Serenade Festival showcases choirs from around the world

Classical Movements is the go-to company for ensembles planning concert tours. The firm's who's-who list of clients includes the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Morgan State University Choir and National Symphony Orchestra, not to mention the New York Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra and Vienna Philharmonic.

That would be enough to keep the Alexandria, Va., firm busy. But this week, Classical Movements is using its skills and connections to present its own music-making enterprise — the Serenade Choral Festival.

Two choirs from the U.S., two from Canada and one each from Australia, Colombia, South Africa, Namibia and Czech Republic will take part in mostly free concerts throughout the Maryland-Virginia-D.C. area.

The festival is the brainchild of Neeta Helms, owner of Classical Movements.

"This whole area is so musical, with an audience that is very keen on choral music," she said. "It's just natural that choirs want to come here to perform. They love to visit Annapolis, the Baltimore harbor, the D.C. monuments."

Last year's inaugural Serenade Festival, which featured ensembles from Indonesia, Botswana and Russia, went well enough to secure a sequel for 2012. Plans are in the works for 2013 and 2014.

"In the course of doing [concert tour business] around the world, we always look for opportunities for exchanges, some sort of cultural interaction," Helms said.

This summer's roster is all about interaction. Concerts typically feature several choirs, delivering a diversity of nationalities and musical genres with each program. Saturday's performance at St. Anne's Parish in Annapolis, showcasing four ensembles of young vocalists, is a good example.

Verata e Liberi, from Colombia, will dig into its extensive repertoire, which embraces languages from Latin to Zulu. Classical items will be on the bill, along with an assortment of Columbian music.

Zvonky, a chorus from the Prague Music School, will sing works by such notable Czech composers as Antonin Dvorak and Bohuslav Martinu.

The Boston City Singers, an organization that provides musical training to nearly 400 youths, will be heard in a selection of spirituals, folk songs and more.

Then there's the Toronto-based Countermeasure, which seems right out of "Glee," complete with a tight, bright sound and animated choreography propelling arrangements of pop music. For the Annapolis concert, the group's song list includes "There Will Never Be Another You" and one of Roy Orbison's last hits, "You Got It."

On Sunday, those choirs will join South Africa's Imilonji KaNtu Choral Society, Australia's Young Adelaide Voices, the Minnetonka Chamber Choir from Minnesota and all the other festival participants in a concert at the Music Center at Strathmore.

That event will bring more than 300 singers together for a new work commissioned by Classical Movements and composed by Countermeasure's director Aaron Jensen. It's called "We Are As One."

"That is the perfect title," Helms said. "The attitude is so much a part of singing, something we've found all over the world. It's wonderful to have all these ages and nationalities together for the festival."

In addition to 18 free public concerts, there will be outreach and educational activities during the festival, including a visit to Baltimore by three of the festival's choral ensembles. They will work with students at the summer camp of OrchKids, the BSO's music training program in city schools.

Usually, a project on the scale of Serenade is organized by a nonprofit entity.

"We're not a foundation; we're a profitable company that has been around for 20 years," Helms said. "But I'm not suddenly being careless. This is not a hobby. The festival is something we are able to do and want to do. I feel we can give something back this way. And we're committed to doing this for a long time."

Classical Movements helps defray costs of some of the choirs; others cobble together funding for the trip.

"Maybe one day we will have big sponsors to help," Helms said. "We'd like to raise the level even more."

If you go

The Serenade Choral Festival presents concerts at various locations in the region Friday through Monday. Four choirs perform at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at St. Anne's Parrish, Church Circle, Annapolis. Nine choirs will perform at 4 p.m. Sunday at the Music Center at Strathmore, 5301 Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda. Free admission. Call 703-683-6040 or go to

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