Slavic Wonders

Saint Stanislaus (ca. 16th century)

Feasts and Saints in Early Russia, Ukraine, Poland & Bohemia

December 2011

This holiday season, we invite you to visit these ancient places, where mysterious chants, joyful hymns, and magnificent choral works are mingled with legends of folk heroes and the Christmas story. Spanning eight centuries, “Slavic Wonders” includes stunning, 12-part Russian Orthodox motets written for Peter the Great’s Imperial Court Chapel Choir, powerful double-choir works from the Polish Renaissance, Czech-language medieval hymns, and a wonderful collection of Ukrainian Christmas carols. With repertoire and a stage presence hailed by audiences as ethereal and captivating, and a vocal blend and range called “supernatural” by critics, The Rose Ensemble has presented this award-winning program to capacity crowds across the U.S. and Europe. This year's program has been revamped to include several additional Czech and Ukranian-language pieces; a fresh take on this musical feast for everyone to enjoy!

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Fri Dec. 16, 2011
Mary of the Angels Chapel
901 Franciscan Way
La Crosse, WI 

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Sat Dec. 17, 2011
Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church
12650 Johnny Cake Ridge Road
Apple Valley, MN 
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Sun Dec. 18, 2011
$25 ($10 at-door special for students)
Sacred Heart Music Center
201 West 4th Street
Duluth, MN 
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Arrive early to enjoy some fabulous holiday organ music performed on the Felgemaker organ at Sacred Heart Music Center prior to The Rose Ensemble's concert! The musical prelude will begin at 7:00 pm with performers David Tryggestad (pastor at Concordia Lutheran in Duluth and former Minister of Music at First Lutheran in Duluth), Br. Theophane Windschitl (former organist at Mt. Olivet Lutheran in Minneapolis and currently at St. John's Abbey in Collegeville), and Velda Graham Bell (Associate Music Director at Pilgrim Congregational Church in Duluth).

Thu Dec. 22, 2011
Nativity of Our Lord Catholic Church
1900 Wellesley Avenue
St. Paul, MN 
This performance has SOLD OUT.
Fri Dec. 23, 2011
$37, $27, $15
The Basilica of Saint Mary
88 North 17th Street
Minneapolis, MN 

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Rose Ensemble's Slavic concert rings true for Christmas

Sometimes you want a contemporary Christmas concert filled with songs of snow and sleigh bells. But maybe you'll find deeper rewards in the soundtracks of Christmas celebrations from centuries ago. There's a far more sacred tone to the seasonal music from the ancient, medieval and Renaissance eras, much of it built around prayer and New Testament tales of Mary, the manger and the mystery of God taking human form.

If your holiday concert-going has yet to give you that "true meaning of Christmas" stirring of the soul, you may find it at the Rose Ensemble's "Slavic Wonders" concerts. At Apple Valley's Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church on Saturday night, the Twin Cities' foremost early-music vocal group took the audience to mid-millennium eastern European churches, evoking solemnity and celebration in the most spirited Christmas program the group has presented in recent years.

Russia, the Ukraine, Poland and Bohemia were the regions to which the audience was delivered. It seems that the farther east you go, the more the vocal music is built on big booming basses that rumble like foghorns through the higher harmonies.

And the Rose Ensemble has a big-voiced trio for such music in Mark Dietrich, Daniel Mahraun and Jonathan Ten Brink.

There was also dancing exuberance in a pair of traditional Ukrainian carols with a far more folky feel than the reverent Renaissance motets around them.

Alto Kris Kautzman captured the rustic, rough-edged style with effervescent enthusiasm, transforming the tone of the concert's first half from candlelit chapel to old-time Ukrainian holiday house party.

However, some of the music can only be called Slavic by taking the composer's birthplace into account. Works by Poland's Mikolaj Zielenski bear the unmistakable antiphonal structures and harmonies of Italian Renaissance master Giovanni Gabrieli, who may have been his teacher. But it's a style that the Rose Ensemble sings so well - particularly on a 12-part "Magnificat" - that the side trip to Venice is a welcome departure.

Rob Hubbard can be reached at

Who: The Rose Ensemble What: "Slavic Wonders: Feasts and Saints in Early Russia, Ukraine, Poland and Bohemia"

When and where: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Nativity of Our Lord Catholic Church, 1900 Wellesley Ave., St. Paul; 8 p.m. Friday, Basilica of St. Mary, 88 N. 17th St., Mpls.

Tickets: $37-$15, available at 651-225-4340 or

Capsule: Old-fashioned Christmas music doesn't get much older than this.

Cantus, Rose Ensemble on choral journeys

REVIEW: Cantus and Rose Ensemble offer spirited and moving holiday-themed concerts.

Cantus, with nine men, and Rose Ensemble, with a mixed ensemble of 12, demonstrate the joys to be found in smaller vocal ensembles. Their Christmas concerts, "Christmas with Cantus" and "Slavic Wonders," offer radically different, but equally satisfying holiday experiences.

Cantus' diverse program is the more immediately accessible, but Rose Ensemble's focus on centuries of music from Russia and Eastern Europe offers a striking musical experience.

There's something awe-inspiring abut the way the men of Cantus seem to sing as one organism, watching each other, even breathing together, creating perfectly balanced harmonies. And they do it all with a warm, burnished tone.

From medieval carols to contemporary classical music to pop Christmas music, they proved themselves masters of all the diverse musical styles.

Rose Ensemble created a strong Russian sound, adding a stylistically appropriate rough burr to their tone. The basses shone with sounds that seemed to come from the center of the earth and the sopranos' crystalline sound was clear and pure to the top of the register.

From the austerity of traditional Ukrainian chant to traditional folk carols to a contemporary Russian chorus that Rose Ensemble had commissioned, the program was more diverse than I'd expected, sung with robust enthusiasm and the true spirit of the season.

A highlight of the Cantus program was the world premiere of "Cantate Domino" by ensemble member Paul J. Rudoi. The ensemble responded with a joyous enthusiasm in this almost pop setting of the Latin text.

A crowning moment for Rose Ensemble was a Magnificat by 17th-century composer Mikoaj Zielenski, written for 12 parts and in three antiphonal choirs, in the ornate Italianate style. They sang the intricate harmonies with stunning clarity.

Rose Ensemble provided a very simple staging, like processing in to an early Russian Orthodox chant, which effectively gave drama and theatricality to an admittedly heavy repertoire. They made the unfamiliar music both approachable and entertaining.

Occasionally, Cantus become so concerned with creating their perfect harmonies that the result sounded overly studied. But when they let themselves cut loose, they had great fun, like with "Skating" by Vince Guaraldi, a jazz vocalise with some great scat singing. A calypso rendition of "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" brought the concert to a rousing conclusion.

William Randall Beard writes frequently about music.





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