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Composer revels in the rich texture of the human voice

Choral-music lovers will rejoice in what composer Andy Vores has to say.

Mr. Vores, whose new work for chorus and orchestra, "World Wheel," was performed in Boston recently, sees interest in singing as on the rise, both as communal activity and art form.

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The genial, Welsh-born composer credits several factors for the revival. "People are energized by choral music," he says, noting that choirs have piggybacked on the popularity of opera, which has been growing exponentially since the mid-1980s.

Opera singers, in turn, have fed the trend by giving recitals - in which the unadorned human voice, rather than an elaborate production, matters. Vores points to soprano Dawn Upshaw and baritone Sanford Sylvan as two singers who have helped the public warm to vocal concerts.

Cities with long traditions of amateur and semi-professional choirs, including Boston and Minneapolis, have always been fertile ground for vocal music. Now interest is strong enough for some choral organizations to commission new work on a regular basis.

Enter Vores, a Boston resident since 1987, who has developed a relationship with the Cantata Singers, a 44-member, Boston-based ensemble led by David Hoose. The group commissioned Vores to write a piece marking the millennium, which resulted in "World Wheel."

The composer has a unique perspective on choral music, as someone who is both a "music person and a word person." "World Wheel" draws on a pastiche of musical influences and also treats words with respect. Vores, who majored in music composition and minored in comparative religions and English at Lancaster University in England, has, as he puts it, "extremely catholic tastes.... At any one time, I probably have 10 books that I'm reading."

In "World Wheel," this eclectic approach encompasses translations of everything from ancient Egyptian texts, Hindu verses, and Homer's "Odyssey" to 20th-century poetry. It's clear that Vores wants the listener to absorb the intelligence and spirituality of this literature.

It took 13 months to compose the 70-minute "World Wheel," a process he describes as steady and intuitive: "The texts and music just found each other," he says, adding that the piece "serves as a container for my different enthusiasms."

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Vores is young enough to be familiar with world music. He came of age with electronics, along with percussion instruments from all over the globe. As a Boston reviewer put it, "Vores doesn't seem to have met any music he doesn't like, and just about every kind of music he likes has found its way into 'World Wheel'...."

But most important, Vores likes singers. Where other up-and-coming composers might avoid choral pieces, Vores sails straight into the wind, reveling in the phenomenal capacity of the human voice.

*Boston public-radio station WGBH taped 'World Wheel,' but hasn't given a broadcast date. For inquiries, e-mail Cantata Singers at: bach@cantatasingers.org

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society