.
You will experience Serpa's quaint character while staying at the Hotel Estalagem de San Gens    the night of May 23. Information about the hotel can be found on your Incantato Hotel post.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

[updated] High Mass, Wine Tasting, and beautiful scenery!

High Mass at Church of the Martyrs, Lisbon
Today the UGA Chamber Choir performed during the 12:00 noon High Mass at the Church of the Martyrs in Lisbon. This basilica holds pride of place as Lisbon's first Catholic church and features beautiful paintings, altar decorations, and acoustics. The Mass was packed and the Chamber Choir had the opportunity to sing with the parish's Sunday choir.

For the entrance hymn, the choir performed Francisco Guerrero's Ave, Virgo Sanctissima, followed by Portuguese composer Pero de Gamboa's evocative Egressus Iesus secessit. During Communion, we featured the Duruflé Ubi Caritas with baritone Joshua Elder leading the incipit. After words of welcome, thanksgiving, and appreciation offered to the choir (in English!) by a representative of the church at the conclusion of the Mass, the choir ended with Franz Liszt's Ave Maria; the choir has been invited to return anytime, as their voices "showcased a piece of heaven."

Lunch & gelato in Cascais; wine tasting in Sintra

Following the Mass participation, the choir was treated to a wonderful Incantato lunch at a beach-front spot on the way to Cascais. Local specialties included cod, grilled pulpo (octopus), steak and mushrooms, and sweet and savory mango-chocolate-vanilla desserts!

Next we stopped briefly in the beach resort of Cascais (pronounced "cash-kaysh") to sample the local gelato at gelateria Santini. Afterwards we continued to nearby Sintra, passing a national
In Sintra we enjoyed a porto wine tasting, surrounded by bottles upon bottles of dark, light, dry, and sweet varieties of the Portuguese beverage.park on one side and crashing waves and hang gliders on the other!

Sintra was the summer resort town of the Portuguese royal family, and is set on a hilltop overlooking a lush valley and the Atlantic Ocean beyond. Our backdrop included picturesqu
e European castles and palaces and the opportunity to purchase souvenirs of the local gastronomy (that's code for bottles of porto wine, rolls of cheese, and cuts of chorizo sausage!).

Returning to Hotel Roma in Lisbon tonight, choir and friends are preparing for the next leg--tomorrow we're off to do a choral exchange with the University of Évora and spend the night in Serpa.

Keep following for updates and pictures on when the University of Georgia meets the University of Évora!! Boa noite de Lisboa!

Inaugural Concert & Welcome Dinner

First concert!

Last night, Saturday, May 21, the UGA Chamber Choir was joined by family, friends, and an audience of over 50 attentive Lisbon concertgoers as they performed a program entitled "Songs from the Heart to the Heavens."

Featuring repertoire from the early Renaissance through modern day Jazz and beyond, the choir demonstrated a broad range of musical styles from American, Portuguese, Australian, and Spanish composers. The audience responded to many of these, especially Sarah Hopkins' piece, Past Life Melodies, which features chanting and harmonic overtone singing. Filling the Palacio Foz Hall of Mirrors with eerie overtones elicited several "Bravos!" from our appreciative listeners.

Soloists included James Sewell on When I Fall in Love and Ben Wills on That Lonesome Road. Dr. Martha Thomas accompanied on piano for several songs. Dr. Jean Kidula played conga on Keep Your Lamps. The choir was rewarded with a standing ovation at the end of the performance. An overall memorable first night!
A quintet sang Chili con carne, a jazzy and demanding yet fun a cappella piece which details the recipe for the popular beef chili dish. We also noticed one audience member getting really into the groove with eyes closed and head bobbing.

Welcome dinner and Fado Show at O Forcado!

After the concert, the choir quickly changed and drove over to Bairro Alto, the home district of Fado, a Portuguese folkloric, musical tradition. There the choir had a nice dinner of Bacalao
(cod) and wine, while enjoying several singers and dancers.

After finishing dessert and coffee, most choir members returned, weary eyed, to the hotel to get some rest.

Photos by David Okun and Lauren Hook

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Lisbon sightseeing & free time - concert tonight!

Although it's still late morning for our friends back in the US, here in Lisbon we've already had a full day of sightseeing and an opportunity to sample local cuisine.

At 9:00 AM, Tour Manager Stefania introduced us to Diana, who would be our Lisbon guide for the next 4 hours. Diana led us on a very informative and interesting panoramic tour of the city, and there were multiple opportunities to hop on/hop off the bus for pictures. See below.

We saw the Edward VII park, named in honor of Portugal's strategic alliance with England, as well as rode to the suburb of Belém, about 6 km from the city center. Belém is a beautiful area home to the UNESCO World Heritage Sites of the Monastery of St. Jerome and the Tower of Belém -- the latter being the port from which Portuguese sailor Vasco da Gama set sail to discover the new route to India!

While in Belém, Diana took us to the Pasteis de Belém, a pastry shop serving up the delicious Portuguese specialty pasteis de nata, since 1837! Pasteis de nata is a small custard-filled tart cake, sprinkled with powdered sugar and cinnamon on top--a perfect way to cool down and stock up before visiting the Monastery. (The high today is 81º F!)

Afterwards we ventured back to the center of town and cruised through the Alfama district, got out and toured the "Sé" or Cathedral, and then Diana led us on a walking tour of Alfama, which included the old Jewish Quarter and a pass by the River Tagus.

At 1:00 PM the tour ended in Rossio Square (also known as Praça Dom Pedro IV), where we had free time to find lunch and walk around on our own.

It's just after 4:00 PM local time, and the choir is back at Hotel Roma freshening up for our concert. We leave at 4:30 for dress rehearsal, with the concert to follow at 6:30 PM.



UGA Chamber Choir presents first tour concert at the Mirror Hall of Foz Palace in Lisbon on May 21 at 6:30 P.M.

What a magical venue for the first formal concert of the 2011 UGA Chamber Choir Tour to Portugal and Spain: The singers under the direction of Dr. Mitos Andaya will be performing at the beautiful Mirror Hall of Palacio Foz in Lisbon on Saturday, May 21, at 6:30 pm.  The neo-classical Palácio Foz was designed by the Italian architect Francisco Xavier Fabri and built shortly after the great earthquake in 1755, for the Marquês de Castelo Melhor. It was purchased by the Marquês de Foz in 1886 when it received the first of many facelifts. It now houses, amongst other things, one of Lisbon’s Tourist Information centres and an art gallery. It is magnificently decorated internally and the ballroom features outstanding paintings by Columbano Bordalo Pinheiro (1857-1929), one of the leading painters of his generation and a master of realism in Portugal. 

What a magical venue for the first formal concert of the 2011 UGA Chamber Choir Tour to Portugal and Spain: The singers under the direction of Dr. Mitos Andaya will be performing at the beautiful Mirror Hall of Palacio Foz in Lisbon on Saturday, May 21, at 6:30 pm.  The neo-classical Palácio Foz was designed by the Italian architect Francisco Xavier Fabri and built shortly after the great earthquake in 1755, for the Marquês de Castelo Melhor. It was purchased by the Marquês de Foz in 1886 when it received the first of many facelifts. It now houses, amongst other things, one of Lisbon’s Tourist Information centres and an art gallery. It is magnificently decorated internally and the ballroom features outstanding paintings by Columbano Bordalo Pinheiro (1857-1929), one of the leading painters of his generation and a master of realism in Portugal. 

Friday, May 20, 2011

Awaiting the choir's arrival!

For all of our friends and family back home, Oi do Lisboa! My name is David Okun and along with Lauren and others, I'll be updating the Tour blog throughout our adventures in Portugal and Spain.

It's 4:00 PM local time, and the rest of the choir is due to arrive at 5:35 PM from their layover in London. Stefania and I are checked into the hotel and will be departing shortly to meet them.
Above is the sign I made to welcome them! And below are some of my first impressions from Portugal.

Tonight, Dr. Andaya has arranged for a brief rehearsal to get everyone up to speed, then it's off to dinner and exploring downtown Lisbon on our own.

We're staying at the Hotel Roma, which is right beside the "Roma" metro stop -- easy access to Baixa-Chiado, the veritable center of town. Our first concert is tomorrow at the Palacio Foz (Mirror Hall) at 6:30 PM, after which we head to our welcome dinner and Fado show!

Check out the concert details on Facebook at

Concert posters and flyers are up around town already. Many thanks to Incantato for the publicity. We hope for a packed house tomorrow for our inaugural concert. Pictures to follow!

For now, all you folks back home, take a look at some of what Lisbon has to offer.

Rosé and White porto wine:

The Bairro Alto district

The beautiful port area of nearby Belém, with the Tower of Belém (from where Vasco da Gama set sail for India) in the distance

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Welcom to Lisbon, Portugal dear Members of the UGA Chamber Choir

Lisbon, the capital and largest city of Portugal, is the twelfth most populated urban area in the European Union. Lisbon is the westernmost capital city in Europe, lying on the western Iberian Peninsula along the Atlantic Ocean and Tagus River, less than 200 miles northwest of Cape Spartel, Africa.
Lisbon is recognized as an alpha city due to its importance in finance, commerce, media, entertainment, arts, international trade, education, and tourism. It is the world’s 25th most livable city, according to the lifestyle magazine Monocle, and the sixth most visited city in Southern Europe with more than two million tourists annually.
Lisbon reigns as one of the world’s oldest cities. Unlike most capital cities, Lisbon’s status as the capital of Portugal has never been confirmed or granted officially—neither by statute nor written form. Its position as the capital has formed through constitutional convention, making its position as de facto capital a part of the Constitution of Portugal. The city boasts two registered UNESCO World Heritage Sites: the Belem Tower constructed during the maritime exploration, and the Manueline-style Jeronimos Monastery. Lisbon was honored in 1994 as the European Capital of Culture.
Lisbon enjoys subtropical-Mediterranean climate. Among all of Europe’s metropolises, Lisbon experiences the warmest winters with average temperatures of 59 degrees Fahrenheit from December through February. The typical summer season lasts approximately six months, from May through October, however November, March and April often also experience temperatures upwards of 68 degrees Fahrenheit. While in Lisbon, why not explore the city by riding the famous street cars or enjoy watching people strolling by at one of the beautiful plazas

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.