Established in Austin, Texas in 1991, Conspirare is a Grammy-winning and internationally recognized choir with a reputation for "expanding the boundaries of choral performance" (Wall Street Journal). Conspirare, which translates from Latin as "to breathe together," is led by founder and Artistic Director Craig Hella Johnson, and is comprised of soloists from around the country. Conspirare's extensive discography includes The Hope of Loving (Delos), 11 releases on the Harmonia Mundi label, and an annual live recording of Conspirare Christmas. The 2014 album The Sacred Spirit of Russia won the Grammy for Best Choral Performance. Conspirare's ambitious mission is to engage the power of music to change lives. Through its artistic excellence, creative programming, commissioning, and educational endeavors, the organization has established itself as an agent of change and a bedrock of the Texas arts community and beyond.
Conspirare's current touring project, Considering Matthew Shepard, is a three-part oratorio composed by Craig Hella Johnson. The work, which debuted at number four on Billboard's Traditional Classical Chart, is an evocative and compassionate musical response to the murder of Matthew Shepard. The Washington Post calls the impact "immediate, profound and, at times, overwhelming." The album received a Grammy nomination. Conspirare debuted Considering Matthew Shepard in Austin in 2016.
Conspirare has commissioned works from composers including David Lang, Tarik O'Regan, Jocelyn Hagen, Donald Grantham, Eric Whitacre, Nico Muhly, Mark Adamo, Robert Kyr, Jake Heggie, Kile Smith, Andrea Clearfield, Jake Runestad, and Eric Banks. A commitment to new music and willingness to showcase a broad context through diverse programming is evident from the first recording in 2004. Through the Green Fuse features a Gaelic hymn, African-American spirituals, and works by Sibelius, Stephen Foster, Eric Whitacre, among others. Through the Green Fuse was followed in 2006 by Requiem (works by Howells, Whitacre, and Pizzetti) which received two Grammy Award nominations. In 2008, Threshold of Night (music by Tarik O'Regan) also received two nominations, including Best Classical Album. The 2009 PBS television special "A Company of Voices: Conspirare in Concert" received the Grammy Award nomination for Best Classical Crossover, and Pablo Neruda: The Poet Sings was nominated for Best Choral Performance in 2016. Conspirare's "astonishing" (Bay Area Reporter) 2012 recording of works by Samuel Barber includes two new arrangements for chamber choir and orchestra by Robert Kyr. In Europe, Harmonia Mundi's re-release of Requiem in 2009 won the Netherlands' prestigious 2010 Edison Award. In 2015, Path of Miracles was awarded the Preis der Deutschen Schallplattenkritik in Germany. Conspirare represented the U.S. at the Eighth World Symposium on Choral Music in Copenhagen in 2008, joining invited choirs from nearly 40 countries. In 2012, the group was invited to France for six performances at the Polyfollia Festival and a public concert in Paris. In 2016, the Olavsfestdagene festival, in Trondheim, Norway, presented the group in a collaboration with the internationally acclaimed ensemble Trondheimsolistene.
Conspirare has performed throughout the U.S., including appearances as a featured choir at the American Choral Directors Association annual conference and regional ACDA conventions. At home, Conspirare performs a full annual season in Austin and Central Texas where it has received ongoing recognition from local organizations and critics, and Artistic Director Craig Hella Johnson was named Texas State Musician. The group is also committed to an ongoing outreach program which includes free community Big Sings and performances at Travis County Correctional Facility. In 2013, Conspirare became a Resident Company of Austin's Long Center for the Performing Arts. Conspirare is a growing organization, and while known for the flagship vocal ensemble, the organization also boasts the Conspirare Symphonic Choir (a large auditioned ensemble that performs works for chorus, often with instrumental ensemble), the Conspirare Chamber Orchestra, and Conspirare Youth Choirs, an educational program made up of three choirs (Prelude, Kantorei, and Allegro) under the direction of Nina Revering.
The wonderful Conspirare chamber choir, known for its interpretive depth and otherworldly sonic lushness, offers another of its captivating programs-this time joined by three superb guitar quartets-in a program remarkably relevant to our time.
Conspirare's 2019 Delos album, The Hope of Loving (DE 3578), was nominated for a GRAMMY® Award for Best Choral Performance in 2020. The concert version of The Singing Guitar was performed to full houses in 2019. The combination of guitar quartet and chorus is so successful it's surprising that more composers have not written for it. Four recently written compositions feature the voices of Conspirare accompanied by guitar-twelve guitars in Nico Muhly's How Little You Are, a compelling composition telling of the struggles of pioneer women. Kile Smith's The Dawn's Early Light ponders our national anthem in the writings of a Native American woman, Sarah Winnemucca Hopkins. The album is rounded out with compositions by Reena Esmail and Conspirare's founder and director Craig Hella Johnson.
This new song cycle gives isolated singers music to build a choir with – a choir of just themselves
The Austin Chronicle's ROBERT FAIRES writes.....For many choral singers, that's become a real – and distressing – question this past year. If the reason you sing is to blend your voice with others, who are you without those other voices? Anyone?
The particular sense of loneliness and loss that choir members have felt during isolation is described in a new song cycle, Quarantine Madrigals, that Conspirare will premiere Monday, March 15. In eight pieces, composer Reena Esmail and poet Amy Fogerson trace the singer's emotional arc from first feeling the absence of community to the suffering of solitude to the hope of reunion. But that isn't the only thing that makes it special for choral singers. Esmail composed it specifically so an individual could record the different parts with a multi-track app and make a choir out of just themselves.
The idea came from Fogerson – also a member of the Los Angeles Master Chorale – who pitched it to Esmail last summer. The idea intrigued the composer enough that she asked Fogerson to provide a brief poem for the text. Fogerson gave her a haiku about isolation, and Esmail set it as a madrigal, a form using a solo voice for each part with no instrumental accompaniment. The result captured something distinctive about singers' longing for others in pandemic separation and yet was still universal. So the duo wrote another. And another. And another, and kept going until they had seven.
As this was happening, Conspirare Artistic Director Craig Hella Johnson was keeping his ear on the project. An admirer of Esmail's work for several years, he'd commissioned a piece from her for The Singing Guitar two years ago, and last spring, as the impact of COVID was beginning to be felt, he reached out "to see if we could commission her to create something for Conspirare singers, perhaps even something we could share with other singers around the country who were feeling such great loss at not being able to sing together." When Esmail let him know about the quarantine madrigals and asked if Conspirare might like to play a role in introducing them, Johnson "responded with an enthusiastic 'yes.'" Ultimately, he commissioned the entire work, asking for the addition of a postlude imagining the day when the choir reunites and voices join together once more.
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Grammy award winning choir, Conspirare and internationally acclaimed creative collaborative October Project Music are uniting to present RE:Genesis, featuring the world premieres of ìHolding Our Breath,î written by Carlos Cordero (Austin, TX) composer and Julie Flanders (New York, NY), poet, and ìCall Across,î written by Kyle Pederson (Minneapolis, MN) and Brian Newhouse (Minneapolis, MN). The American Choral Directors Association awarded its Genesis Prize to both works. Preceding the performance of each work, the composers, poets and Conspirare artistic director Craig Hella Johnson will share insight into the creative process and what emerges in the journey from grief to hope in a live conversation.
Genesis is the culmination of new methods of collaboration born during the pandemic among composers, poets, singers, filmmakers and listeners to ensure new music continues to be heard. RE:Genesis continues the ritual of gathering to share in new music and offers the opportunity to connect with fellow artists and listeners. Filmmaker Andrew J. Timm and his team join with Conspirare again to take Holding our Breath and Call Across to a whole new level of virtual sophistication and creativity in ways we wouldnít have thought of before COVID-19. Each song will be staged in digitally-created fantasy worlds that speak to the very meaning and spirit of these works. Timm and his team previously collaborated with Conspirare on Unity: Songs of Invitation.
"From the moment I learned about the project and these two pieces, everything about it felt like a 'yes.'†The Genesis Prize is an inspired project which called forth so many creative voices to respond†to this vast and unsettling time in our world.†Carlos, Kyle, Julie and Brian have composed two extraordinary works.† Each of them is a powerful and moving†choral response which, each in its own distinctive way, expresses both the fear and anxiety of these times and also the deep yearning we are all feeling to reconnect with each other. - Conspirare Artistic Director Craig Hella Johnson
Conspirare is especially excited to be premiering these works in conjunction with the American Choral Directors Association annual conference, attended by choral directions from around the world. ACDA conceived the ACDA Genesis Prize as a response to the difficult times recently facing our world, and the choral arts in particular. The prize seeks to stimulate art emerging from crisis by funding both composers and poets to create new choral works that speak to our time with voices of comfort, hope, peace, and justice. Distinguished composers and poets from around the country submitted compositions. ACDA Conference attendees will be able to meet the composers, poets and conductor in a special exhibitor session hosted by October Project on Thursday, March 18 at 12:45pm Central.
ìHolding Our Breath,î written by composer Carlos Cordero (Austin, TX) and poet Julie Flanders (New York, NY), is an a cappella SATB work exploring the worldwide need and fear to breathe together right now, using the lens of breath itself to help transcend the virus, the social wounds of racism, and the deep, healing urgency to breathe and sing together again to help heal the suffering of our times.
ìCall Across,î written by Kyle Pederson (Minneapolis, MN) and Brian Newhouse (Minneapolis , MN), is composed for SATB choir with piano, djembe, and optional hand drum. Three characters from around the world call across physical space, history, and silenceóseeking to break out of their particular form of isolationógiving voice to the elemental human need for connection and leaving the audience with an empowering invitation to connection and unity.
Both pieces will be published by Hal Leonard as part of the Craig Hella Johnson Choral Series and will be released later this year.