vocal ensemble

Hanna Herfurtner ׀ Olivia Stahn Soprano
Bernadette Beckermann ׀ Martha Jordan ׀ Amélie Saadia Alto
Will Frost ׀ Tim Karweick ׀ Robert Sellier Tenor
Florian Götz ׀ Florian Hille Baritone
Felix Schwandtke Bass

The concept of the soloist vocal ensemble THE PRESENT is to interweave traditional and contemporary music in order to make one and the other audible in a new way, and to make unusual connections resonate. Fascinated by performative forms, the ensemble is made up of soloists, musical theatre performers and experts in baroque and contemporary music, united by their joy in shared sound and an interest in experimentation. Particular attention is paid to the conceptual design of the concert programmes.

The ensemble was founded to mark the occasion of Annette Schlünz’s opera Tre Volti‘s world première at the Schwetzingen SWR Festival 2017. THE PRESENT has been invited to the Bregenz Festival, Staatsoper Unter den Linden Berlin, Tonhalle Düsseldorf, Scharoun Theater Wolfsburg, Thüringer Bachwochen, Güldener Herbst Thüringen, Schlossmediale Werdenberg and the Göttingen International Handel Festival.

In summer 2023, the debut album Ex Utero has been released by the label Col Legno in co-operation with the Westdeutscher Rundfunk (WDR) – presenting a new version of the Blessed Virgin vesper with works by Chiara Margarita Cozzolani, Hildegard Westerkamp, Michèle Bokanowsky and Catherine Lamb.

In 2024, THE PRESENT is invited to the concert series Musik Plus in Hall (Austria) with their programme A Theatre for the Ears as well as at the Bregenz Festival and the Gesellschaftshaus Magdeburg with the new programme JA! fünf stimmen zu.

11 June 2023, 18.00, Tonhalle Düsseldorf

Programme: Ex Utero – a Vesper for the Blessed Virgin for 8 singers & continuo with works by Chiara Margarita Cozzolani, Hildegard Westerkamp, Michèle Bokanowsky and Catherine Lamb

Cast: Juliane Laake (viola da gamba), Mira Lange (organ & harpsichord), Lee Santana (theorbo), THE PRESENT (vocal ensemble)

10 January 2024, 20:00, Musik+, Hall in Tirol

Programme: A theater for the ears – An evening without intermission for eight singers with madrigals from the early Baroque and Renaissance, intertwined with A-Ronne by Luciano Berio.


A theatre for the ears – an evening for eight singers with madrigals from the early Baroque and Renaissance periods, interlaced with A-Ronne by Luciano Berio

Eight people and seven languages collide. They struggle for words. They wrestle with words. They cite the Bible and Goethe, who had Faust translate the Bible. A type of madrigal emerges and then, baroque coloraturas are performed. Originally written for a radio broadcast, A-Ronne is in keeping with the traditions of a later madrigal of the 16th century. Shortly prior to Claudio Monteverdi adding a decisive new chapter to the history of music with L’Orfeo, the polyphonic madrigals were the most popular genre of their era and served as a playground for composers. We interlace the music of Gesualdo, Vecchi, Gabrieli, Monteverdi and their contemporaries with A-Ronne by Luciano Berio, bridging the early heyday of ensemble singing with the present day.

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Cast: vocal ensemble THE PRESENT (eight voices)

Truth and Life – an evening for eight singers and continuo, A-Ronne interlaced with four eight-part motets by J. S. Bach

Eight people and seven languages collide. They struggle for words. They wrestle with words. They cite the Bible and Goethe, who had Faust translate the Bible. A type of madrigal emerges and then, baroque coloraturas are performed. In the heart of it all, these people meet in Bach’s motets. Berio and Bach form a charming contrast primarily because Bach, while his music is almost 300 years old, is so familiar to us, while Berio seems so alien despite his music being comparatively young.

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Cast: vocal ensemble THE PRESENT (eight voices), Elina Albach (organ), Marthe Perl (viola da gamba), Lee Santana (lute)

Ex Utero – a Blessed Virgin vesper

Ex Utero: the title alludes to senses, memory and history. Two of these tracks overlap in this concert. Works from the 17th and 20th/21st centuries question and illuminate one another in a dialogue of epochs: the works were written by women and accordingly, the programme follows a track that has been kept historically narrow and has only become more widely-known in recent decades. In 1620, Margarita Cozzolani entered the Benedictine convent in her home town at the age of 17 and served as abbess and prioress, but above all as maestra of a capella, whose singers were among the best in Italy. Her compositions are viewed as masterpieces of sacred music. With their partly polyphonic choral, partly solo concert pieces, three contemporary composers communicate: Hildegard Westerkamp, Catherine Lamb and Michèle Bokanowski.

Cast: vocal ensemble THE PRESENT (eight voices), Mira Lange (chest organ), Marthe Perl (viola da gamba), Lee Santana (chitarrone, lute)

The unanswered question – Music for eight wandering voices

Charles Ives’ piece The Unanswered Question is made up of three parts: The Perennial Question of Existence, which is in dialogue with Fighting Answers, and ultimately remains unanswered in the room. Underneath all this flows in almost static string sounds The Silence of the Druids, who hear nothing, see nothing, and say nothing. These three elements now also shape our programme. There will also be music, including spatial music: commencing with Carlo Gesualdo and Orlando di Lasso, and finishing with Frank Martin and John Cage. We also discover an associative space in Ives’ programme music The Unanswered Question, which evokes a spiritual and existential dimension. By way of contrast, we would like to allow abstract works of the 21st century to answer this question.

Cast: vocal ensemble THE PRESENT (eight voices)

Back to nature – metamorphosis

The search and the longing for a place in which people and nature are in harmony is as old as human history, and in an era of climate change, more urgent than ever before. Whether in Paradise, Arcadia or the Elysian Gardens, nature is willingly subject to humankind. All the inhabitants of this isle of the blessed live together in cheerful harmony, their pleasures know no sin and the gods are good to them. On second glance, however, we see that there is always a catch. Those who do not abide by the rules are evicted from paradise. Recent events have forced us to re-examine these questions: How much of our hard-won comfort are we prepared to give up? How can we live together with this planet without one of us killing the other?

Cast: vocal ensemble THE PRESENT (six voices), Lee Santana (lute)

THROUGH THE GARDEN WITH… An evening through a place of longing, with music from four centuries

Poliphilo, the lovesick hero of Francesco Colonna’s novel Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, published in 1499, unveils a utopian world in his sleep: a fantastical garden, which is home only to good weather, not too hot and not too cold, not a cloud in the sky, plenty of shade and always a gentle breeze, never rain, but thriving plants in abundance, well-behaved and charming animals and the mentally and physically stimulating company of muses and nymphs – Arcadia! Together with Poliphilo, we embark on a journey through his dream garden, searching for true love, always accompanied by the longing for a golden, bygone era. On the way we will be accompanied, swept along, splashed, carried away and warmed up by Claudio Monteverdi, Lucia Ronchetti and Carlo Gesualdo, Giaches de Wert, Luca Marenzio, Teddy Reno and Maddalena Casulana.

Cast: vocal ensemble THE PRESENT (five voices), theorbo

The key is the sharpening of the senses which works in both directions. After the Bach intermezzi Berio ́s work sounds a bit like fragmented baroque polyphony. Whereas Bach ́s motets feel more structured and constructed and less sensual after Berio ́s music. There ́sno true conflation of both worlds this evening, the transitions are hard cuts, even if a rehearsed harrumph is building a bridge between Berio and Bach – an effect that makes you smile. This concept works because of those eight singers who appear exceptionally confident in both, the baroque and contemporary repertoire and approach Berio ́s music witha good mixture of earnest and finesse.
Rhein-Neckar-Zeitung, Jasper Klein, 10 May 2019

The program included the four motets for double choir by J.S. Bach, every part was performed by one singer, and that only can work with true professionals. Like this particular evening. But if it works we are presented with a performance of unfathomable beauty – of a vocal plasticity which is hard to achieve even for a very good choir; of a greatness of ease in the feared chains of semiquavers in the final fugue of the motet “Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied”, one can only amazed about, and of a dynamic width which is rarely heard elsewhere.
Mannheimer Morgen, Stephan Hoffmann, 9 May 2019 

Audio recordings: 

Excerpt from Johann Sebastian Bach: Der Geist hilft unsrer Schwachheit auf

Excerpt from Luciano Berio: A-ronne

works by Cozzolani/Westerkamp/Lamb/Bokanowski

Col legno (2023)
Lee Santana, theorbo
Juliane Laake, violone
Mira Lange, organ & cembalo


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